After – in his words – a “boring” Singapore Grand Prix, Kimi Räikkönen looks to the rest of the season, telling us how he’s always aiming for the top and why Suzuka suits him so well…
Q: Hot, humid and not exactly straightforward; talk us through your weekend in Singapore.
KR: I think we had the chance to do a bit better as the car felt good on Sunday. Not being able to qualify higher on Saturday hurt our chances, then it was a boring race in the car as it’s very difficult to overtake there. The first safety car was not very good for us, but the second one was better for our strategy. I followed Michael [Schumacher] for most of the race, and it was quite frustrating as our car was faster. It’s not very good when you’re stuck behind people as it degrades your tyres and reduces the grip, but it’s a case of just doing the best you can and then trying to jump others during a pitstop or hoping they make a mistake.
Q: You’re still third in the Drivers’ Championship; can you go higher?
KR: You try to do the best you can. This year has been good for the team and we’re doing well in the Championship so I’m happy with where we are and think that we have a good chance to improve. Of course the objective is always to try to win races and to bring home as many points as possible.
Q: People are asking if you could take the Driver Championship title without winning a race; do you think that’s possible?
KR: I think it’s very difficult to say. There are too many things that could happen over the next few races. I guess if you look at it mathematically then yes, I could, but personally I feel you have to win at least one race to make sure you are World Champion. There would have to be some big dramas if I were to take it from Fernando [Alonso] or Sebastian [Vettel] without winning a race, so all I can do is keep moving forward and trying to win. That’s all I set out to do anyway, every time I step into the car.
Q: Tell us about Suzuka? You famously won there in 2005; is it a circuit you enjoy?
KR: It’s a good circuit, one that’s quite fast and there are some nice opportunities for overtaking. The best tracks for me are ones with long straights and sharp corners with lots of space for racing on, and Suzuka has that. In 2005 I had one of my best wins there after starting the race near the back of the grid and then taking the lead on the last lap. Winning in that way, you never forget the feeling it gives you while crossing the finish line.
Q: How difficult is Suzuka to master?
KR: It is one of the more difficult tracks and part of racing at Suzuka is that there are usually quite a few accidents. When you are on the limit, a driver will always have some big moments during the weekend at a fast circuit and Suzuka really punishes the driver due to the speed of the track and the small run-off areas. It’s a great circuit; very quick and challenging for both car and driver. You need an aerodynamically strong car there, and a solid car to go through those fast, long sweeping corners. I think that suits the E20.
Q: There have been a few difficult races for the team, how tough is the championship battle?
KR: We should get some new parts and setting up the car the way I like it to be depends on the weather and on the circuit. We know the speed is there in our car, we just have to find the right set-up to maximise it every time. We give it our best shot to be on the podium, but the races are going to get more and more difficult with other teams constantly pushing with new development parts. Obviously, we have to make a step forward from Singapore – where we were nowhere – to be fighting for top places. It’s impossible to predict how our car will go in the next races. We have to wait until Friday practice to decide how to approach the race.
Q: How do you cope with the many Japanese fans and screaming girls bearing gifts?
KR: It’s part of being a Formula 1 driver and it shows how enthusiastic the fans are. There are very many fans and they seem to be able to find you wherever you are. They can run fast but I don’t think they will catch me when I’m in the car.
Lotus have been 2012’s dark horses. They may still be waiting on that elusive first win, but with the team just 14 points shy of Ferrari in the hunt for third in the constructors’ table and Kimi Raikkonen P3 in the drivers’ standings, everything’s ticking over nicely at Enstone. Team principal Eric Boullier, however, can’t help wondering where they might have been had they not chalked up quite so many DNFs and he’s hoping things will settle down enough over the remaining six races to ensure a strong final push…
Q: Raikkonen is this season’s ‘miracle man’, as he’s third in the drivers’ championship but hasn’t won a single race. How has he done it? He used to be known as a ‘win at all costs’ kind of driver, but now seems to have morphed into one capable of playing the long game…
EB: His ‘miracle’ is that has built up his race weekends very cleverly. At the start he needed a while to get back up to pace and he probably didn’t make the best out of qualifying. But in the race he proved himself to be a very good finisher. He had so many podiums in a row. And about his metamorphosis, maybe it’s because he is getting older? Can I say that? I can at least say he’s more experienced and more mature. (laughs) I think another reason for the change might also be that he is happy with his environment. I think he likes it around here.
