Reigning Formula 1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen may have taken his first points in five races in finishing up on the podium in the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway this weekend, but as he finally mathematically conceded his crown the Finn was left ruing what he argued could have been a victory.
Having got the drop on slow-starting pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton when the red lights went out, Raikkonen was then forced wide into the first turn when his McLaren-Mercedes rival left his braking impossibly late and skidded down the inside, almost running into the Ferrari in the process.
That left Raikkonen down in seventh, though he would regain third spot after benefiting from team-mate Felipe Massa turfing Hamilton off the road on lap two, overtaking Jarno Trulli in the Toyota and countryman Heikki Kovalainen's retirement with engine failure on lap 17.
From there the 17-time grand prix-winner shadowed the second-placed BMW-Sauber of Robert Kubica, closing right onto the back of his quarry immediately after the pair's respective final pit-stops and dodging every which way in an effort to get past – entertainingly running quite literally wheel-to-wheel on several occasions – before his tyre grip began to fade and he instead switched his focus to preserving his position on the bottom step of the rostrum from an inspired Nelsinho Piquet close behind.
“Even if third place has put an end to a run of poor results, I am a bit disappointed because today we had the means to win,” the 28-year-old reflected afterwards, having finally succeeded in stopping his post-Hungary rot. “At the start I got away well but then, at the first corner, the two McLarens arrived too fast at the braking point and prevented me from turning in, taking me off the track.
“That lost me a lot of ground and I found myself in the middle of the pack. On top of that, the car was not quite right as I was hit by one of the McLarens – the steering was a bit light and there was other damage as well. I tried to do the best I could, but I was not as quick as I'd hoped, especially in the second stint.
“Before the second stop I closed on Kubica, but I couldn't pass him in the pit-stop because on my 'in' lap I found myself behind [Nico] Rosberg, a lap down. Then I tried several times to attack Robert, but he defended his position well.
“At one point I did find myself slightly ahead of him going into turn three, but I was on the outside and he did not give up the line so I had to go off the track. After that, I had a bit of graining and so I was not able to catch up again. In any case, I am happy to have brought home important points for the team.”
Whilst the Scuderia's
team principal Stefano Domenicali and technical director Luca Baldisserri were effusive in their plaudits for Massa's patchy performance [see separate story – click here
], they were curiously somewhat more lukewarm on the subject of the driver in the sister F2008 – even though Raikkonen out-pointed his team-mate by four spots at the chequered flag.