2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen made a triumphant return to Formula One racing with Lotus last year, winning one race and finishing third in the drivers’ championship. Now, with Lotus’s new E21 car showing impressive pace in pre-season testing, the Finn is looking to build on that success.
As preparations for the 2013 season move up a gear at the second test of the year in Barcelona, Spain, Raikkonen looks back on his return to the sport, discusses his approach to racing and explains why his ambitions haven’t changed…
Q: Kimi, when you look back to this time last year – did you ever think it possible that you would attend the FIA prize giving ceremony at the end of the season to pick up the trophy for third place in the world championship?
Kimi Raikkonen: No, of course not. I didn’t have many expectations. I didn’t know the team, nor their car – I just knew that I wanted to do my best and see what happens.
Q: So the trophy was a nice extra?
KR: Of course you aim for it, but if you are in a completely new situation and have no reference of what you can and can’t expect, then you take it with a smile.
Q: There was only one race in 2012 – the Chinese Grand Prix – in which you didn’t finish in the points. Lotus team principal Eric Boullier says your biggest strength is your race craft. Can you explain what race craft is for you?
KR: Ha, I don’t have anything to explain. It is so much simpler – I do my best in the race. If it works out – good – but I don’t have any plan. Is that race craft?
Q: Could it be that you start a bit slow but once you get going you roll over many others?
KR: That sounds too categorical. It’s like this: sometimes it is more difficult than at other times. Sometimes you have a good car, at others you don’t. People tend to mystify simple things (laughs).
Q: There are those drivers who train intensively, for example Jenson Button with his triathlons, or Mark Webber with his biking. You don’t appear to be that kind of person…
KR: You don’t know that – you don’t know what I do! I do my thing, but I have no interest to tell (laughs)
Q: For many you were the driver of 2012. After two years away doing things like rallying, you came back and drove brilliantly. Was rallying so frustrating that when you came back you had a real hunger for success?
KR: No. Believe it or not, I still want to do rallying. I had a good time and I knew from the very beginning that it was going to be tough. People say ‘oh, it’s been a failure’. Not at all – I started with zero experience and for that I did pretty well. Sure I went off, but anybody believing he could do better, go and prove it.
Q: But being successful in Formula One again is nothing to be sniffed at…
KR: But I’ve done that before.
Q: Your young team mate, Romain Grosjean, had quite a difficult year in 2012. Did you ever offer advice or did you keep out of the matter completely?
KR: It is not my business so I kept out of it. I am not here to explain what to do. Everybody has his own way of doing things and you cannot so easily adapt that for somebody else. He had a tough time, but sometimes that happens. That’s life.
Q: So you are not the Jedi master taking an apprentice under his wings?
KR: This is not Hollywood – this is Formula One. I try to figure out my own stuff.
Q: At 33-years-old, you are currently the second oldest driver on the grid. Does maturity help or is it completely overrated?
KR: That is not good! (laughs) Sure experience helps a bit, but I’ve never figured out when it’s the point that you have enough experience. What comes then? If you do ten thousand more races I don’t think you will get seriously better. I think what is more important is that you can look back on experience from the previous season with your team. If you have experience with your team and the people there, that helps.
Q: You and Lotus seems to be a really good fit. What do you think are the reasons for that?
KR: It is a real racing team – they want to race and not worry about the other stuff. There are not many teams that do that. There is far less politics than at many other teams. I enjoy it here. Sure there are things that the team doesn’t have – we don’t have the budget of the big teams – but we are all trying to do the best we can with what we have.
Q: Looking at 2013 and the new car, the first test in Jerez seemed to be pretty positive for the team. Can you confirm that?
KR: We didn’t have any real issues in Jerez. The biggest problem here and in Jerez is basically the new software. We lose all the data when we are running – that is not very good when you are testing and you have some issues with parts and you cannot see it in real time. The car itself is running well – we just have to get that stupid data logging system fixed.
Q: Is there any area in which you like to improve the car?
KR: A driver’s dreams are all about downforce! It makes you faster and helps you save your tyres.
Q: After so many years in Formula One, have your ambitions changed? Is it still the world championship title that you are after?
KR: Otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Sure you have to be realistic about your chances, but after last year we should have a chance. We don’t have the budget, but if we get it right and can be consistent and reliable then we probably can put ourselves in a position where at least we do have a chance. We will try, but I’m not making promises.
Q: What would be a good year for you?
KR: Last year with additional wins.
Q: Does it surprise you that you are still Ferrari’s last world champion?
KR: Ha! Yes it’s nice. But it will change one day. Maybe this year, maybe next year.