Man on a mission
An intense sound of rushing air about forty seconds after 11 a.m. made everyone stop what they were doing and watch as the first 2017 spec car - a Sauber - burst out of the trees and barked down through the gears before hitting the hairpin. It was time for FP3.
I had left my wife in the hotel room several hours earlier and made my way to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in the hot June sun. In the general admission spot I had eked out for myself in the crowd, I held my breath. Seconds later, another car flew into view, then another. After a few laps of adjustments though, one car began to stand out. One driver was putting more into practice than anyone else on track and it was plain to see. His entry speeds to the hairpin were higher, braking points later, his downshifts faster and meaner, and his acceleration away from turn 10 and up the straight was race-ready. It was Kimi Raikkonen.
Making up for Monaco
Two weeks before, the F1 show had been in Monaco. Kimi flew to his first pole in 129 races and led the pack away from the start. He was unlucky, and angry, to be overcut by his teammate at the first round of pit stops. but that's racing, and even though disappointed to settle for second, Kimi knew it. What I saw circling the track during practice that morning was a man set on righting that wrong and it heavily influenced my thinking for how qualifying and the race would play out.
Kimi, fourth in qualifying later that afternoon, would go on to finish seventh in a race that typifies his season. The rest of the field matched his day-long effort in qualifying, with Hamilton and Vettel fighting to an exciting pole position, and he fought brake issues all race long. There were many storylines at the race and many good memories for the whole weekend. However, thinking back to that Saturday now, it's seeing him putting everything into the car during a practice while everyone else was milking the cow that stands out to me. And it's why I repeatedly find Sergio Marchionne's statements about Raikkonen out of line.
In 2014, his first year returning to Ferrari, Raikkonen had a terrible season; 11th in the Driver's Championship scoring 55 points. 2015 (4th) and 2016 (6th) were much better, and one could even argue that over the second half of last year he was more consistent in his performances than his teammate, current championship leader Sebastian Vettel.
He may have only placed ahead of his Vettel on race day once this year but a deeper look shows he has outpaced his all-time great partner in several practice sessions and another 2 qualifying rounds in 2017 (Azerbaijan and Britain). In races where he has finished, Raikkonen's lowest placement is 7th. Vettel, currently sitting on an offer of nearly $140 million dollars from Ferrari, has also placed 7th, and has the stain of Baku to live down.
Vettel has also had no shortage of positive praise for his stablemate during the past two and a half seasons. However, it is worth noting that at the end of the day, race results are what matters and in this area Raikkonen needs help. For all of his efforts he currently sits fifth in the championship, and with far fewer points than Vettel (98 vs 177).
Marchionne is no stranger to letting a few misplaced words slip. In 2011, his use of a Yiddish term to describe his evaluation of the deal Chrysler (Fiat-Chrysler is Ferrari's parent company) signed with the U.S. government to save its hide drew comparisons to anti-Semitic speech. He issued a public apology in that instance but maintains a reputation as blunt and controversial. To quote Massimo Vecchio, an Italian investment banking analyst: "The only thing that matters to him is results. If you don't deliver, you are out. He is quite ruthless."
Marchionne laying the groundwork?
Perhaps that quote is all we need to know. This season, Raikkonen has set two fastest laps in ten races, has one pole and seven top-five finishes. This is not weak work and Marchionne undoubtedly can see that. In addition to his aforementioned reputation, he also carries one of excellence, communication improvements and high results.
It would seem strange that he would lose sight of all this and focus solely on the championship standings, and there could only really be one reason for doing so: he's setting the table for clearing Kimi out. Lay the groundwork of malcontent ahead of time and parting is easier in the end. The more he states his dissatisfaction now, before the second seat is sealed at Ferrari for 2018, the easier it will be for Tifosi and casual fan alike to accept the replacement of one of F1's enduring popular drivers, and the last man to win the drivers' championship wearing Rosso Corsa and white.
Raikkonen maintains the speed he has always had but Ferrari, and Marchionne, thirst for someone else to carry them over the line. Perhaps they are right: trailing Mercedes by 55 points in the constructors' standings they could find themselves tantalisingly close to winning this year, but end up on the outside looking in and wishing for a few more points from their second driver.
What do you think?