Kimi Raikkonen came to Barcelona in the afternoon and had a long meeting about the test schedule with his race engineer Mark Slade, who started in the team at the beginning of March. Slade worked with Räikkönen last time in McLaren in 2006. Finnish driver is in the next Wednesday in popular British Top Gear tv show and tries to break Sebastian Vettel’s top time at airport of Dunsfieldin. BBC broadcasts the program a week later on Sunday. Grosjean has a Japanese race engineer Ayao Komatsu, and he joked that radio traffic certainly sounds amusing when a French and a Japanese are having a conversation. “We’ll try to give Kimi and his engineers all the feedback what we can. Kimi will be trying different things, so that we can get the car into top shape in Melbourne”, Grosjean explained.
Turun Sanomat 2.3.2012 23:24:32
KIMI Raikkonen expects to pick up right where he left off when he returns to Formula One, despite two seasons away from the sport.
The Finnish driver won the 2007 championship title when driving for Ferrari but quit in 2009 and switched to rally. He will return to F1 this year with the Lotus Renault team at the Melbourne Grand Prix and will be one of six former champions competing in the second race of the season. Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton will also hit the track on March 18. “I can’t deny the fact that my hunger for F1 has recently become overwhelming,” Raikkonen said. “It was an easy choice to return with Lotus Renault GP as I have been impressed by the scope of the team’s ambition. “Now I’m looking forward to playing an important role in pushing the team to the very front of the grid.” Raikkonen won the Melbourne GP in 2007.
Kimi Raikkonen has vowed that Lotus will not get despondent if they don’t make a positive start to the season.
The Enstone squad made a big impact at the beginning of the 2011 campaign when they claimed two podium finishes, but they went through a major slump mid-season and eventually finished a distant fifth in the Constructors’ Championship. A lot is expected from Lotus this season after they recruited former World Champion Raikkonen as one of their drivers, and made a positive start to the Jerez test. However, their pre-season plans took a big blow at the second test in Barcelona last week when they were forced to pull out on day one after they discovered a problem with their chassis.
Raikkonen, though, says the team won’t get discourage if they things don’t go according to plan early in the season. “The last year I was with Ferrari we weren’t always at the front,” he told F1 Racing in an interview. “But they [Lotus] started well last year. We hope the new car will be strong but the rules are slightly different and you never know. “But let’s say we’re eighth or something; we won’t say ‘Oh fuck we’ll give up’. We’ll always try to improve and hopefully we’ll be as high up as we can be.”
Lotus will bring the very best out of Kimi Raikkonen, reckon team bosses Eric Boullier and Gerard Lopez, who believe the 2007 world champion is a much more dedicated team player than his past reputation suggested.
Raikkonen has impressed Lotus since joining the team for his Formula 1 comeback after two years in rallying, and was quickest on the first day of winter testing at Jerez last week. Lopez said Lotus had found Raikkonen to be a totally different character to how he was presented during his last F1 stint. “For most people it’s probably one of the big mysteries, because you hear the hearsay and so forth, but we feel very good with him and he clearly feels at home,” Lopez told AUTOSPORT. “He smiles a lot when he’s with us! But most importantly that says he feels more like part of the family.” Lopez added: “I think Kimi has a public image that honestly from what we’ve seen does not translate into how he really is. He’s a very hard worker, very good at providing feedback, and has a good team spirit. “Once we talked to him, once we understood why he was coming back, we really felt comfortable. If you look at what happened [at the test], nobody can say that he’s not on the pace.”
Boullier reckons the way Lotus works is proving ideal for Raikkonen. “We tried to handle his personality and make sure that we don’t bother him too much with too many intrusions, and he’s a real racer,” said Boullier. “This team is full of proper racing people and he has fitted very well because we speak the same language. “We are flexible, but our system is very racing-orientated, and that suits him very well.”
Kimi Raikkonen says he has fewer concerns about adapting to 2012-spec Formula 1 after two years away from the sport following his two-day test at Valencia a couple of weeks ago.