Q: The general opinion is that Lotus will win this year. So which race are you going to win?
EB: It’s always the next one. We hoped to win in Singapore. It didn’t happen, so we will move our ambitions to Japan and so on…
Q: What about your 2013 driver line-up? When will you announce it? Will it be Raikkonen and Grosjean again?
EB: I think it will look pretty much the same as what we have this season. With Kimi we have a two-year contract, with an option.
Q: If you were playing devil’s advocate, what would persuade Raikkonen to stay or indeed leave Lotus?
EB: First of all you need to make sure that your drivers want to race for you and that should answer your question. I would say that Kimi feels very good here.
Q: If he hadn’t decided to make a comeback with you, what was your Plan B?
EB: Ah, we had many plans. They probably weren’t so good though. There’s no question that it was a pretty cool move to get Kimi on board. We get more than the sporting results. He has brought motivation back into the company. You can feel that people admire him. Admiration can do fantastic things and it’s something that we never anticipated before. Sponsors, for example, love him, even though they know about his reputation for being a person who is difficult to handle. But that in itself is no issue at all. Kimi is playing the game. So the whole package, the whole momentum, is what makes us move forward.
Q: Whose idea was it to get Raikkonen back? It carried a lot of risks…
EB: I think it was (team Chairman) Gerard (Lopez). We had a meeting with our senior staff to speak about the future of the team and we had a list of drivers that we were thinking of signing. Kimi was on the list. I think that Gerard wanted Kimi more than anybody else – and he pushed for it. In fact it was a very simple, rational discussion.
Q: In an ideal world where would you want Lotus to finish the season? Would Lotus deserve it?
EB: In an ideal world we would finish second in the drivers’ championship. And we would deserve it. Everybody in this team would deserve that position.
Kimi Raikkonen has confirmed he has a contract with Lotus for 2013, but insisted that doesn’t mean he will definitely be with the Enstone based team.
Fending off rumours the Finn is a candidate to move to Ferrari or McLaren next year, Lotus owner Gerard Lopez recently revealed Raikkonen’s current contract includes an option for the 2013 season.
Raikkonen confirmed that “option” to the Finnish broadcaster MTV3.
But the 2007 world champion also insisted: “You never know what is going to happen. We have seen before in Formula One that even if you have a contract, it doesn’t mean you’re going to drive somewhere.”
Raikkonen is undoubtedly referring to 2009, when at the end of that season Ferrari paid the 32-year-old to sit out 2010 in order to make room for Fernando Alonso.
MTV3 said Raikkonen’s 2013 ‘option’ expires at the end of September.
The driver confirmed he is likely to stay.
“I have no reason to do something else,” he said.
Kimi Raikkonen’s chances of getting back in the Formula 1 world championship hunt will be boosted by a major upgrade that Lotus is planning for the Korean Grand Prix, AUTOSPORT can reveal.
The Finn endured a difficult weekend in Singapore but still managed to hang on to third in the standings after finishing sixth. He is now 45 points adrift of championship leader Fernando Alonso with six races remaining.
Although a new rear wing that Lotus tried at the Marina Bay circuit did not work, the Enstone-based outfit believes that the return of its double-DRS in Japan and a number of developments for Korea can get it back in the hunt for the title.
Lotus trackside operations director Alan Permane told AUTOSPORT: “There is a big update coming in Korea, a really good aero update – plus we plan to run our rear wing device in Suzuka.
“We’ve fallen off the back of those top three teams and we need to get ourselves back mixing it with them. I hope we can be right back up there fighting with them, like we were in Budapest.”
Permane suspects that the new wing evaluated in Singapore may not be as bad as the team thought on Friday, as changing track conditions made it difficult to judge its relative merits.
“We had some aero updates on Friday that we weren’t convinced about, and it is difficult in Singapore to measure what is going on,” he said. “So we played it safe and took them off.
“Everything that’s come out of the windtunnel has worked, and maybe we weren’t cautious enough this time because of that. It could be we get to Suzuka and it works really well.
“I’m optimistic that what we’ve got coming will allow us to fight on performance. Although there are no guarantees, I’m reasonably confident we’ll get to Suzuka and be in good shape.”