“What did you do to the car? The brake balance is all changed.”
Late January 2012 at Valencia’s tight and twisty little track and 2007 Formula 1 world champion Kimi Raikkonen is back. Back where he belongs. His two-year stint smashing and crashing his way around World Rally Championship stages has finally lost its appeal, and the Finnish star is about to embark on his second F1 career with the Lotus team.
The private two-day test is a much-anticipated event. Repainted in the team’s black and gold(ish) livery, a 2010 Renault R30 is Kimi’s shiny ride; the F1 world is waiting to see if Raikkonen will show the scintillating pace we know he has or the woeful uninterested mood he departed the sport with two years past.
Doubters – and there were plenty at his new team, senior management included – need not have worried.
Two laps – two laps back in the hot seat and the Iceman is on the pace, setting a time that will stand as one of his very quickest of the test.
On the radio Kimi’s feedback and intelligent questioning of his pit-based engineers has the team’s seasoned F1 crew sharing knowing glances across the garage. This guy is special. Back in F1 to collect a pension? – not a chance.
Many different wing settings, ride height adjustments and several engine map options later, the Finn can minutely describe them all.
Day two… A three per cent change in rearward brake balance which – prior to the run – Kimi is unaware of, and he’s on the radio straight away.
Somehow Raikkonen at Lotus seems such a good fit. The team wisely let him be his own man: PR demands are kept to a minimum, 25 minute pre-press conference strategy briefings (so beloved by some in rival teams) are non-existent, and Kimi is even being ‘allowed’ to paddock-slouch in surf’s-up board shorts not cut from the team’s cloth!
Stand in front of the Lotus pit before an F1 session and you’ll see quite a contrast. One side is all guys darting this way and that, while in the other calmness prevails. I’ll leave you to guess upon which side Kimi’s car sits.
Get things nailed in qualifying, start higher up the grid and a race win will surely follow.
Not all F1 comebacks, it seems, are quite such a bad idea…