Speaking as a senior member of the F1 writing brigade, I was chuffed to see Kimi Räikkönen bring his vast experience into play on Sunday and show there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet.
In all the forensic examination of why Lewis Hamilton did not win his fifth title (and confound one particular TV commentator with an obsession for trotting out irrelevant statistics such as how often the championship is won in the United States/on the 21st of October/in a car built in a town beginning with ‘B’/by a man with two dogs and three vowels in his surname – I exaggerate, but you get my drift), it’s easy to overlook the significant part played by Kimi, for so long waiting patiently for his 21st F1 win.
Much too often in recent years, Räikkönen has been guilty of the sort of the small but crucial error that makes the difference between winning and merely adding to 80 appearances on the lower levels of the podium (16 of them during last year and this season prior to last weekend). As his expression always shows, when you reach Kimi’s age it gets a bit tedious having to watch someone else leaping about on the top step.
You had to wonder if he’d ever get to hear the Finnish national anthem played again for his benefit. Despite finding himself on the front row (thanks to the unfortunate gift of Sebastian Vettel’s costly Red Flag misjudgement and three-place grid penalty), not many pundits had Räikkönen down to win this one, particularly with Hamilton on pole.
We were reminded that Lewis had won this race umpteen times and was statistically the favourite thanks to the fact that victory number 72 would match the age of the President of the United States – or some such revelation.
With his teammate trapped on row three, Räikkönen knew exactly what he had to do at the start with the benefit of the grippier Ultrasoft. He played the part to perfection, resisting Hamilton’s attempt to block, the Ferrari emerging from the first corner with a clear road ahead. That was Job Done; Part 1.
The second part would require all of Kimi’s skill and intelligence as he went fast enough to keep Lewis out of range but slow enough to protect his potentially vulnerable rubber. Not only did he handle that impeccably, Räikkönen also engaged in a piece of gamesmanship by jinking almost playfully towards the pit entrance and then continuing on track.
At the time, it seemed another strategic error by Ferrari as Hamilton made a cheap stop under the Virtual Safety Car. In the end, however, Mercedes would call it wrong when the time came for an enforced second stop.
This is where Räikkönen played Part 3 like a master, hanging on with his worn tyres and making the Ferrari legitimately wide enough to delay Hamilton and influence the outcome of his race. It was a classic performance, calling upon experience gained during more than 280 Grands Prix.
That’s the point, of course. Räikkönen has been there and done it; nothing fazes him. Nowhere was this more evident than in the cool down room as he sat sprawled on a white settee, quietly savouring his moment and then, as an afterthought, looking across to Hamilton and asking: ‘Did you win the championship, or not?’ It was such a laid back question without malice that Lewis could only smile and confirm that he hadn’t achieved what everyone – bar Kimi, it seemed – predicted he would.
Damned lies and statistics. Who needs them? Fortunately, there’s not many trivial precedents for a winner who likes vodka, ice cream and going off to the toilet for… silent contemplation when he’s supposed to be somewhere important.
Thanks, Kimi, for a top job when it really mattered to your beleaguered team – not to mention one old hand among many enjoying this from the side lines.