It is hard to believe Kimi Raikkonen stayed away from Formula One for two years. The ‘Iceman’ is one of the title contenders this season with six podiums already. Now as the F1 gears up for the Asian circuit, the Lotus driver is eagerly looking forward to his first race in India.
Raikkonen, who returned to F1 after a stint in the World Rally Championship, found the track at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) interesting on the simulator.
“It is great to be racing there and the track looks interesting. I always liked to visit new countries and India is an exciting place. As far as performance goes, we won’t know how well the car will perform until we get there,” Raikkonen said ahead of the second Indian Grand Prix (Oct 26-28).
Raikkonen and Frenchman Romain Grosjean are part of a brand new Lotus line-up for the 2012 season. The duo might not have the first-hand experience of the BIC track, but the 32-year-old Finn has heard a lot of good things about it from the team’s reserve Jerome d’ Ambrosio, who drove for Virgin last year.
“Romain, too, hasn’t raced at BIC, but going by what I heard from Jerome it looks like an exciting track. But I would still say, it is better to get out on the track and experience it for yourself,” said Raikkonen as he prepares for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka over the weekend.
It is sheer consistency that has taken him to third place in the drivers’ standings and that, too, without a win.
Asked whether he expected three second places and as many third place finishes in the 14 rounds so far, Raikkonen’s candid response is: “I have always been pretty consistent and even the car is okay.”
His tone is the same when you talk to him about his return to F1.
“F1 hasn’t changed much, it feels like I wasn’t away at all. There were a few familiar faces in different shirts but that’s what happens every year anyway. Though I like many forms of motor sports such as WRC, NASCAR, motocross, snowmobile racing, my focus is on F1.”
Apart from India, South Korea (Oct 12-14) is another new venue for Raikkonen. The 2007 World Champion welcomes the expansion of F1 calendar, calling it good for the sport.
“Korea is another one where I will be driving for the first time. The circuit looks good and it is a new port of call for F1. It is good for the sponsors. I am looking forward to driving on the new track,” he concluded.
Team boss Eric Boullier says Kimi Raikkonen has shown himself to be a ‘special animal’ for the way in which he has put together a championship challenge on his return to F1 this season.
Having joined Lotus after two years away, Raikkonen has produced an impressive campaign to lie third in the standings heading to Suzuka, with six podium finishes leaving him 45 points behind Fernando Alonso despite the fact he is the only driver in the top seven not to have won a race.
Speaking ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix, Boullier said that fact was an indication of how well Raikkonen had been driving this season, with the aim being for the Finn and team-mate Romain Grosjean to keep picking up points to help the Enstone-based team in the title race.
“Kimi is a special animal,” Boullier said. “His racecraft is always fantastic; he manages to extract 100% from the car on Sunday and to make the most of every opportunity. Who would remember, today, that he’s been out of this sport for the last two years?
“Now, the priority is to score points regularly with two cars because the Constructors’ Championship is really important to us. Romain has shown in Singapore that his raw speed is still there. He did not make any mistakes and will be able to build on this experience in Suzuka. Something tells me that the end of the season will give us quite a few nice surprises.”