The 2007 world champion, speaking at the launch of the new Lotus E20 at Jerez, said that while Pirelli’s tyres were always going to provide his steepest learning curve, he felt that his run on the demo rubber in a two-year-old Renault had displaced any worries about getting up to speed quickly. “The tyres are probably the biggest difference since I left, and that’s what people were saying,” said Raikkonen. “But since the test two weeks ago I have less worries about the whole thing than I had before. So we will see where we are when the first race comes. For me it was nice to get back in the car again. It is very difficult to say how well we went, but I got back all the feeling about driving the car and got used to working with the team. That was really the main goal, to learn. It was interesting to drive and get a little bit back that feeling.”
Raikkonen, who shook the Renault-powered E20 down during a team filming day at Jerez on Monday, said that in the short period of time that he had been working with Lotus he had been convinced that all the ingredients were in place for the squad to return to a championship-winning level. “Nobody knows exactly [how long it will take],” he said. “The team has a lot of hunger to do well and to get back their winning ways but it’s not easy. If it was, everybody would do it. But definitely there are people who want to get back there and put in the effort for it. They have won it before so they have all the tools to do it. It’s just about getting everything right and being up there all the time so hopefully it can happen soon, but everybody seems hungry to do it.”
Raikkonen said that he was not expecting many changes on his return and that many of the faces in the paddock were similar to those he had left behind when he walked away from the sport at the end of 2009. Responding to a question that suggested he was no longer enjoying the sport when he left, Raikkonen replied: “That was only your opinion, I would have left earlier if I wasn’t having fun. “I always said that I loved the racing and I have always been very happy to race. There were a lot of stories from all of your [the press] side about my motivation, but I never had any issues with that. This has come from nothing from my mind. I don’t think I look at Formula 1 any differently,” he said. “It’s a new year and there are some different things from in the last few years, but I know the sport, I know how things work here. The racing is going to be a little different but all the other things are more or less the same. OK from team-to-team it changes in things outside of the racing but I feel sure it is going to be similar experience.”
Lotus has been impressed by the speed at which Kimi Raikkonen has adapted to his new car after just two full days of testing in Jerez.
Raikkonen is returning to the sport this season after two years in rallying and had his first real taste of his new car last week at Jerez. Raikkonen set the fastest time on the first day of the test and trackside operations director Alan Permane said his whole approach had been hugely impressive. “There’s an awful lot more to Formula One than just putting one lap together and that’s what makes a champion,” he told ESPNF1. “That’s the sort of thing you can see in Kimi and see how good he is; how he uses the car over a long run and how he looks after the tyres. He’s never driven these tyres before and already after a couple of days you can see that he’s understanding them and altering his driving to look after them – he’s got a lot of feel in the car.”
Asked if Raikkonen has the potential to be the leader the team was looking for last year, Permane said: “Being a world champion, we can’t get a lot better than that. It’s a difficult one, the question of a leader and do we need a leader. I think a driver will become a leader if he delivers and we can deliver to him. Then he can tell us what he wants, we give that to him and then he delivers again, so we build up a trust in each other. I think that’s how a driver becomes a leader. “I think so far everything seems to be working well. Of course there will be ups and downs, we’ve had a golden week far beyond our own expectations. That, of course, can’t carry on. It would be lovely if it could, but there will be ups and downs and that will test us and that’s when you see how strong people’s characters are.”
Permane added that Raikkonen has been very specific about the requests he has made of the team, but has paid them back with “excellent” feedback. “He’s very easy to work with, very, very easy indeed – no complaints at all,” Permane said. “His feedback is excellent, he spends an awful lot of time with his engineers looking at stuff, going through data and telling us what he wants. From what I can see, he’s happy firstly with the car we’ve given him, but also the other stuff – the bits that he asked for when he came, the type of steering wheel he wanted, the seat, the seat belts, things like that. We’ve also delivered the braking stuff he wanted, he’s got all that. I think he’s a pretty happy guy.”
After two days back in the cockpit, two things are clear – Formula One has missed Kimi Raikkonen and Kimi Raikkonen has missed Formula One. Yes, the niggles which drove him to rallying two years ago are still there, but – for now – the 2012-spec ‘Iceman’ seems suitably chilled. Another thing that hasn’t changed is his pace, which he proved in style on the opening day of this week’s Jerez test by setting the fastest time for Lotus. Raikkonen discusses progress…
Q: You clocked the best time on day one at Jerez. Was it because of a magic car or a magic Kimi?
