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Raikkonnen’s rush for glory cost Ferrari dear

This season, Ferrari has uncharacteristically shied away from team orders, even letting Räikkönen finish ahead of Vettel in Austria, when a swap was expected — but it may be time for a frank discussion about the need for a World Championship outweighing the need for equal opportunities

other sports Updated: Sep 04, 2018 09:00 IST
Kimi Raikkonnen,Ferrari,Sebastian Vettel
File Picture of Kimi Raikkonnen.(Getty Images)

One of the largest banners on Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix read “Kimi Räikkönen for President”. It is the kind of sign that would bring a smile to many, for the Finnish driver — a World Champion in 2007 — is one of racing’s most beloved. At 38, he is also the oldest driver on the grid, a fact he occasionally ignores, as on Saturday when he drove his Ferrari around the staggeringly fast circuit of Monza not only to qualify for pole position, but to set a record for the fastest lap in Formula One history.

On Sunday, Räikkönen held off the challenge of a bullish Lewis Hamilton for 45 laps when, with eight laps to go, his blistering left-rear tyre gave way and he was forced to let the Mercedes driver through. Hamilton persistently filled Räikkönen’s rear-view mirrors with silver, and with this triumph the British driver has extended his world championship lead over Sebastian Vettel to 30 points. Vettel himself had an unfortunate afternoon where his Ferrari spun out on the opening lap, he was demoted to dead last, though he finally monstered his way to fourth place, just two seconds off the podium.

The Mercedes cars are nicknamed the silver arrows, and it took two of these to put down the prancing horse of Räikkönen. Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, in the lead by not making a pitstop, was instructed to hold Kimi behind, and this he did loyally while Hamilton saved his own tyres and readied for attack. It was a Mercedes masterclass in sandwiching a Ferrari, and with Vettel relegated to the back of the pack, they executed this to perfection.

This season, Ferrari has uncharacteristically shied away from team orders, even letting Räikkönen finish ahead of Vettel in Austria, when a swap was expected — but it may be time for a frank discussion about the need for a World Championship outweighing the need for equal opportunities. With the benefit of hindsight, Ferrari should have asked Räikkönen to hold Hamilton right from the start while Vettel roared into the distance. Having Vettel in the lead would immediately pressure Hamilton and, if all went according to plan, Vettel and Räikkönen could even swap places at the very end. Instead, we had Räikkönen go at it — and fail.

I believe Ferrari’s behaviour this season may indicate the Finn’s possible desire to hang up his scarlet shoes. Despite driving better than he has in years, he may not want a contract extension and may instead be hunting a blaze of glory. Monza brought Räikkönen heartbreakingly close to that hurrah, but it was not to be. Everybody loves Räikkönen, but — as we should know from the man who leads America and the man who leads India — the one with the popular vote doesn’t always win.

First Published: Sep 04, 2018 09:00 IST