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Kate Walker: The Kimi conundrum for Ferrari

Kate Walker looks at Kimi Raikkonen's recent struggles for Ferrari and fears the team could find itself with a weakened driver line-up in future years
For a man who claims he just wants to be left alone, the Greta Garbo of Formula One sure has been attracting numerous headlines of late.

Over the course of the Silverstone weekend alone Kimi Raikkonen confirmed his intention to retire from Formula One at the end of 2015 – something that was later denied by Ferrari team principal Marco Mattiacci, leading to yet more headlines; caused a spectacular shunt on the opening lap of the race, triggering a debate on driver safety between Charlie Whiting and Niki Lauda; and found himself the subject of much criticism following the Finn's less than entirely safe return to the circuit before bringing out the red flags.

To top it all off, after the 47G impact on Sunday afternoon Raikkonen was out of the running for the post-Silverstone test, and replacement Jules Bianchi – a member of the Ferrari family – posted the fastest time on the second day.

Earlier this season Raikkonen was the subject of speculation that Ferrari were considering find a way out of their contract with him, although the rumours were denied by all concerned. While neither Ferrari driver has collected a string of victories this season, Fernando Alonso has at least finished on the podium once, having performed his usual trick of squeezing every last drop of performance from whatever equipment he's been given.

Raikkonen, on the other hand, last looked to be enjoying a race when he went head to head with the Sky F1 presenters in a lawnmower challenge in the run-up to the British Grand Prix.

While the Finn has never been known for his exuberance, 2014 thus far has seen a downcast Raikkonen struggle to get to grips with the F14 T. He has finished behind his teammate at every race thus far, and in qualifying has been beaten 7-2. During free practice at Silverstone Raikkonen was heard over the radio complaining vociferously about poor handling: “I can't get the car going in a straight line out of the corners. Car won't go straight even on straights. I don't understand it.”

The Scuderia have never looked too kindly on their drivers being publicly critical of the car, from Fernando Alonso's birthday smackdown by Luca di Montezemolo last year to Alain Prost's sudden departure from Ferrari in 1991. And while Raikkonen's radio frustrations were not public comments made for media consumption, they left no doubt that the Finn is feeling frustrated.

The last time a red-suited Kimi was frustrated with Ferrari, sponsors bought Raikkonen out of his contract so that Fernando Alonso could be parachuted in as the new hero of the Scuderia. But with Alonso already on board and no new superstar to bring in, that won't happen twice. Raikkonen will either see out his Ferrari contract and retire at the end of 2015, or the situation between team and driver will become untenable, and the two parties will explore possible terms for an early end to their second relationship.

In an ideal world, that would allow Bianchi time to mature before being taken under Alonso's wing and nurtured as the next red-suited racing hero. But this is Formula One, and for the second season running Alonso is in serious talks with McLaren about a return to Woking.

Should Raikkonen leave Maranello ahead of schedule, it would leave Ferrari without a marquee name for the first time since the Formula One World Championship came into being. Bianchi and Nico Hulkenberg are both great talents, but neither of them is yet at the sponsorship-magnet level that Ferrari expect from their drivers.

It is a difficult time for Mattiacci, who – while using his managerial skills to effect a Mercedes-style turnaround – also needs to establish which of his star drivers he will be able to hold onto while he waits for the next generation of talent to be ready to take on a leadership role at what the big bosses expect to become a dominant team over the next few seasons.

By Kate Walker

Kate Walker is a senior F1 writer for Crash.net. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, she keeps an eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama.


Tagged as: Ferrari , Kimi Raikkonen

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Eamo

July 11, 2014 10:06 AM

Kimi Raikkonen knows how to drive. It is bred into him. We know motivation is'nt the problem, as Raikkonen appears to be doing more than ever. So what the hell is going on? Something isn't marrying between him and the car and time is running out. I suspect Ferrari may lose patience. It would be sad to see him bow out of F1 without another win. Hopefully he will still be there next season and Ferrari can build a car more bespoke to his talents.

Dreadnaught

July 11, 2014 10:20 AM

When you build a dog and have limited development time you concentrate on the devil you know. Second drivers at Ferrari have often had a difficult time if their style differs markedly from the chosen one especially if the circuit is "difficult".



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