More than meets the eye to Kimi Raikkonen’s season with Ferrari

Kimi Raikkonen has been outperformed by Sebastian Vettel this season and is fifth in the drivers’ standings, two places behind his teammate and 84 points worse off. That does not tell the full story.

Kimi Raikkonen has handled all the twists the season has thrown at him so well that Ferrari decided to retain him for the 2016 season. EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP
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This was supposed to be the weekend that Kimi Raikkonen’s resurgence began.

The uncertainty over his future was settled in midweek when Ferrari confirmed they were renewing the 2007 world champion’s contract for 2016, ending speculation he would be dropped at the end of the season.

He has been outperformed by Sebastian Vettel this season and is fifth in the drivers’ standings, two places behind his teammate and 84 points worse off.

That does not tell the full story, though, and Raikkonen’s speed compared to Vettel has largely been good on race day.

What Ferrari have realised is that Raikkonen brings a nice balance to the team as he and Vettel get on well, and his form is better than his results, which have consisted of only one podium in 10 races, compared to two wins for Vettel and five ­podiums.

Where it has gone wrong for Raikkonen has been in the proceedings on Saturday afternoon. He had another disappointing qualifying session yesterday for today’s Belgian Grand Prix, although this occasion was not his fault.

His Ferrari SF15-T stopped on the track in the second part of qualifying with an oil pressure problem, having not set a time in the session.

Raikkonen was in no danger of challenging for pole position – only someone driving a Mercedes-GP car was going to be in that fight – but the Finn should have been in the fight for the second or third row of the grid.

Instead, he will line-up in 14th place today at Spa-­Francorchamps.

Raikkonen’s qualifying form has been undeniably weak this season.

He has only started ahead of Vettel twice and one of those occasions, in Canada, was because of mechanical problems for his teammate.

Ferrari have been the second-best team this season behind Mercedes and Vettel has demonstrated that through having been the only non-Mercedes driver to start on the front row.

The German struggled yesterday at Spa, and eighth is only the third time he has not qualified in the top four in 2015.

That is in comparison to Raikkonen, who has only been in the top four twice this season, a poor return for a car that is clearly so quick.

It is no coincidence that his strongest races, in China and Bahrain, have come when he has qualified well and then been able to push hard without having to pass slower traffic.

He was second in Bahrain and deservedly so, but he has been unable to replicate that result and has been put in the shade by Vettel this season.

He ran second for most of the afternoon in Hungary last month in a Ferrari one-two, but he was a distant second to Vettel before mechanical problems first slowed, then finally sidelined him.

He struggled badly compared to Fernando Alonso last year, so it is important to put this season’s toil in context to the 2014 horror show.

This is an improvement, but there is no denying Vettel has got the better performance out of the Ferrari.

That is why yesterday was such a shame as Spa has been Raikkonen’s happiest hunting ground in his F1 career.

Between 2004 and 2009 he won at Spa four times, and he clearly relishes the fast sweeping curves of the longest track in F1 at present, with Spa seven kilometres in length.

Unless the new start rules, which mean drivers must do their own clutch set up, cause chaos at the start and mixes up the racing order by Turn 1, the fight for victory today is going to be a private one between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

But Raikkonen’s speed throughout the weekend – he had been in the top five in every practice session before qualifying – indicated he was in a position to fight for a podium finish.

Passing is possible at Spa, but Raikkonen, not for the first time, faces a mountain to climb on a Sunday after a frustrating Saturday.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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