What went wrong for Raikkonen?Laurence Edmondson December 26, 2014
It's no secret Kimi Raikkonen struggled on his return to Maranello this year. He was comprehensively beaten by Fernando Alonso in the other Ferrari and by the end of the season had less than a third of the points of his team-mate. But why did one of the stars of the last two years struggle so much in 2014?
Although he's rarely enthusiastic about going into detail, Raikkonen made clear that the Ferrari F14 T's lack of front-end grip and feel meant he did not have the tools to drive to his strengths. When he's at his best, Raikkonen likes to carry a lot of speed into a corner and maintain it through the apex, but to do so he needs to be able to feel exactly what the front tyres are up to, and he needs them to stick. The Ferrari didn't offer him that feel and left him guessing what the front end would do rather than being able to predict it.
He had a similar problem when he first joined Lotus in 2012 and went through a series of steering racks trying to get the feedback he needed from the front tyres. When the car's right he wins races, but when it's not he looks distinctly average.
"Since the go-karts, if it doesn't turn and the front doesn't bite I've never liked it," Raikkonen said earlier this season. "My driving style is more about trying to carry the speed into the corners and keep it up in the mid-corner. It's the way I'm used to doing things but obviously it changes every year and with every car. I still think it's the fastest way and when you get the car working for you as you want, the fastest maximum speed - for me at least - can be found that way."
Without the response from the front end, Raikkonen cannot make the minute adjustments that allow him to carry speed in the most efficient way through the corner. At times this year he made progress, but all too often the same problems would reoccur at the next round and he would have to second guess the way the car would respond.
"It's something that's lacking from the car and if you cannot put the car where you want and brake where you want because of locking or sliding the front then it becomes a guessing game about where you are going to be. And if you miss a little bit the corner you are going to miss a lot of speed on the next straight. It sounds like a small thing, but around one lap when you keep guessing every corner it creates quite a big deficit. A few races it has been pretty okay and then most races it has been like that where you fight every corner and then the time difference is quite big."
But it was not just the failings of the Ferrari that were holding Raikkonen back, Pirelli's tyres were also not to his liking. Ahead of pre-season testing this year, Pirelli was not able to test with 2014-spec cars and therefore had to go conservative with its tyre design to avoid any nasty surprises. There was nothing wrong with the tyres per se, but for Raikkonen they lacked the bite he needs to make his driving style work. Even his team-mate of the previous two years, Romain Grosjean, knew the 2014 tyres would not suit Raikkonen
"I know what he doesn't like and I think this year's tyres don't suit him very well," Grosjean said midway through the year. "He needs a good front end and the tyres don't give him that feeling. It's hard to explain but it just changes a little bit your confidence."
Raikkonen says his dislike of the tyres goes back as far as Pirelli's mid-season change in 2013 after its original, more aggressive construction suffered a series of blow-outs at Silverstone.
"Last year we had a pretty good front tyre at the beginning of the year and then we changed to one not so good. I wasn't too happy about it and I preferred the different tyres we had at the beginning of last year. It's a combination of many things and sometimes you have a limitation of what you can do and we got stuck in an area that was hard to get it working."
But the blame for Raikkonen's struggles cannot be targeted entirely at Ferrari and Pirelli, the driver himself has to adapt to the car. It's something his 2014 team-mate Alonso has always done remarkably well, but in Raikkonen's mind any changes to his driving style would have been a Band-Aid solution for a much bigger problem. He is still convinced his style of driving is the fastest and is determined to adapt the car to suit him.
"I don't see the point of me changing my driving style," Raikkonen said. "I couldn't drive differently any faster. The issue is not with how I drive but how we fix the issue, then we will have a good result. I can drive around some issues but I hope we can fix the main issue and drive as I always do. I've been driving in Formula One for quite a few years and have never changed it and will never change it. It's not the right way of fixing the problems."
For Raikkonen the solution is simple: Bring on 2015.
"Next year will be different because you have a new car and it's a different story. I'm sure it will be a better car, a better package, and what we have learned what we can improve for sure."