Is Raikkonen a genuine championship contender this season?

2013 Australian Grand Prix - Sunday

After a good start to 2013 with a win in Australia with a promising car, many onlookers have tipped Kimi Raikkonen as a real contender for the Drivers’ Championship this year with the Lotus team.

He marked his return to Formula One last year with five podium finishes including an excellent win in Abu Dhabi and he finished outside the points just once all season. His consistent performances last year earned him many admirers but question marks remain over whether or not he can mount a serious title challenge this year.

Lotus have made it clear that they want to be one of the frontrunners this season and Raikkonen will be hoping that his Melbourne win is the first of many in 2013. After one year with the team under his belt, Lotus will have designed a car that suits his style and provided him with the necessary tools to allow him to challenge the frontrunners on a regular basis.

Speed is clearly not a problem for Kimi. He likes to drive with a light steering wheel but one that has crisp precision and enables him to throw his Lotus into corners and feel his way round the track by controlling the car through a combination of throttle input and sensitive steering adjustments. He will now have a car that is more suited to his style and he will have his team now firmly built around him.

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photo credit: IDR via photopincc

However, there are a few obstacles in Raikkonen’s way if he is to be a genuine championship contender. His team do not have as big a budget as their rivals and this will undoubtedly play a role in deciding his fate. He must make the most of the advantage his car has over the rest of the grid as his rivals will upgrade during the course of the season whereas Lotus may not necessarily be in a position to improve to the same extent as the likes of McLaren inevitably will.

At 33 years of age time is no longer on the Finn’s side either and this is something that he will be acutely aware of. Now in his 11th year in the sport he is in the latter part of his career will not have many more opportunities to be fighting for World Championships. He is in the final year of his contract with Lotus and unless he can persuade Red Bull to part with Mark Webber at the end of the season and secure his services instead, a drive in one of the established top teams is unlikely.

So just what does the future hold for Kimi Raikkonen? Lotus is likely to be the last team that he will race for but he can take heart from the fact that he is with the same outfit that enjoyed back-to-back success with Fernando Alonso in 2005 and 2006 when they were known as Renault.

As a man who is well-known for his disliking of interviews and media events, he appears to be relaxed and focused at Lotus and a determined Raikkonen is someone who should not be underestimated if his team can provide him with the tools necessary to compete at the front.

The Malaysian Grand Prix – what can we expect?

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Tyre management could be crucial this weekend. Photo credit: slitzf1 via photopin cc

Andy Alston

With the first race of the season now behind us the Formula One circus stops in Malaysia this weekend with many predicting another exciting event.

The Sepang circuit is notorious for its extreme weather conditions and the physical demands it asks of the drivers and this weekend could throw up some more surprises.

Last year a three stop strategy proved to be the winning formula in a race that experienced both wet and dry conditions with tyre management proving to be a decisive factor with Fernando Alonso taking the chequered flag.

Race strategy could be key in determining the outcome of this race as the track surface is one of the more punishing on the tyres and McLaren will be hoping that their driver pairing of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez, who are both well-known for their excellent tyre management, can improve on their disappointing ninth and 11th place finishes in Australia.

The circuit’s physical demands are still fresh in the memory for Jean Alesi who was on the grid in the inaugural race in 1999.

Now a brand ambassador for Pirelli, he is expecting another tough race for the drivers this weekend.

He said: “Physically it is one of the most demanding races on the calendar. Like Albert Park, Sepang is by no means a ‘typical’ circuit, so what we will see happening this weekend is probably not going to be representative of the rest of the season.

“However, it will certainly show you who has a strong car and a good ability to manage the tyres. With more degradation this year, knowing how to manage the tyres becomes an even more important skill and Malaysia puts the spotlight on this.

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Fernando Alonso won last year’s event. Photo credit: Izwa Izar Izhar via photopin cc

In the heat and humidity of Malaysia the driver is presented with a variety of obstacles. Along with the typical heat produced by the car’s electronics, the driver’s physical exertion during the race combined with the fact that he is wrapped in several layers of fireproof clothing, the cockpit can become an extremely hot environment for the driver and they can lose up to two kilograms of fluids during the race.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the rain would simply cool down the drivers however the humidity cancels out any hope of significantly lowering temperatures inside the cockpit.

“If it really starts to rain hard then there is absolutely nothing you can do,” added Alesi. “It is just a question of trying to survive so we could have a very interesting result depending on who makes the correct tyre choices.”

Even though the track was resurfaced in 2007 and generally provides high levels of grip, the frequent downpours of rain means that any rubber laid down on the track is regularly washed away meaning that grip can vary during the race. Drainage systems around the circuit often fail to work to their full ability resulting in large patches of standing water often forming throughout the circuit.

With a combination of the weather, tyres and physical demands placed on the drivers, it looks like this weekend’s race could be decided from the pit wall and team tactics could be what decides the outcome of this unpredictable event.

F1 2013 Preview – Can anyone stop Sebastian Vettel?

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Sebastian Vettel has every right to feel confident as the Formula One circus gets underway for another season.

He sits in the seat that just about every driver on the grid wants to be in and he already has three Drivers’ Championships to his name at just 25 years of age.

His rivals cast an envious look in Red Bull’s direction as their recent spell of dominance has set the benchmark for the rest of the grid to follow.

The German can draw similarities between himself and his hero Michael Schumacher, who won five successive Drivers’ Championships with Ferrari between 2000-2004.Back then critics labelled Formula One boring, but they are not doing the same this time around.

The paddock has witnessed a several pretty significant changes over the winter, mainly Lewis Hamilton’s switch from McLaren to Mercedes, a change full of uncertainty as he joins a team that has struggled to reach the heights of the 2009 season when they were known as Brawn GP.

medium_8009685973Photo credit: Aural Asia via photopin cc

Hamilton has made a bold move and one that means that he certainly will not be fighting at the front of the pack this season, but he has the potential to enhance his reputation in the sport if he can revive the fortunes of his struggling team in the same way that Michael Schumacher did at Ferrari back in 1996.

Hamilton’s former home back at McLaren is one that keeps telling itself that everything will be fine when secretly it misses its former occupant. A 14-year relationship came to an abrupt end at the end of last season and both parties maintained that the time was right to move on. Inwardly, they may admit that they could have resolved their difficulties had they both made some more room for each other.

In Maranello there is quiet cause for optimism as they appear to be in a stronger position now than they were this time last year. In Fernando Alonso they have a driver who produced arguably his finest season behind the wheel of a Formula One car last year and they will be eager to deliver him a machine that enables him to go one step further and lift the Drivers’ Championship this season.

Lotus will also be feeling confident after a strong showing in pre-season testing combined with the fact that the enigmatic Kimi Raikkonen produced the sort of season that had earmarked him as the fastest driver in the sport during his first spell in Formula One. Over the last few years there have been clear signs of progress at the team formerly known as Renault and they may not have to wait much longer before they will be challenging for race wins on a regular basis.

There are five drivers making their debuts this weekend and they will all be looking to impress as they make their first tentative steps towards becoming a top level racer. For some simply making the grid will be as far as their careers will go but for others, they have the chance to follow in the footsteps of those before them and make their mark on the ever-changing world of Formula One.

As the stage is set for the opening race of the season each driver will be hoping that he can rise to the top as millions of people look on from around the world. Each of them have the same ambition, but only one of them will be able to fulfil it.