Kimi Raikkonen: Ha, I don’t really know. On the first day the car was good, but I have to say that on the second day it was even better. If it only set the fifth-best time then it was down to the fact that we tried different things. But, for sure, coming back to the real Formula One world and immediately doing the best time on the first day of testing was not bad. It was a nice warm feeling for the ego. But, of course, to really classify what the time was worth you would need to know what program everybody else was running on. And don’t we all know that the times only really matter when we are in a real race? So, yes, it was nice, but don’t overestimate things! (laughs)
Q: So you feel comfortable in the car…
KR: Well, there are moments when the handling is easier than at other moments, but overall I am pretty happy with the car. Sure, there is always room for improvement, but I would say that it was not a bad start for Lotus and myself. At the moment the magic word is mileage – for all three of us: the team, the tyres and me.
Q: You did 117 laps on the second day. Did you start to feel it? Nothing compares to the G-forces when you drive a Formula One car…
KR: No, there were no problems whatsoever. That is why you exercise before.
Q: Topping the timesheets must have reassured you that after two years away you hadn’t lost it?
KR: To be honest it never entered my mind that I could have lost it. I knew when I drove the old car in Valencia that I would be okay. I could feel it immediately. Of course there isn’t 100 percent certainty, but it is coming close to that.
Q: When you left F1 for rallying you spoke about the monotony – the same tracks, the same hotels, the same people, and the same questions…
KR: …and nothing has changed. And believe me, I didn’t expect any change! (laughs) Sure, from that aspect rallying is much nicer, but that is a part of Formula One and if you want to race in this category you have to accept all aspects of it.
Q: So despite all these downsides you found Formula One so exciting that you came back?
KR: I found the racing so exciting. I missed the racing. And it is a fact that Formula One is the highest form of racing. So you would rather take it than leave it.
Q: But on a professional level…
KR: As I just said, if you want to compete at the highest level of racing you have to race in F1. That is what I enjoy. All the side affects you have to accept for the benefit of racing at the top level.
Q: You probably also missed winning…
KR: I don’t know if you miss winning, but of course every sound person would rather win than lose! (laughs) But it is not often that you can win all the time. It’s not that I’ve got used to winning.
Q: The team had a tough time last year but for you – in F1 – it’s been some time since you’ve raced a car not capable of winning a Grand Prix. Is that a worry?
KR: Ah, I didn’t have an outright winner of a car for many years. I would say that in 2009 I didn’t exactly have a winning car and people seem to forget that so easily. And how often do you win? Okay, I had some good wins in Formula One, but if you compare that with how long I have been in Formula One, then I haven’t won so often. But that is obviously part of a career.
Q: When did the idea of returning really take shape?
KR: That was during the summer when I was doing some NASCAR races. I enjoyed that direct fight with competitors again, the wheel-to-wheel fight. I realised that I was missing it. In rallying you also race against people, but not physically, and it was that physical aspect that I really missed. After that realisation, I spoke to my managers and they started to sort things out for me.
Q: Why didn’t the negotiations with Williams work out?
KR: We simply didn’t find a solution that would satisfy both sides. You know how it is – one side wants something and the other something else, so you drift apart. That’s how it goes sometimes in life. And sometimes the bad comes good. I am very happy where I am now.
Q: Lotus team Principal Eric Boullier said that when he told the team that you were joining it immediately boosted morale. Did you expect you would ever be a morale booster?
KR: I know that the team had a tough year last season, but they have great people and so far it has been a good experience joining them. I hope we can have a good experience together in the months to come – and that will be an even bigger morale boost! If you ask me what my goal is for this season then the answer is that I don’t know. You must wait until the first couple of races and then I will probably be able to give a hint.
Q: During your two-year sabbatical you didn’t once attend a Grand Prix. Why?
KR: Well, I went to Monaco twice, but not to see the cars, only for business. And if you want to see cars properly – as someone like me, who is really interested in how the cars change, does – then you come to a test. And if you want to see the race then you see it on TV.
Q: Do you think anything significant has changed over the last two years?
KR: Not really, except for the tyres and having a different manufacturer for the tyres. The cars haven’t changed too much and everything else is business as usual.
