- The Final Stint
The Kimi conundrumLaurence Edmondson July 21, 2014
After an eventful German Grand Prix weekend, the Final Stint analyses all the main talking points from Hockenheim.
- German Grand Prix
We need to talk about KimiAt the end of last year Kimi Raikkonen had re-established himself as one of the best drivers on the grid, yet since his move to Ferrari things are not working. Problems occur at each weekend and as a result he has not finished ahead of Ferrari team-mate Fernando Alonso at any of the ten races so far. In Germany there were signs that things were improving, but a poor qualifying run in Q2 and damage to his front wing in the race saw him slide out of the points and finish the race 11th. "The car felt much better here, more to my liking and I could drive it more as I wanted and it started to feel nice," he said. On another weekend, when I get more parts, it should help and we can start turning it around and get more points in the race. It's not easy. Things are not going to plan. Something always goes wrong. Hopefully it will stop at some point. It's not like we've lost it, it's just a difficult moment."
Alonso, meanwhile, looks comfortable with the car and is able to consistently drive it on the limit. Like so many times in his career, he has figured out the car's shortfalls, adapted his driving around them and is extracting the most from his situation. In an interview with ESPN a couple of years ago, Lotus' Alan Permane, who has worked with both Ferrari drivers, explained what it is that makes Alonso so special: "When Fernando drove for us in 2003 and 2004 he was incredibly hard on his front tyres and that's how he got the most out of them. So when the FIA brought in this single-race tyre in 2005, I remember thinking how is he going to cope with it? But he completely changed his driving style like it didn't matter and just got on with it. Again, that's the sign of a champion, they instinctively know what needs to be done and it wasn't ever a problem for him."
Although Raikkonen is undoubtedly working hard, he has not been able to adapt to the F14 T in the same way and is working to change the car to suit his style. If things start to fall into place for a fightback in 2015 then Raikkonen's approach will be justified, but with Alonso now 78 points clear in this year's championship questions about the Finn's future are already being asked. One of those questions was posed to Ferrari boss Marco Mattiacci on Sunday night, but was met with a robust response: "Kimi is the driver that we need. We need to make more points, but Kimi is the driver we need."
A champion's drive
If Lewis Hamilton wins the title this year he'll feel as though he's earned it. Mistakes and misfortune have littered his last five races and as a result he's 14 points down on team-mate and rival Nico Rosberg. In Germany it was misfortune that struck when his right front brake disc failed, pitching him into the barriers and forcing him to start 20th on the grid once his gearbox, which was damaged on impact, had been replaced.
His drive back through the field was gutsy and impressive, exuding the fighting spirit on which Hamilton has consistently shown this season. But, just like his year, it was not quite perfect as a small misjudgement trying to pass Jenson Button damaged his front wing and cost him a shot at second place. As a result of the damage, Hamilton chewed through his front tyres at a faster rate than normal, giving Valtteri Bottas the upper hand when the two joined battle at the end of the race. With nine races left, Hamilton still has the time and the speed to recover the deficit to Rosberg, but the consequences of his mistakes will also be magnified.
Rising starsIf questions are being asked about Raikkonen, they are very quickly being answered about Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo. Both drivers have exceeded expectations this season, outclassing their more experienced team-mates on a regular basis and showing signs of their potential for the future. Bottas took his third consecutive podium at the German Grand Prix, proving what the Williams is capable of and hauling his team up to third in the constructors' championship. Ricciardo, meanwhile, put in a thrilling performance as he recovered from avoiding Felipe Massa's barrel-rolling Williams on the first lap. Once more he showed his class and even received the praise of Alonso. "I think he's doing unbelievable," the Ferrari driver said. "I think he's 7-3 in races in the first ten races with Sebastian [Vettel] so it's something that probably not one of us expected. He is doing a very good job, he's driving fantastically and today he was battling very smart. He was always taking the slipstream of me after I passed him and then braking very late, attacking very late and never missed the corner so he was very, very smart. Very respectful of the rules etcetera. It was a great fight."
Empty seats raise concernsJust 52,000 people turned up to watch a German driver win in a German car at a German track on Sunday. The home victory had been on the cards for months, yet the stadium section of Hockenheim looked more than 60% full as Rosberg drove through it on lap 67 with his fist raised victoriously from the cockpit. More concerning than the 38% drop on attendance in 2012, however, is that no-one in the paddock seemed to understand why. The previous three rounds in Canada, Austria and Britain have all seen capacity crowds, yet Germany appears to have fallen out of love with F1 (despite having a championship-leading driver, two German-badged cars racing for victory and a four-time world champion on the grid). For whatever reason, modern F1 no longer catches the imagination of the German public in the same way that it did in Michael Schumacher's dominant years over a decade ago.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff believes the sport's popularity was not helped by key figures, including Vettel, being so critical of the new formula at the start of the year: "We've talked the sport down at the beginning of the year and we are all to blame, or many of us. The last couple of races were really good to watch. Lots of overtaking everywhere, so the sport is in good shape. We have to analyse properly why there are not more spectators in Hockenheim. It's a shame. Is there a general trend that people just have many more options in what they do in the digital world? I don't have an answer because from the sporting side all of us are doing it right." Against a backdrop of falling TV figures, Hockenheim should be yet another wake-up call for the sport's promoters.
Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1