Why Kimi Raikkonen’s F1 comeback is better than Michael Schumacher’s
Don’t let the two points in Michael Schumacher’s points tally in this year’s F1 World Championship standings fool you. The German legend is not struggling like he was throughout 2010 and at the start of 2011 anymore.Schumi has lost out on two very likely podium positions (maybe even a race win) this year due to a gearbox failure and an incorrectly fitted front wheel. There’s some way to go in this season and he could very well add much more to his points tally.
However, as far as the battle of the F1 returnees is concerned, Kimi Raikkonen has Schumacher well and truly beaten. In his fourth race back to F1, Raikkonen already has a second place finish to his name. In this year’s controversial Bahrain Grand Prix, Raikkonen finished just 3.333 seconds behind race winner Sebastian Vettel after starting 11th on the starting grid. He was even hounding him for the lead at one point. By comparison, Schumacher was nowhere near the podium in the fourth race of his F1 return in 2010.
So what has allowed Raikkonen to be so competitive so quickly? The answer is two-fold. The first and probably most important is that Raikkonen was anything but idle in his two years away from F1.
The 2007 world champion strapped himself into a top-of-the-line Citroen rally car and competed in the World Rally Championship in 2010 and 2011. In his 21 rallies over that period, the Finn scored 11 points scoring finishes including a fifth place finish in Turkey in 2010. So he wasn’t exactly on a Sunday drive.
Schumacher’s three years away from F1, by comparison, were spent away from any sort of competitive racing with the exception of a few rounds of the German Superbike Championship where he was no match for any of the top contestants.
So Raikkonen was definitely better equipped to step back into F1 and do what he does best; drive absolutely flat out.
The other reason comes down to the contrast between the two drivers’ driving styles. Renowned racing driver coach Rob Wilson has personally worked with Raikkonen and says the Finn’s driving style makes him one of the fastest ever drivers over a single lap. It also allows him to be much gentler on his tyres over a race distance, which has become of paramount importance in F1 ever since the championship’s tyre supplier Pirelli started to tailor the tyres to wear out quickly and spice up the racing.
“He doesn’t just slam on the throttle,” Wilson told HT. “His steering inputs are also gentler than Michael’s who has a lot of energy spikes in his driving with a lot of aggressive throttle and steering inputs.
“He (Raikkonen) becomes absolutely one with the car.”
Wilson pointed out Raikkonen’s approach to tackling the first two corners at the Bahrain International Circuit (a tight right-hander followed by a faster left-hander) as an example of how the ‘Iceman’ manages to not only be fast but be gentler on his car as well.
According to Wilson, Raikkonen would not turn immediately into the left hand turn following the right hander like every other driver but would instead wait a little longer befor turning left. This would allow Raikkonen to find a little more straight line speed than other drivers.
This also puts less strain on the tyres, which Schumacher has publicly complained about saying that their fast-wearing nature has made it seem like driving on “raw eggs”.
Schumacher is, of course, more familiar with tyres manufactured by Goodyear and Bridgestone that were designed to offer the best possible performance and maximum durability. In fact, during his dominance of the sport from 2000 to his retirement in 2006, Schumacher benefitted from an extremely close working relationship with Bridgestone. The Japanese tyre manufacturer would produce almost bespoke tyres for the German’s Ferrari.
Long story short; Schumacher is the far fussier and more impatient driver out of the two returning world champions. Maybe the German needs to borrow a little of the Iceman’s cool to really get going.
Although its unlikely we will see any shots of Schumacher falling asleep in the paddock anytime soon.
By Vinayak Pande