“The Iceman cometh back”, screamed the headline of the October issue of F1 Racing. I picked my subscriber’s copy straight off the doormat and flicked through to the relevant article. I was mildly disappointed to read that it was probable the Finn would be signing with Williams. That would mean his glacial press conferences would be much more commonplace than his lightning speed.
Then Renault – sorry, Lotus – had a dreary end to the season, and someone at Genii Capital who’s probably never watched any F1 decided that neither erratic Russian Vitaly Petrov nor Brazilian Bruno Senna, who in fairness has yet to display anything other than good character and strong qualifying, had done enough to warrant a new contract. With Robert Kubica still resting the team’s future, and his part-severed right hand, following last year’s rally mishap, the French – well, English-French-Swiss now – outfit have plumped for Romain Grosjean (a questionable move) and Raikkonen (brilliant).
One potential issue for Lotus, at least early in the season, will be that it is two years since either of their new pilots were regularly driving F1 cars. Although Grosjean has been a force in GP2 and a Renault test driver since his largely underwhelming 2009 Renault seat, Raikkonen has been out of F1 since 2008. It’s not like his experience in the meantime will be too relevant either, since Kimi has spent that time competing without much success in the World Rally Championship.
The Iceman is stepping into a world he won’t recognise too much. When he left, his former employers Ferrari and McLaren were the only two teams capable of winning a championship, with BMW the best of the rest. In the three years since then, F1 has swelled by three new teams, seen six name changes, had two new world champions, and wrangled with the varying technical challenges of the disappearance of refuelling and endless aerodynamics flaps and wings, new tires, double diffusers, blown diffusers, f-ducts, DRS, KERS, and so on. Canada is back on the map, and has been joined by Valencia, India, South Korea, Abu Dhabi and now, maybe, Austin and New Jersey. (Alas, Bernie remains.)
After such an extended leave of absence, it remains to be seen whether Raikkonen can recapture his former glory. One recent precedent suggests that three years is too long to be out of this game if you intend to return to the top of it – and if Michael Schumacher can’t do it, anyone in his generation will surely struggle.
There will be many questions asked, and much scrutiny of, Raikkonen in his comeback year. Of course, whether the Iceman will take any notice of that is another thing entirely.
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