Guest post number four, the final in this series, comes from regular commenter and La Canta Magnifico author, Alianora. A self-confessed Jordan/Midland/Spyker/Force India fan, Alianora is often seen around the online Formula One community leaving comments and contributing to conversations with her sharp eye for detail and comprehensive knowledge of the rules. As this is the last in the guest series for now, there is only one pairing left to be discussed; Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa.
Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa’s intra-team duel may prove to be the key battle of the season. For much of winter testing, Ferrari was believed to have a distinct performance advantage over its rivals. If the gap is carried over to the races, then it could well be that the fight for supremacy at Ferrari is also the fight for the driver’s championship. Thankfully, the Ferrari management have promised that one driver will not be made to submit his ambition to another at the outset.
Winning the championship is said to boost a driver’s confidence like nothing else. I can think of few drivers who need such a boost less than Kimi Raikkonen. One of his gifts is that he keeps pushing even when there’s little to get excited about (as proven by 2004 and 2006 at McLaren). After gradually getting comfortable at Ferrari for the first half of the season, he won six races in the latter half of the season. A less confident driver would probably have let Felipe Massa continue to get the better results while waiting for next year.
Part of the secret of Kimi’s success last year was that he gave himself a stable platform from which to work and develop. His driving style is based on straight lines and short corners, facilitated by careful management of the mass transfer. As a result, the errors that Kimi makes tend to be less significant in terms of lap time than those Felipe makes.
Kimi does not get distracted by outside politics, so he won’t assume that McLaren will remain weak simply because of the after-effects of last year. Instead, he will concentrate on his own car’s performance, which currently looks very good.
He is good in the rain, too, securing a podium in Fuji despite Ferrari giving him (and his team-mate) the wrong tyres at the start of the race…
The traction control ban could have been written with Kimi in mind. He never leaned on the traction controlwhen it was there, so there is no reason to believe he will miss it now.
Even so, there was the first part of 2007 to consider. When Kimi was not comfortable with the Ferrari initially, he did not do as well in it as usual. The 2008 car does not look like it requires such adaptation for Kimi to enjoy it, though. As a result, it is difficult to see how Kimi will be defeated in equal equipment in 2008, unless something really strange happens.
If it hadn’t been for Felipe giving up a possible home win in Brazil, Kimi Raikkonen would not be champion today. Even though Felipe was out of the championship fight before the last round, his performance in 2007 was still good enough for Ferrari to revise its “No. 1/No. 2” philosophy.
Felipe has been gradually improving for a very long time. The quick-but-wild driver of 2002 is long gone, replaced with a more cautious and precise driver who is still good in a battle to overtake. This is also combined with good adaptation to changing circumstances (as long as those changes do not involve precipitation he’s about average when the skies open).
He can also string together a very quick single lap. He netted six pole positions and six fastest laps in 2007. To put this into perspective, only Lewis Hamilton equalled the number of poles and only Kimi Raikkonen equalled the number of fastest laps.
He has, however, been known to crumble occasionally in the face of a determined attacker. Malaysia 2007 against Lewis Hamilton demonstrated this vividly. Now that this weakness is known, expect everyone to take advantage of it.
In addition, he’s not the most consistent driver on the grid, and certainly less consistent than Kimi. His driving style may be much improved on 2002, but it is still reaction-based. As a result, Felipe is subject to slight changes in wind direction and small errors in a way that Kimi never will be.
Felipe has also made it known that he really doesn’t like the traction control ban, and has been one of the drivers to suffer most from its removal. Leaving aside any possibility of pushing the envelope of the regulations, a driver who needs traction control to perform optimally will have trouble performing to championship standard and that is the standard required to win the Ferrari battle.
Expect Felipe to have the upper hand in qualifying, but Kimi to win more points and races. Indeed, expect Kimi to have a very good shot at the title. Ferrari may even use this to their advantage, light-fuelling Felipe to wrong-foot rivals and give Kimi more breathing room to show his race pace. There is no shame in Felipe being beaten by Kimi again – he will surely learn from the experience and his ever-improving ability, combined with the security of a long-term contract, mean that when Kimi leaves Ferrari or retires, Felipe will be ready to take the title in his own right.
Alianora writes for La Canta Magnifico.