Must try harder

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Mark Hughes: There are parallels between the situations of Jody Scheckter in 1979 and Kimi Räikönnen today. The South African says the Finn needs to dig deeper to reassert his status within Ferrari

In 1979, Jody Scheckter arrived at Ferrari as the world champion elect. That he’d not yet won a title seemed just a statistical anomaly. Ferrari was a top team looking for a top driver, he was on the market following the end of a liaison that had promised much – which had brought several race wins and a runner-up position in the championship – but which had rather lost momentum. His obvious next move was to Ferrari, the team with the all the facilities and the rock-solid reliability he craved. Upon signing with Maranello he immediately made himself not only the pre-season title favourite, but also F1’s best-paid driver. 

It couldn’t go wrong. But there was a guy in the other car, on a fraction of Jody’s wages, who’d had his first Ferrari season the year before, whom Jody had assumed would be no problem. He was a good guy, easy to get along with, didn’t play the politics game – but was he fast! He could drive the red car and its funny Michelin rubber significantly faster than Jody. He’d had a full year’s head-start in the ways of the team and in understanding the driving technique required by these very different tyres. Almost straight away the team’s supposed number one was being beaten by his team-mate. It left Ferrari in a quandary about who to back as their title hope for the remainder of the season. Did it give Scheckter more time or throw its weight behind the junior? 

This year Kimi Räikkönen arrived at Ferrari as the world champion elect. That he’d not yet won a title seemed just a statistical anomaly. Ferrari was a top team looking for a top driver, he was on the market following the end of a liaison that had promised much – which had brought several race wins and a runner-up position in the championship – but which had rather lost momentum. His obvious next move was to Ferrari. Upon signing with Maranello he made himself not only the pre-season title favourite, but also F1’s best-paid driver. 

It couldn’t go wrong. But there was a guy in the other car, on a fraction of Kimi’s wages, who’d had his first Ferrari season the year before, whom Kimi had assumed would be no problem. He was a good guy, easy to get along with, didn’t play the politics game – but was he fast! He could drive the red car and its Bridgestone rubber significantly faster. Almost straight away the team’s supposed number one was being beaten by his team-mate. It left Ferrari in a quandary about who to back as its title hope for the remainder of the season. 

Uncanny as the parallels are, there are some differences. One is that Felipe Massa is not comparable to Gilles Villeneuve, and Felipe’s advantage over his supposed team leader was not so clear-cut once you looked behind the reasons for the disparity. After the first four races, only in Malaysia was Massa clearly the quicker qualifier. In Australia there’d been no comparison because Felipe didn’t get a lap in before his transmission failed, in Bahrain Räikkönen’s final run was spoilt by traffic and in Spain the difference was almost un-measurable once account was taken of Räikkönen’s heavier fuel load. But it’s perception that counts and the perception was definitely in Massa’s favour, and with the half way point of the season in view, Räikkönen badly needed to score some straight defeats over his team-mate if he was to get the full weight of the team behind his title bid. 

Back in ’79 things had been made more complex by a scoring system that counted only the best four results from each half of the season. As the halfway point neared, it was clear that the only title threat to Ferrari was from Ligier. By the fifth round Jacques Laffite and Patrick Depailler had scored three wins between them and Villeneuve had taken the other two (plus one non title race). Scheckter had taken none. So before the sixth round at Zolder Ferrari announced that Jody had until Monaco, round seven, to score a win – otherwise they would be forced to transfer their title aspirations to Villeneuve. Jody promptly won the next two races, and his campaign was back on the rails. 

“Yes, I can see the parallels,” he allows, “although I had a contract that stipulated me as the number one and I don’t believe that’s the case today with Kimi, so that makes it a little harder for him. My situation was a bit more like Alonso’s with Hamilton. 

“We were all expecting Kimi to be immediately faster but Felipe is showing that he’s not prepared to be a number two any more. But even though I was number one, Gilles was still beating me early in the season. Yes, partly it was down to tyres. The Michelins were sometimes unbelievably good but they could suddenly just collapse if you pushed them too hard. I should have won in South Africa if it hadn’t have been for that – and I guess more experience with the tyres would have helped me there. But my biggest problem was that Gilles was just incredibly fast. Luckily for me, at that stage he was more interested in winning races than championships. All I wanted was to win the title, so I just had to dig deeper, push harder. 

“But there was a massive amount of pressure on me for a time and I’m sure Kimi has been feeling it too. There’s no magic cure, just digging deeper and trying harder.