For a long time, Kimi Räikkönen has been the subject of much innuendo. He is often criticised for his known partiality to a tipple and condemned for being apparently disinterested. A few races ago BBC pundit David Coulthard described his former team mate as “the laziest driver you ever saw”.
How is Kimi viewed by the Tifosi? His apparent indifference at driving for Ferrari (and sometimes in F1) annoys even me (and I am not a Ferrari fan). We know the guy is quick, and can produce some stunning drives, but sometimes he just looks like he can’t be bothered if he’s not winning. We laughed at Massa’s ability in the Silverstone rain a couple of years ago, but at least the guy was trying to push, and has eventually come out as a more respected driver.
I have long been curious of the Tifosi’s attitude towards Kimi Räikkönen. Back in 2007, Räikkönen’s first year at Ferrari, Keith at F1 Fanatic ran a story about how the Tifosi appeared not to be warming towards the Finn.
Keith had attended the Italian Grand Prix and noticed that the fans’ affections were largely saved for Felipe Massa. Meanwhile, the famous Italian sports newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport was lukewarm about Räikkönen’s efforts. The attitude stands in stark contrast to the view that I would assume most non-Ferrari fans seem to hold — that it is Felipe Massa whose driving skills are rather variable while Räikkönen is a proven winner.
The Tifosi don’t always take well to Ferrari drivers at first. I read in James Allen’s book, The Edge of Greatness, that Michael Schumacher didn’t quite capture the imagination of the Tifosi straight off the bat. But once Schumacher got a grasp of quite what the history and heritage of the Ferrari brand means to so many fans, he quickly became an excellent ambassador for the team and the rest is history.
I could well imagine that Schumacher’s apparent aloofness may have rubbed some people up the wrong way. But I wondered quite what it was that turned the Tifosi off about Kimi Räikkönen. Was it the fact that he was a former McLaren driver? Not likely — plenty of Ferrari drivers also raced for McLaren, notably Alain Prost. Maybe it was his reluctance to learn Italian, or his nonchalant demeanour.
Stories about the Tifosi’s apparent indifference towards their new driver unsurprisingly took a back seat immediately after Räikkönen won the World Drivers Championship in 2007. But over the past year or so they have gone into overdrive, and now most onlookers openly question the driver’s commitment to the sport.
Even the team itself sometimes appears to have little patience with their expensive big-name star. And every so often rumours that he will be replaced by Fernando Alonso resurface. We’ve heard those rumours before of course. We were told that Alonso was headed towards Ferrari for 2009 — then Räikkönen signed a contract extension until 2010.
Today James Allen wrote on his blog about the fresh rumours. Alonso is becoming a bit more effusive about Ferrari and Italian culture. He has also moved to the Swiss / Italian border — handy if you want to work with Ferrari.
Rumours that Alonso is arriving at Maranello now go hand-in-hand with the question marks over Räikkönen’s role at Ferrari. It used to be assumed that Alonso moving to Ferrari would be unworkable because he would replace Massa, and having two high-calibre drivers at a top team would not work. On the back of a seriously impressive 2008 campaign though, it doesn’t look like Massa will be the one who has to walk the plank.
Says James Allen:
The word I’m hearing is that these next few races are pretty important for Kimi Raikkonen. Although he has a contract for 2010, the suggestion is that he has certain criteria to meet and that an agreement, which is in place with Alonso for 2011, has a clause which could bring it forward to 2010. The next couple of months will be decisive.
One GP driver I spoke to recently said that in the briefings and at moments when the drivers are all together, Kimi seems like he doesn’t care any more. It’s as if he’s going through the motions. It’s a shame if this is true, as Raikkonen is one of the most exciting and most talented drivers in F1.
That sort of thing is what we hear about Räikkönen all the time — that he is lazy, can’t be bothered and no longer cares. The implication, though, is that this is now even more the case.
Kimi Räikkönen’s qualifying session in Monaco today goes a fair way to dispel that notion in my view. Ferrari have not looked close to getting pole position all season, but it was only a scarcely-believable lap by the ever-improving Jenson Button in the vastly superior Brawn that prevented the Finn from grabbing pole today.
Meanwhile, Felipe Massa, who took pole last year, looked a bit lost during qualifying. He spun in a low-pressure situation during Q1, damaging his car. Massa only qualified 5th on a very similar fuel load to Räikkönen.
Could this be Räikkönen’s resurgence? He badly needs it, and although his performance today is a good sign there were also a few false dawns last season.
It could be, though, that Räikkönen’s reputation is irreparably damaged. Here is one sign that he simply does not have the respect of the Tifosi. This is a video which I saw over at Axis of Oversteer. It is an advert for a Ferrari branded mobile phone.
Schumacher is depicted as the flawless ambassador. Räikkönen is depicted as a slow, unintelligent dork. And this is an advert aimed at Ferrari fans!