Kimi Raikkonen is a man who considers anything other than victory to be failure; a trait which himself and his Italian team share with one another. It is therefore soul destroying for the partnership to have yet experienced a single pole position, win, or even so much as a meagre podium.
Raikkonen’s points tally currently sits at 17 below 10 other drivers, whilst his world class team mate stands 3rd in the Drivers Championship with 49 points, behind only the mind-bendingly dominant Mercedes duo. Ferrari’s Constructors points have been scored at a near 3:1 ratio in favour of Alonso.
Additionally, the Spaniard achieved a podium finish at the Chinese Grand Prix – a race in which Raikkonen meanwhile laboured a lowly eighth place.
In response to Kimi’s Spanish woes, his team did however mouth signs of support, insisting they would work throughout the three week break to help unlock the Finn’s blinding pace and renowned ability.
Following extensive simulator use, and a handful of small but significant upgrades, Raikkonen was able to turn the tide at Ferrari by outqualifying Alonso for the second time this season. Starting sixth on the grid to his teammate’s seventh, Raikkonen enjoyed an advantage over Alonso for the majority of the race, but ultimately lost out to him after limping home in seventh as a result of an inferior strategy. Alonso made a third stop, thus leaving him on faster tyres than two stopping Raikkonen, and leaving the Finn lacking grip and oozing vulnerability in the closing stages. Whilst Raikkonen did demonstrate some defence, the overtake was nonetheless completed by Alonso with ease; handing him sixth.
Ferrari’s decision to split their drivers’ strategies, leading to Kimi’s subsequent forfeited technical victory over his teammate, has netted them widespread criticism from fans. It is however difficult to accuse them of favouritism towards their Spanish star when we consider Raikkonen’s two stop strategy was quicker on paper than Alonso’s three stop, and it is even more difficult to accuse them of foul play when we consider the sheer difference in performances so far between the Ferrari drivers;
Alonso has proven himself to be more than capable of adapting and moulding himself around whatever car he is given; his performances over the last two seasons, in which he finished both as eventual winner Sebastian Vettel’s closest rival, have demonstrated his ability to thrive in poor machinery and drag inferior race packages onto a seemingly endless stream of podiums.
Raikkonen, meanwhile, lacks such a vast arsenal of adaptability. The Finn has built up a reputation of being blindingly quick – but only when the car suits him down to the most microscopic of details. Right now, his Ferrari F14T is a promising but nonetheless troublesome package and does not accommodate Raikkonen’s needs.
This can still change.
Raikkonen was reportedly furious at his team and their decision to split strategies in Spain, and demanded a long discussion with senior team personnel. In a bid to keep their (incredibly expensive) world champion happy, Ferrari will almost certainly look to helping Raikkonen and the F14T work more harmoniously in the coming stages of the season. Once the car does please him, Raikkonen will find it less difficult, but difficult nonetheless to close the gap to Alonso – who is widely regarded as ‘the most complete driver in Formula 1.’
Whilst Raikkonen is indeed yet to finish a Grand Prix ahead of his teammate, the gap is certainly shrinking. Raikkonen has outpaced Alonso in qualifying 2-1 in the last three Saturday shootouts. The car remains the problem.
Ferrari knew that when they employed two World Champions, the ‘underperforming driver’ excuse would be rendered obsolete. Regardless of what the statistics from the current qualifying war or race battle suggests, both Alonso and Raikkonen are two drivers who sit comfortably within the top bracket of today’s drivers. The Ferrari F14T is simply a temperamental car – reasonably fast, but skittish; and regardless of how good the pilot is, it will take a substantial period of adjustment before they can successfully tame the Scarlett beast and enjoy more colourful results. In the meantime, expect Alonso to continue to struggle slightly less than his teammate.