Kimi Raikkonen says he has the answers he was looking for from his first experience of the new Lotus E20 after completing 180 laps during two days’ testing at Jerez.
The Finn did not match his pace from the opening day of the test, where he hit the headlines by going quickest of all. But Raikkonen declared himself satisfied by what he learned from the car and Pirelli’s tyres. He now hands over to team-mate Romain Grosjean for the final two days of the test. “I think the main thing was to get a lot of mileage right now,” said the 2007 world champion when asked by AUTOSPORT for his summary of the test. “The car feels pretty OK straightaway, and I think we improved it today, but today the conditions were a bit trickier than yesterday. “I’m happy with what we did over the two days.” Raikkonen added that the starting point for the E20 appeared to be positive when he could get the Pirelli tyres in a good operating window, as he continued his education process with the Italian rubber. “Some compounds worked better than others,” he said. “When they are new they are always good but once they get used… and it was quite cold so some of them were slightly better than others.
“But when they worked the car feels quite good so… I have no idea what the others are doing but I was quite happy about how things went. If the conditions are good for that compound and they get heat in them it seems to be fine but then some of them don’t like it when it’s cold and the tyre just doesn’t work,” he continued. “But when they work normally it’s not too bad, at least here, but it can be a really different story in Barcelona.” Raikkonen had a couple of off-track moments during his second day in the car and was delayed in the morning when he ran over a kerb and damaged the plank under the chassis – which then needed to be replaced. “I ran wide under braking for Turn 6, and just driving back in the gravel the edge of the kerb on the circuit was very high and it hit the front of the floor and we damaged that,” he explained. “So it took a while to fix it. Unfortunate.”
Kimi Raikkonen will have a familiar race engineer for his return to Formula 1 this year. Finnish reports in Turun Sanomat and the television broadcaster MTV3 claim that the 2007 world champion will work with Mark Slade.
Slade, recently at Mercedes GP working alongside Michael Schumacher, was Raikkonen’s race engineer at McLaren years ago. Slade also previously worked as a race engineer to Mika Hakkinen and Heikki Kovalainen. Raikkonen will start working together with his engineer at Barcelona at the last test before Melbourne. “I wanted him and I am pleased that it worked out,” Raikkonen confirmed. In other news, Eric Boullier has denied rumours Raikkonen is a shareholder in the Lotus team. It was reported that the 2007 world champion’s retainer this year was subsidized by owner Genii granting the returning F1 driver a small slice of the Enstone based team. “He has no shareholding. It is complete nonsense,” Boullier is quoted by MTV3. “Raikkonen has a two-year contract as driver,” he added. “Genii Capital holds 100 per cent of the team.” Boullier also dismissed suggestions Raikkonen, whose teammate is the reigning GP2 champion Romain Grosjean, is Lotus’ obvious number one driver. “There is no such thing in the contract,” he said.
He may be two years older and wearing different overalls as he strides through the Jerez paddock, but it almost feels as if Kimi Raikkonen has never been away from the Formula One fold. And after impressing during the opening day of pre-season testing, Raikkonen appears to be in fine form in the Lotus too. Team principal Eric Boullier discusses how the Finn is settling in…
Q: Back in November Raikkonen didn’t seem to be on your agenda but then not long after you made an announcement. When did you first start talking to him about joining the team?
Eric Boullier: Well, the first talks started just after Abu Dhabi and we closed the deal in less than ten days. It all went very quickly! Just before that we were evaluating internally which driver we wanted to recruit and we only wanted to share those discussions within the team. Then we contacted Kimi – and it was done! Obviously his negotiations with Williams were going nowhere but he wanted to be back in Formula One. So it was the right time and the right situation. Clearly money was not the point. He liked the package that we offered and that was it.
Q: Did it help that he would be driving for a team with such an iconic name?
EB: I am not so sure that this played any role in his reasoning, but then of course it is better to drive for an iconic name than a ‘no-name’. I think that the key motivation for him was the feedback that he got from the team. We are not a marketing machine – we are a race team! I am not blaming anybody in the pit lane, but we are more a racing family than a machine. And he started to feel very comfortable with our crew after he realised that we are racing people!
