Kimi Raikkonen convincingly dispelled all doubts and questions over the wisdom of his Formula One return with a third place finish in the drivers standings in his first year back. 2013 has gotten off to an even better start for the Finn and he heads into the Bahrain Grand Prix just three points off the top of the title standings.
The Iceman took some time off in the build up to today’s race for a short chat with Mid-Day and three other journalists that spanned a range of topics – from tyres, to the title race, to his relationship with Sebastian Vettel and his future in the sport. Excerpts:
Tell us again why you came back, because normally you don’t like all the stuff around the driving, but just the driving?
Obviously if I like driving then Formula One is the highest level of racing. At least that’s what everybody thinks. I know how it is and what comes with it and it’s not ideal always but it is what it is.
What convinced you that Lotus was the team to make your comeback?
It’s just that things went that way and there weren’t many options. But of course you try to choose the best that you think is right for you and is right for the future. But you know, you probably get it wrong more often than right and everything worked well from the first day when I spoke to them and it’s been good. Like I said, there was no guarantee that it will be good, in terms of results, but it’s been good. For sure we could have done better but it could have been an awful lot worse.
But now you seem much more comfortable compared to when you were driving for Ferrari or McLaren…
No difference. I mean (it’s a) different team, different way of running things but there’s a difference between all the teams. No team runs exactly the same way and all the teams are different. If you have an Italian team or English team it’s obviously a different culture… to try to achieve the same results with a different way of running things. And I have a good time in all the teams and a good relationship so … It’s just different.
What do you have in your right foot that you can handle the tyres so well this year, almost better than anybody else?
Well it’s a combination of things. Our car is good, the tyres seem to work well – for sure we have issues sometimes with the tyres like everybody. Sometimes it works for us, sometimes not; but we try to get everything right together and don’t make a mistake.
Many people are criticising tyres but in the end the world champions are still at the front. Maybe because the tyres are so difficult to manage, they extract the best performance…
I think it can make a big difference for sure if you know what you’re doing. There are always people to complain on many things and there’s no way that Pirelli can make all the drivers and all the teams happy because you have one type of tyre and you cannot please everybody. You change them to please the guy who complains today and they will be happy tomorrow but then there will be always somebody else complaining. It has always been like that and it was no different ten years ago. Some people like some tyres and some not. If you think they wear off quickly then do six stops and you can push 100 per cent all the time. But it’s not the fastest way through the race and it was the same ten years ago. Less fuel, shorter but more stops.
But what’s the key to looking after the tyres?
Like I said it’s a combination of things. I don’t think there’s one thing. Some drivers are better at it than others. And if you don’t have the tools to do it you cannot do it.
Are you still as close friends with Sebastian (Vettel) as you were a few years ago?
He hasn’t changed. We don’t have time to see each other much outside of racing but he’s a nice, normal guy.
How has Sebastian changed now with three titles?
For me if you take him four years ago, now he is a bit older and obviously he knows more about the sport, but as a person he is the same. For me, he hasn’t changed. I don’t know, he might be different at work because he’s more experienced but when I see him outside of here it’s the same.
When you’re fighting against him for the world championship do you think anything will change?
No. I mean we fought against each other before and he hasn’t changed. Of course if you crash into each other we’ll probably complain. Sometimes things don’t go as per plan, sometimes we might have some arguments but that’s normal in life.
Do you think it could also work between you and Sebastian if you were teammates?
We are not (teammates) so I don’t know what happens in the future. There are always rumours and the fact is I don’t have a contract (after this season) so we’ll see what happens in the future.
You’re three points off the top of the standings. It’s still early days. When do you actually start to think about (winning the) title rather than taking it race by race?
We have to go and do the best that we can every race. It doesn’t matter if it’s now or the last race so it’s only what we can do and if it’s enough we will see. It’s up to us to keep ourselves there and not make any bad races.
It is well known that Lotus doesn’t quite have the same budget as the top teams. But since you’re fighting for the title this year do you think you’re going to end up in a situation where you focus all your resources on this year’s effort and compromise 2014?
I don’t know. You’ll have to ask the team. But, as long as we keep ourselves in the fight we try to do everything (to the) maximum that we can for this year and it was the same story last year. We’ve done pretty well this year already. I don’t know what the plan is for the team and I don’t know how it goes. Okay, the rules are different next year, but everybody has to come out with a new car every year so I don’t think in the end it changes an awful lot.
Because other top teams will have two development teams working simultaneously working on this year and next…
I don’t know.
Gerard Lopez said that he thinks that you will stay at Lotus. What do you say about it?
I don’t have a contract, do I? Life can change quickly and you never know where we are in half a year In Formula One things sometime happen and …
You said you want to drive for a real top team but Lotus isn’t a real top team yet…
We’re winning races, I want to win races and it doesn’t matter if it’s a team that you think spends the least amount of money. It doesn’t matter. As long as we win races that’s what matters. For next year I don’t know what happens, I have no idea. I try to do well this year and it’s not the time (yet) to worry about the next year.
So you’re not really thinking about whether you are going to Red Bull or staying at Lotus…
No, I mean I try to do well in this race and this year. I have no worries about what will happen. Whatever happens, I make the decision and it will be the decision that I feel is right for me. Is it going to be the right decision? I don’t know. Might be, might not be, but at least I know I made a decision and whatever the end result is I live with it because I know that it was my choice. But that thing comes at some point. And I haven’t really wasted my time thinking what will happen. I’m not desperate for Formula One. If I don’t have a contract when the season starts next year, then my decision will be doing something else and I’m fine with it. I have plenty of things to do apart from Formula One.
Whenever you do decide to put Formula One behind you, what would you do? Are you thinking about training or mentoring young drivers?
I don’t have to think about those (things) right now. It’s the same story. If I had a massive plan I would know but then I would know the next season. When that day comes, I do what feels right for me.
What would a second title mean to you?
It would be nice… if I win it, yes, but if I don’t then I don’t. It doesn’t change my life. It doesn’t make me suddenly a happier person than I am now or it doesn’t change anything. But of course we are here to try to achieve that because that’s why we are here.