Can Kimi Finnish on top?

 

Kimi Raikkonen is definitely one of those drivers that splits opinion amongst fans and the media due to his unorthodox style of dealing with questions. Personally I find his responses to be witty and clever, saying only what needs to be said. One thing that can't be questioned though is his supreme driving talent. The 2007 World Champion left the sport at the end of 2009 season, only to return 2 years later with Lotus after a stint racing in the World Rally Championship. My question though is can Kimi Raikkonen win the 2012 title and take his second World Championship? Here's my breakdown of his season so far and a prediction for what could happen after the summer break.

Off the back of a very poor second half to the 2011 season, Lotus needed to start 2012 strongly and show that they could be competitive. Right from the outset the car was clearly quick, as shown by Romain Grosjean's qualifying result, but Kimi had a strange session and finished down in 18th. When it came to the race though he showed that he hadn't lost any of his touch. Working his way through from a lowly 18th up to 7th by the time the chequered flag dropped, Kimi showed that he was still more than capable of overtaking and doing so cleanly and efficiently. Overall a steady start, but he certainly didn't get the most out of the weekend given the potential of the car.

A 5th place in Malaysia came the following weekend to leave Kimi with two steady, but largely unspectacular results from the opening two rounds. A finishing position of 14th in China may look bad, but it doesn't tell the whole story of what unfolded around the Shanghai circuit. He'd worked his way through to 2nd position by staying out longer than the rest of the field, but was caught out later in the race when his tyres faded away in spectacular fashion. After being caught by a good 8-10 cars, Kimi managed to keep them at bay for a few laps before eventually succumbing to Vettel and co on significantly fresher rubber. He finished down in 14th, his only finish outside of the top 10 all season (up to Hungary).

Bahrain was really where Kimi and Lotus began to show exactly what the car was capable of. They again struggled in qualifying with Kimi only ending up 11th, meaning he'd once again have to fight through from outside the top 10 to achieve a competitive result. Both Lotus' showed tremendous pace throughout the race and were really the only two cars out on track that looked capable of moving up the field and overtaking. Before long Romain and Kimi, running 2nd and 3rd respectively, were catching the leader Sebastian Vettel. The quicker of the two was Kimi, but the few laps he spent behind Romain seemed to scupper his chances of victory as the Frenchman struggled to keep with the pace towards the end of the stint. Kimi went on to finish 2nd with Romain in 3rd, but Lotus must have been wondering what if? Kimi was on a roll and faster than anyone on track before catching his team mate and although it was good to see a race between team mates (however nervous it may be for the team), they maybe should've just allowed Kimi to pass and latch onto the back of Vettel. Still, the team must have been very encouraged by the pace from both drivers on both types of tyre throughout the race. A double podium result is not to sniffed at for sure.

He backed up his 2nd place in Bahrain with a second consecutive visit to the podium in Barcelona, this time finishing 3rd. To me it felt like another 'what could have been' race for Kimi and Lotus, as the car was once again clearly fast. That day though belonged to Pastor Maldonado who drove superbly and looked unbeatable, even against the great Fernando Alonso. Still, it was another podium finish and displayed both Kimi's and Lotus' undeniable pace. Two fairly unspectacular races results wise in Monaco and Canada, where he finished 9th and 8th, saw him drop back in the drivers standings as others such as Webber, Vettel and Grosjean (who took a sublime 2nd in Canada) upped their game.

Kimi really needed a strong result at Valencia, and a strong result is exactly what he got. Due to the retirements of Vettel and Grosjean (who'd outperformed him all weekend), Kimi came home in 2nd place behind the Ferrari of Alonso. Despite once again finishing on the podium Kimi will surely have been unhappy of his competitiveness against team mate Grosjean, who arguably could have won the race had it not been for the car breaking down. A haul of 18 points hardly represents a bad weekend though does it? But once again it seemed like a Lotus win had slipped away.

He once again finished in the points at Silverstone, coming home 5th behind a pair of Red Bull's and Ferrari's. Despite finishing not that far behind the winner (Mark Webber), Kimi didn't really show that many signs of being able to challenge for a podium or a victory. Had Grosjean, who finished 6th, not been involved in a first lap incident (not the for the first time unfortunately) then he could well have been ahead of Kimi come the end of the race. He fought his way through from 23rd at the end of lap 2 or 3 to finish just one place behind his far more experienced team mate. Romain could well have won that race too (a sense of deja vu anyone?) and his pace throughout the race may well have concerned Kimi again, who was only able to move up one place from his grid spot.

