Mika Hakkinen made a rare appearance in Formula One headlines last month after telling reporters he advised Kimi Raikkonen not to join Ferrari.
“I warned him that changing teams might not go well for him. Unfortunately for Kimi my forecasts are being fulfilled”.
Hakkinen was right on the money. Although Raikkonen has put in some decent performances this year they have slipped under the radar during McLaren’s domination. Kimi seems to have difficulty pushing the car’s limit in qualifying, and also has trouble getting it off the start line. If you took both of those things out of the equation Raikkonen’s 2007 would be looking a lot better.
Give Kimi enough time to sort out the problems with his Ferrari and he will surely come good. Let us not forget that he was often beaten by David Coulthard during his debut season at McLaren. It took Kimi awhile to settle in and the only time in 2002 that he looked like a winner was at the French Grand Prix. Once Raikkonen felt comfortable and learnt the ropes he started dominating Coulthard and nearly won the 2003 world title.
The same scenario may also play out at Ferrari.
Still, the pressure is starting to build on Kimi and he can’t afford to spend much longer acclimatising. It doesn’t look very good when the highest paid driver in Formula One is languishing in fourth on the championship ladder. His arrival at Ferrari was much heralded and he was expected to take off where Michael Schumacher finished. It certainly hasn’t worked out that way and Massa has beaten Kimi in every race since Albert Park. Raikkonen was awesome in Melbourne beating Felipe’s best race lap by almost two seconds, but since then Massa has overshadowed the self proclaimed ‘Iceman’.
Despite the way 2007 is shaping up it would have been impractical for Raikkonen to stay at McLaren. He was becoming frustrated at Woking and the move to Ferrari represented a massive opportunity. It would be a shame if that opportunity was wasted.
Working against Raikkonen is Ferrari’s long history of driver mismanagement. Many stars have left the prancing horse disillusioned, with recent examples being Irvine and Barrichello. Rubens even went as far as to cut his contract short.
World Champions Nigel Mansell and John Surtees left Ferrari after fighting with the team, as did Jackie Ickx. Ivan Capelli and Rene Arnoux were both sacked mid season.
Michael Schumacher also considered leaving Ferrari. In the late 90’s Michael had formal discussions with McLaren that almost resulted in a contract. Ron Dennis suggested in a recent interview that only ‘peripheral financial issues’ prevented Michael from joining McLaren. Schumacher’s willingness to leave Ferrari was not a hurdle.
Another of the great drivers to suffer at Ferrari was Alain Prost. Interestingly there may be a few similarities between Prost’s 1991 season and Raikkonen’s time in 2007.
Alain’s stretch at Maranello started off well enough. He won five races in his first year and clearly had the better of team-mate Mansell. Prost was the only driver in 1990 to challenge the dominant McLaren of Ayrton Senna, and finished a close second in the championship.
It was 1991 that things started to unravel. The car was not fast from the beginning and Prost publicly described it as a ‘truck’. He managed second place at the opening round in Phoenix but it was the best result he would get all year. It was evident from the outset that Ferrari were going to struggle.
Things took a turn for the worse at Imola when Prost embarrassingly spun off during the warm up lap. The faithful Ferrari home crowd were not impressed, and it gave the Italian media ammunition to blame the Frenchman for Ferrari’s poor performances.
As the year went on Prost’s machinery became less competitive and his condemnation of the team intensified. His frustration was compounded mid-season when young team-mate, Jean Alesi, started outpacing him. Jean fought for a podium in Germany whilst Prost spun off the track, and Alesi also managed to lead briefly at Spa Francorchamps.
Alain had won a race every year since his 1980 debut and was aggravated that Ferrari’s poor form would end his run of success. Looking back on his time at Maranello Prost said â€œSometimes I was quite happy at Ferrari, because we would have fun, but then they could not stop having fun and go back to the real workâ€.
Ferrari were equally upset with Prost due to his negative attitude and comments to the press. The animosity resulted in Alain being sacked before the season finished in Adelaide. Prost was not able to find a contract for 1992, and spent a year out of the sport.
Ferrari has changed a lot in the past 16 years and the situation is nowhere near as bad as it used to be. However, the same things that upset Prost are now also happening to Raikkonen. His car is dropping off in pace and is no longer capable of beating old team McLaren. Not only that, but he is being outshone by his team-mate.
The remaining races of 2007 will be the biggest test of Raikkonen mettle. He was title favourite after Melbourne but his championship chances have since been continually slipping away from him.
At Malaysia Kimi was forced to race with a detuned engine which ruined the enjoyment he got from driving the car. He was outpaced by Massa at Bahrain and suffered a gearbox failure at Barcelona.
At Monaco he made an amateur error in qualifying and his poor start at Canada meant he had to queue behind Felipe during the safety-car. Another poor start at Indianapolis ruined his risky tyre strategy.
It has been hard to find a positive point amongst all that, although you could argue Kimi has been quicker than Felipe in the past three Grands Prix. As soon as Raikkonen can turn his speed into results he will be back on the winning track.
Perhaps one thing preventing Raikkonen from doing exactly that is his blasÃ© attitude.
Michael Schumacher worked very long hours with his Ferrari mechanics and visited the factory every chance he got. He was always on the phone to Ross Brawn when he was away from the circuit and socialised with his team on a regular basis. Michael even stayed in Enzo Ferrari’s old house at the Fiorano test track.
Remember Michael’s engine failure at Suzuka last year? Despite the enormous disappointment he went to every mechanic in the garage afterwards and individually thanked them for their hard efforts.
Raikkonen wouldn’t do any of that. He arrives. He drives. He goes home. Ferrari is now a very close knit team so Kimi’s outlook on racing might not be productive in that type of environment. Raikkonen started having trouble fitting in at McLaren and that’s one of the reasons he felt compelled to leave. Surely Kimi is smart enough to avoid making the same mistake again.
If Kimi doesn’t improve soon he might find himself caught in a downward spiral as team attentions turn elsewhere. You never know, he might end up being replaced in a few years by an unhappy Alonso.
If that does happen, and Kimi has to seek out a new team, it might be worth giving Mika Hakkinen a call for advice.