As the Formula 1 season resumes this weekend at the almighty Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium it is an appropriate time to look at a driver who has mastered this challenging and historic circuit many times before, and someone who would love, possibly even need, to do so again.
Kimi Raikkonen has won the Belgian Grand Prix on four occasions and all of these wins came during a five year period between the years 2004-2009. The 2008 race was the only race Raikkonen did not win in this time period after he crashed out in tricky conditions during a late battle for the lead with Lewis Hamilton. It is fair to say that Raikkonen has a stellar record in Belgium.
The F1 silly season is in full flow and only seems to be getting sillier. In the last few days, 16 year-old Max Verstappen has been announced as a Toro Rosso race driver for 2015 and when he makes his debut next year at the ripe old age of 17 he will be the youngest driver to have raced in the sport’s history. Andre Lotterer and Alex Rossi have also just been handed their debuts for Caterham and Marussia respectively this weekend, and with plenty of speculation surrounding the 2015 Ferrari driver line-up now would be the perfect time for a struggling Raikkonen to rediscover some of his best form at a track where he has enjoyed so much success.
So let’s take a look back at the races Raikkonen has won in Belgium.
This race was a drama-filled classic. Jarno Trulli started on pole ahead of Michael Schumacher, who was hoping to secure his seventh and final World Drivers’ Championship, with Raikkonen starting 10th. There was a lot of contact going into La Source immediately after the start with a number of drivers losing their front wings. The field was still tightly bunched going down the hill into Eau Rouge and this inevitably led to a couple of collisions and a mini pile-up triggered by Mark Webber and Takuma Sato coming together. Sato spun across the track, the two Minardis collided putting Gianmaria Bruni out of the race along with Sato, Webber and the Jordan of Giorgio Pantano. The safety car was deployed and Raikkonen found himself in 5th place. After the restart Raikkonen went on a charge and two laps later had climbed to 3rd. Trulli then pitted from the lead and Alonso spun after an oil leak leaving Raikkonen in the lead and in a position he would hold onto for the rest of the race to claim his only win of 2004.
Juan Pablo Montoya started on pole for McLaren ahead of teammate Raikkonen with Championship leader Fernando Alonso starting from 5th. Jarno Trulli briefly passed Raikkonen but the strength of the Mercedes engine helped the Finn surge back in front and reclaim 2nd place. Takuma Sato slammed into the back of Michael Schumacher on lap 14, forcing both out of the race as changing conditions made things difficult for drivers, leaving them unsure of which tyres they should be on. Montoya was taken out by the Williams of Antonio Pizzonia after pitting for intermediates leaving Raikkonen unchallenged in the lead on the right tyres to claim his second consecutive win at the famous circuit.
In an uneventful race the order from the start remained more or less unchanged with the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa leading the field away from the McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton attempted to pass Alonso around the outside of La Source at the start but Alonso pushed him wide onto the tarmac on the outside of the corner. Sebastian Vettel, having secured a race seat at Toro Rosso after impressing at Indianapolis for BMW Sauber, soon suffered a handling problem which forced him to retire. Massa briefly led but Raikkonen reclaimed his lead once both had pitted. Raikkonen finally came home to claim a lights to flag win, and his third in succession at Spa, from Massa and Alonso.
In a year which saw a major reshaping of the regulations, the running order was almost reversed and teams such as McLaren and Ferrari who had dominated the last few seasons found themselves with somewhat uncompetitive packages. Giancarlo Fisichella was on pole in Spa ahead of Jarno Trulli, with Raikkonen in 6th. A couple of first lap collisions involving Romain Grosjean, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Jaime Alguersuari led to the introduction of the safety car. As the safety car came in five laps later Raikkonen found himself in 2nd behind race leader Fisichella, and after following him closely though Eau Rouge, passed him going into Les Combes to claim 1st position. There was little incident throughout the rest of the race and Raikkonen fended off Fisichella to claim his fourth, and to this date final, win in Belgium. It was his only win of the 2009 campaign.
Despite two impressive seasons with Lotus in 2012 and 2013, Kimi has only won two races since the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix. His record in Belgium since his return to F1 has seen him finish 3rd and 11th in 2012 and 2013 respectively. In a season which has seen him return to Ferrari, and seemingly struggle having been consistently outperformed by teammate Fernando Alonso, now would be the perfect time to take advantage of the fact that he is very strong around this circuit. Raikkonen needs a good result to get his season back on track, perhaps even started, especially if he is going to prove his going crowd of doubters wrong and also secure a competitive race seat for 2015.