It was a case of 'same old same old' for Kimi in Germany as he once again qualified down in the midfield in 10th position. As we've seen before this season though, Kimi is more than capable of working his way through from poor grid spots to achieve solid top 10 results. Throughout the race at Hockenheim he showed just how good an overtaker he is. His move on Paul di Resta (who deserves a lot of credit for his part in it) was fantastic and that of a true great. It shows that overtaking is possible without forcing someone off track or making contact with them. We like overtaking, but we like clean overtaking even more. He worked his way through from 10th to finish 3rd (after the hoo-ha regarding Sebastian's off track overtaking of Button, which he was rightly given a penalty for), his 4th podium finish of the season. Racking up this many podiums is only going to help in mounting a title challenge and something that he'll need to continue to do for the remainder of the season. Hockenheim marked the half way point of the season in regards to the number of races, but we still had one more race left before the summer break, something many consider to represent the end of the first half of the season.

Heading into Hungary a lot of the talk was about whether Lotus could finally do it. Could they finally win a race in 2012? They've threatened for so long and come close on many an occasion, but that top step kept remaining elusive. Finally Lotus had a strong double qualifying, with Romain lining up 2nd and Kimi in 5th. This surely represented the best chance for the team to not only take a victory, but a possible 1-2? Kimi actually dropped at the start of the race and his chances of a podium, let alone victory seemed remote given the calibre of driver and team ahead of him. But by being able to stay out longer, keep his tyres in good condition and set then fastest laps of the races at the end of his second stint, Kimi was able to move ahead of Vettel and Grosjean (after a close first corner battle on pit exit). This gave Kimi the platform to chase down race leader Hamilton. Despite being quicker, Kimi could only really get within 8-9 tenths of a second at any point and was unable to create any type of serious attack on the rejuvenated Hamilton. All cars throughout the race seemed to be struggling to keep with the car ahead coming round and off the 14th and final corner onto the pit straight, meaning that the DRS was largely ineffective. Both Kimi and Romain could have won that race, but once again it was a missed opportunity.

The team, drivers, fans and experts know that the car is capable of winning but on too many occasions this year they've missed the chance to do so. What will keep all parties believing that a win is possible is that the car is, and has been for a while, downright quick. They're consistently the 2nd or 3rd fastest car and on occasion the fastest car (Bahrain, Hungary). Kimi sits 5th in the standings with 116 points heading in to the break, 48 points behind leader Fernando Alonso. 48 points may sound a lot, but given the fact that we have 9 more races and a possible 225 points up for grab, he is by no means out of it. As previously mentioned, he's finished every race this season and outside the top 10 on just one occasion. We know from previous seasons that consistency can prevail and win you titles. You can't get any points if you don't finish the race, something which Kimi clearly understands and knows that he has to do if he is to have any chance of catching Alonso.

Sitting just 8 points behind second placed Mark Webber, Kimi and Lotus will feel they have a great chance of overhauling that gap at the next race in Belgium's number 1 circuit, Spa. The advantage that he has over Alonso (as do Webber, Vettel and Hamilton) is that he has a team mate who is capable of taking points off all his rivals. Lotus are also ploughing on with their double DRS system which they think could see them gain 4-5mph down the straights when travelling over the 140-150mph mark. Round circuits like Spa, Monza, Korea and Abu Dhabi that can only stand the team in good stead over the second half of the season. A couple of wins early on for Raikkonen could well see him leap up the table and move within a race win of Alonso at the top. Alonso has been driving supremely well and has most definitely been the best driver over the course of the first 11 races, however it will be tough for him to maintain that gap. The Ferrari is not the quickest car, in fact it's probably the 4th fastest, and given that he's unlikely to get too much help from Massa at the sharp end, it's going to be hard. If there is anyone of doing that though, it is Fernando Alonso.

Kimi though should be very pleased with how this season has gone so far. He's scored 116 points, finished every race, finished on the podium 5 times and sits 5th in the drivers standings. He's certainly in a position to challenge for the title and having won it once already he will not be fazed by the pressure. Having Kimi back in Formula 1 has been great and has shown that you can come back competitive and challenge right at the top after a break from the sport. Can he do it? Can he finish on top come the final race in Brazil? He's got the skill, he's got the pace and he's got the car to do so. You'd be silly to bet against the 'ice man' being there or thereabouts at the end.

Top Drivers

 
Driver Points
Hamilton 252
Rosberg 211
Vettel 203
Raikkonen 107
Bottas 101
Massa 97
 

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