F1 » 31 May 2012
Raikkonen, Lotus at impasse over steering
Kimi Raikkonen faces wearing out his welcome at Lotus after sitting out opening practice in Monaco last weekend.
Kimi Raikkonen may have been welcomed at Enstone with open arms when he decided to end his two-year F1 sabbatical by signing a deal with the Lotus team, but may be wearing that welcome out after his antics in Monaco at the weekend.
The Finn believes that he could have won a couple of races this season, namely Bahrain and Spain, after strong runs in the E20, and headed to the Principality among the favourites for victory as F1 enjoys its most open championship in years. However, those hopes took a nosedive after he ran into problems with his steering on Thursday morning and lost the only dry session of the day, costing Lotus vital tyre information along the way.
The 'problems' were not necessarily the team's fault, however, as Sky Sports reveals that Raikkonen refused to run a system that had been specifically tailored to his requests after finding that it lacked the feel he needed to tackle the tricky street circuit.
"Kimi's driving style requires plenty of steering feedback," the broadcaster's Mark Hughes wrote, "He's very adaptive to changes in grip, has a great instinctual feel for where it is as the track changes and the tyres degrade. But that feedback to the wheel in these days of power steering - necessary because of the high degree of camber thrust teams use to speed up the initial turn of the car - is not always an easy thing to deliver and, for much of the season so far, Raikkonen has kept the team busy designing and making new components in the search for the feedback he wants.
"Coming into the Monaco weekend - the track with the tightest corners on the calendar and therefore the one requiring the greatest amount of steering lock - Kimi had further requested a high-ratio steering system, giving greater lock for a given degree of steering wheel input. The Enstone guys readily agreed, even though designing and manufacturing such a system is a time-consuming business. It drained factory engineering effort away from a lot of other projects for around three weeks.
"As has been well-reported, Kimi made a single out-lap in Thursday morning practice at Monaco, came in, declared that the car was undriveable with this steering, almost totally devoid of feedback. Re-fitting the conventional system is a 1.5-hour job and he was asked to consider running the session with it as it was, so that the standard system could be fitted in between sessions. He refused and took no further part in that session - the only one in which extended dry track running could have been made, as it turned out. With the afternoon session rained out, the team was sorely bereft of useful tyre data."
The report speculated that that lost data proved costly when it came to qualifying and the race and, although both Lotus drivers made it into the top ten on Saturday afternoon - with Romain Grosjean eventually lining up fourth after Michael Schumacher was docked five places for his Barcelona accident - it was unable to live up to the 'pre-race favourite' tag that had been pinned on Enstone after strong recent showings from both drivers.
While Raikkonen's laid-back, low-key personality fits perfectly with the simple no-nonsense Lotus approach, Hughes speculates that an apparent lack of effort would not be tolerated by an operation used to the work ethics of Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Robert Kubica.
"The lack of dry running was almost certainly a contributory factor in a qualifying performance from Kimi that one senior team engineer described as 'poor'," he continued, "His lack of pace in the race came largely from the early deterioration of the rear tyres in a car that is usually among the very gentlest on the rubber - and that almost certainly came from the set-up arrived at amid a lack of extended dry running on Thursday. The team was less than impressed."
Comparing the Finn to Jarno Trulli, who previously lost the faith of the team over similar steering problems, the report suggests it is time for him to 'more fully explain what he needs, to spend time with the engineers, immerse himself in solving the problem - or to just live with it and buckle down to adapting himself' - or face an early exit from one of the more competitive rides on the grid.
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