How does a driver bounce back after the worst season of his career? This year Kimi Räikkönen had one such experience, finishing a miserable 12th in the championship with just one top five finish. The 2007 World Champion returned to Ferrari to join Fernando Alonso in an all-star line-up, with the hope that experience could eradicate the Scuderia’s recent problems. Despite a disjointed pre-season that left the team severely under-gunned throughout the season, Ferrari were still reassured in that they had two of the most talented and experienced drivers at their disposal. The general belief seemed to be that if the car was below par, at least the drivers wouldn’t be. At least, that’s what they thought.
Although Ferrari’s intention was to improve on an easily forgettable 2013 campaign it entered 2014 with fairly low expectations, partly because of the clear dominance of Mercedes’ power unit and partly because they had been focusing heavily on aerodynamic development which conceded progress in the power department. As a result, Räikkönen was uncharacteristically off the pace for most of the season.
Räikkönen’s season started disappointingly, finishing eighth on the road in Australia. Despite his unperturbed façade it was clear that he was struggling to get the most out of the Ferrari F14T, both in the corners and on the straights. With the prancing horses looking rather limp Räikkönen was left to dice for single figure points with the other midfield teams. His mid-season was characterised by a frightening crash at the start of the British Grand Prix, which was then followed by an 11th place finish at Hockenheim. While his team-mate Alonso was busy putting as much pressure on the front runners as his car allowed, Räikkönen slowly faded into the background. He was consistent and (largely) stayed out of trouble, but the truth remained that Räikkönen was not where he intended to be at the start of the year.
This season was the first in which we saw evidence of an ageing Räikkönen. He doesn’t seem to be the exciting driver that he was ten years ago, and it’s sad to see. This year he seemed content settling for eight and ninth place finishes, rather than pushing for the front. Alonso, meanwhile, continued to churn out hard-fought points finishes week in week out, and as a result embarrassed Räikkönen statistically. The Spaniard managed to record more top five finishes in the first two rounds than Räikkönen did in the entire season, and ended the year 106 points ahead of his team-mate. Some would argue that this would have been the case no matter who had lined up next to Alonso in 2014, but witnessing a driver as talented as Räikkönen consistently drop so far off the pace made it clear that something wasn’t right. Unlike during his time at McLaren, Raikkonen didn’t have the luxury of having parts tailored to meet his needs. Instead he had to fight with what he was given, which, in the end, was not enough.
However, there were still flashes of brilliance that reminded us of the Räikkönen of old, most notably at Spa where he collected fastest lap after fastest lap in a brilliant drive that heralded a welcome fourth place finish. Furthermore, he was on course for a podium at Monaco until a collision with Max Chilton saw him slip out of the points. Although Räikkönen did manage to deliver some excellent performances, these were far more sporadic than usual. The main worry among the Tifosi is that these drives will become even rarer next year.
2014 has been consigned to history and now Räikkönen has the opportunity to put things right, depending on whether Ferrari can produce a suitable car or not. The unorganised state that the team’s management is currently wading through won’t help. They have lost the stability that once formed part of their image as a pure, classy racing team. Räikkönen won’t want all the fuss in the background, and as such it’s difficult to understand why he would want to remain at Ferrari. However, with long-time friend Sebastian Vettel set to partner Räikkönen in 2015, there is every chance that the Finn will turn a corner. Both drivers, despite being world champions, have several points to prove after being sunk by their team-mates in 2014. Vettel will be entering the Ferrari hybrid era a year behind Räikkönen, so this is the chance for Raikkonen to exert pressure on his team-mate, in a way that he failed to do against Alonso.
Therefore, 2015 will be a make or break year for Kimi Räikkönen. His contract is due to run out at the end of the season and he hinted earlier this year that he would leave Ferrari when the time comes. In terms of the bigger picture, Räikkönen needs to improve in 2015 if he is to keep his Formula 1 career alive. Ferrari won’t want to try to keep him if he is consistently performing to the bare minimum – that simply won’t do. Few other teams will have the desire or the funds to sign Räikkönen if he is performing below par, so unless he gets to grips with the Ferrari power unit and starts pushing for more top five finishes then the options for the future may dry up. If he doesn’t bounce back next season, we could end up witnessing a painful end to an otherwise glittering Formula 1 career.
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