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.
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.