Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Kimi's quandary - thoughts on round one of Alonso vs. Raikkonen

Much is new about F1 in 2014. But of all of the novelties anticipated one perhaps brought more expectancy than all others: Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen; two titans finally getting to clash directly in one of those rare 'two roosters in the same hen-house' scenarios, and doing so in possibly the most unforgiving hen-house there is, at Ferrari.

And in Melbourne it was an emphatic strike one to Alonso; all weekend it seemed the gap gaped in his favour. From the very start of Friday practice it tended to amount to several tenths of a second per lap consistently. The rain of qualifying didn't help Kimi much either, indeed it appeared to hinder as his best was a full 1.6 seconds shy of Alonso's in the same session.

Kimi Raikkonen's second Ferrari debut was a difficult one
Photo: Octane Photography
Further, throughout the weekend you probably could have gauged as much even without the aid of a stop watch. What Murray Walker used to call the 'body language' of Kimi's F14 T rarely looked right: all locked brakes, hesitant and wayward turn-ins, wide and sometimes off track excursions including ending the afore-mentioned qualifying session in the wall (and admitting later that he was on an in-lap when it happened and was 'playing around with switches or something').

In the race Kimi got closer, and was indeed unlucky to lose a couple of places in the safety car period due to having to 'queue' in the pits, but even so come the end he was more than twenty seconds adrift of his similarly-equipped team mate, and displayed some of the outlandish moments of earlier in the weekend still.

It all seemed strangely under-commented on too, certainly as the weekend progressed. One lengthy race report I read, and from a highly represented journal, made its only mention of either Ferrari driver to say that Alonso was ahead of Valtteri Bottas when the Williams driver tagged a wall. Perhaps people's attention was elsewhere; what attention there has been on the Scuderia is related to that it appears to have started a season with a car off the pace for what seems the nth time in a row. Still, you'd imagine that had it been the other way around the, shall we say, fundamentalist wing of Kimi Raikkonen's support at least would have been drawing much attention to the fact.

But I digress somewhat, and whatever you think of the two pilots' respective merits only a churl would argue that the lap time gap between them evidenced in Melbourne is a representative one all things being equal.

We know that Kimi does have particular set-up preferences, especially in that he is one who likes to drive with his fingertips, requiring a sensitive front end 'feel' so that he can guide the car deftly (Ferrari's Technical Director, and ex of Lotus, James Allison said in testing that Kimi has 'soft hands'). By contrast, the front end of the F14 T currently is rather stiff, doesn't respond well to subtlety and doesn't offer much feedback. We can recall too Kimi having similar (though not as extreme) problems in his early Lotus days, with the steering rack having to be revised so to suit his fingertip style.

Braking clearly is a problem for him too right now, judging by the number of lock-ups. Brake-by-wire adds a number of new considerations for the drivers and is a work in progress up and down the grid.

That all are driving machines under radically revised technical rules and there were only twelve days of testing in total (six per driver in effect) to sort them on track probably left next to no time to revise them for the sake of a drivers' personal handling preference. That Kimi got more of the car's reliability woes will have made the time even tighter. Kimi has warned too that it all won't be a quick fix.

It probably doesn't help that Alonso quite possibly is the most adaptable driver in modern F1, as well as is particularly skilled in hauling an unwilling car much faster than it cares to go, and unlike Kimi is willing to use (in Rob Wilson's phrase) agricultural methods to do so if needed. In his previous years alongside Felipe Massa indeed it tended to be when the Ferrari was really bad, such as in early 2012, that the widest gaps between the Spaniard and his stable mate were established. When the Ferrari improved Massa tended to get closer.

At least though in this stint at Ferrari it appears - perhaps unlike last time - the team is minded proactively to help Kimi find his sweet spot (at the Scuderia in his previous spell it didn't happen until after Massa's accident in mid-2009), as evidenced by these words from Stefano Domenicali.

And to make a mischievous point before finishing via returning to the 'what if the boot was on the other foot' point, the thought did cross my mind as to what the fallout would have been had the story linked to above about Ferrari prioritising sorting Raikkonen's problems existed in a parallel universe but with Alonso and Raikkonen's names swapped around. My skin crawls just thinking about it...


  1. The one factor we need to add in as well is that Raikkonen had no input into the 2014 car, and just like the 2012 Lotus he had no input into , he dragged them both into 7th place in Melbourne. Consequently - He'll win at Melbourne next year in the Ferrari =)

  2. 4 years? at a stretch for Alonso at Ferrari, 1 race for Raikkonen in Ferrari, he'll be better than what people are making him out to be after a solitary race.