Q: You said that the absence of Robert Kubica after his accident was the biggest blow to the team last season. Will Raikkonen help fill the void?
EB: Right away – yes! Because in terms of team morale and motivation – and even team guidance – he is there, because he is a guy that knows what he wants. I promise you he is committed and, as I just said, he knows what he wants.
Q: What is it that you expect from the ‘Iceman’? His reputation precedes him but after two years away will he struggle?
EB: I know already that he is not struggling.
Q: Is that after his running on the opening day of this week’s test?
EB: Yes – I have seen how he has been driving. Without even looking at the times, you can see from the line that he was cruising around the track on and how he uses the car. I am sure that he will need some time to find the last tweaks to be 100 per cent sure, but believe me, he is there!
Q: How much time will it take until he is back at the performance level of a race winner?
EB: He will be a potential race winner if we give him an adequate car. Obviously this is the package that he needs to have. My guess is that at the beginning of the European ‘season’ he will be ready.
Q: You needed a big name to join the team in its first season as Lotus and Raikkonen needed a drive as he wanted to return to Formula One racing. The pressure is on for both sides, which could prove explosive. Are you ready for it?
EB: Do you know any world championship contender – either team or driver – that was not explosive? And I don’t really see it as explosive in any way. Sure, for a team named Lotus it is a benefit having a big name. It’s a perfect match because we were looking for somebody with his background, experience, charisma and speed, but he also was looking for a team to join to make a good return into Formula One. And the match is working. Obviously we all don’t know right now how it will develop, but from what we have experienced over the last weeks we can be positive. Nothing can be worse than what we have experienced in the past. Let’s take it easy.
Q: The team’s 2011 season started with an absent star driver, a replacement who struggled and a driver in just his second season. The team’s 2012 season starts with a driver who hasn’t been in the sport for two years and a virtual rookie in Romain Grosjean. What did you learn last year that could help this year?
EB: What a tricky question! You never know how people will develop. Sometimes you believe it will be a perfect fit – and it is not – and sometimes the unexpected comes your way and it becomes the missing link which in turn produces a sharp step forward. In the end it all boils down to the human combinations. The fit between you and other people. And then comes the performance of the car, the team’s performance and everything else that makes a Formula One team tick. Robert’s accident was completely unexpected and from there we had to react. I have to say I believe that we were still doing well under those circumstances. But strategy-wise, I am happy that Genii has kept their faith in the team and they are going with us down another path, as I now believe that this is the path that we always wanted to take.
Q: Romain Grosjean’s first experience of Formula One racing was tough. How can you help?
EB: In 2009 he replaced a driver without any testing at all to take over a car that was not easy to drive for a team that was completely focused on Fernando Alonso. He was not ready and he was not given a real chance. When he came to see me 15 months ago to discuss his future I told him that he had to recover first as a driver. He had lost confidence and had to rebuild, so I sent him racing in many different categories to get his feet on the ground again and to improve his reputation in Enstone again. He’d won every category that he had ever raced in and then his career spiralled when he got his Formula One chance. In 2011, as well as winning the GP2 title, he was our reserve driver which was a role that didn’t come with any pressure but allowed him to gain back the trust from the engineers in our factory. And little by little he did it and the practice session he took part in last season helped him regain that respect. It will not be easy for him alongside Kimi, who is fast and a strong character, but Romain has to be ready. This is not a nursery and if you want to survive and be successful you have to fight. Kimi is not the political person that Fernando was, but Kimi is like a rock – an icy rock – so don’t expect any warmth!
Q: Force India almost caught you in the constructors’ standings. This year they are aiming to take fifth place from you…
EB: There are too many maybes and ifs! Yes, they were almost catching us at the end. We know why and have learnt from that. So let the past be the past. Of course we are focusing on breaking into the top four now – like we should have done last year if it had been the year that we had planned. Sure the forward exhausts were brave – possibly too brave – but that was all in 2011.
Q: Raikkonen is spending the first two days of this test in the car. What has his feedback been like so far?
EB: Kimi is very confident and he is very happy with the car, its balance and handling. We are heading into a long test programme that hopefully will bring some satisfaction in Melbourne for all of us. The chemistry is already working well.