2017 F1 driver of the year: #7 – Kimi Raikkonen
We continue to analyse the ten best drivers of the season as voted by RealSport users. This time: Kimi Raikkonen in seventh place, coincidentally also his driver number.
Why we watched him in 2017
Raikkonen got a new one year contract for this year after he showed in 2016 that he clearly improved in the internal team battle with Sebastian Vettel. In qualifying especially he showed a higher performance by winning 11-10. In terms of race results Kimi was still 26 points behind, but generally Ferrari weren’t where they expected themselves to be after dropping back behind Red Bull.
For 2017 it was interesting to see if Kimi could return to the type of strong performances he showed years ago, and if the rule changes with the new cars could help the Finn in that regard. His last win dates back to Australia 2013 and his last Ferrari win even longer, all the way back to Spa 2009.
And after Vettel showed that the Scuderia is still capable of winning races in the current era it was surely time for Kimi to get his 21st victory after sharing the same amount with fellow Finn Mika Hakkinen for quite some time now.
Apart from his racing performances there are more entertaining reasons to watch him. It’s always great to hear his interviews and radio messages, and this year gave us plenty more content to enjoy!
Compared to his teammate, the points tally of the 2007 world champion looks quite disappointing, especially that he only managed to pass Daniel Ricciardo in the standings because the Australian suffered from a few DNFs at the end of the year, including Abu Dhabi. In total, the Finn scored 205 points, 100 behind fellow countryman Valtteri Bottas.
Moreover, out of the three top teams he is the only driver who didn’t win a race this year, although the opportunities were there on some occasions: Monaco, where he started from Pole; or in Hungary where he had to stay in second to keep Vettel in front of the Mercedes since the German was facing issues with his steering wheel.
Later in the season the race in Malaysia could have been a great chance for him to fight for the win, with Vettel coming from the back of the grid where the German wouldn’t have been in the area for a position switch. A strong qualifying secured second place on the grid and so close to pole, with Ferrari showing a very competitive pace all weekend.
Unfortunately for the Finn his car suffered an engine issue similar to Vettel’s the day before, coming just after leaving the pits to get to the grid. There was no time to fix it and Kimi could not even take part in the race. As Verstappen passed Hamilton to clinch the victory, you could say it was another win that got away for Raikkonen.
Baku could have been another opportunity as well (as for many others…) if you look at how the race progressed after a collision with Bottas on the first lap ended his hopes for a possible victory.
The bottom line is that after a long time Kimi had the chance to fight for wins again, but unfortunately he couldn’t convert his chances.
Kimi’s highlight of the season was definitely the pole position in Monaco, his first in almost nine years since Magny-Cours in 2008. However, with Vettel alongside him on the front row, and with the German being the championship leader, it was to be expected that the order would change during the race.
However the Finn defended his position at the start and enjoyed many laps at the front until the crucial decision was made to switch tyres on lap 35. This gave Vettel the chance to do some extra laps, and the German took advantage of the situation, setting lots of purple lap times. As the four-time world champion pitted on lap 40, he had extended the gap at the front enough to come out ahead of Raikkonen to become the new leader of the race.
The race ended that way, Kimi finished second, and he was clearly unhappy with that result. His face during the podium ceremony spoke for itself! He wanted explanations on how he lost the race after losing a lot of time with his new set of tyres which allowed Vettel to catch up and take the lead with his later pit stop.
Usually the one who pits first should have the advantage, but this time it was different. Did Ferrari wanted Vettel to win? Was there some conspiracy going on? Maybe some of it was true, maybe not. Generally though, Kimi lost the race by not being quick enough in the deciding moment.
But can we count that weekend as his best? I would say yes. The Iceman taking pole, leading the first half of the race, and finishing second was overall his best weekend of the year, even though he would probably see it differently…
Choosing the worst weekend is a hard one. As mentioned before there were some races where the result could have been slightly different. Singapore was clearly the worst for Ferrari, or Malaysia and Kimi’s lost chance for the win. But looking at Kimi’s performance deficit in relation to Sebastian the Chinese GP would be a suitable example.
Starting from fourth the Finn got caught out by both Red Bulls and his pace was nowhere in comparison to teammate Vettel, who fought back past Kimi from P5 after he switched tyres under Virtual Safety Car, with the others taking advantage of the following safety car period moments later when Antonio Giovinazzi crashed..
While Vettel stormed back to second, passing Kimi, Ricciardo and Verstappen, the 2007 world champion was rather struggling. A gap of more than 40 seconds between the Ferraris speaks for itself.
Raikkonen was later publicly criticised by Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne who said that Kimi ‘never even tried’ or may have had ‘other commitments’, while Vettel was praised for his overtakes after finishing second.
Kimi at least made it to fifth, but only because Bottas lost ground when he made an embarrassing mistake as he spun behind the safety car. Still, Raikkonen said later on that his performance in the first couple of races wasn’t where he expected it to be, and the race in China showed exactly that.
With his contract renewed once again Kimi has already set high targets by saying that he wants to fight for the championship next season and aims for a better start to the year,
First of all though, it all depends on how competitive Ferrari will be next season. With a to-be-expected strong Mercedes, a probably fast Red Bull, and some even expect McLaren to be back in the game again after purchasing Renault power for 2018, we may see one of the most competitive seasons in a while.
Generally we have seen that Raikkonen can keep up with Vettel on some occasions, but most of the time the German is the quicker driver, evidenced by him being the only Ferrari driver to fight for the title in 2017.
So can we expect that Kimi may again end up being the helping hand for Vettel? Or can he actually be in the mix for the drivers title?
Personally I hope so, but if not I would be happy seeing him at least winning again and having a great season, since it could be his final one.