The ‘silly season’ has been intrinsic to Formula 1 since Job was a boy, and traditionally goes on and on. Occasionally we get a year where no major contracts are up for renewal, but more usually at least one of the major stars is potentially available, and then you get a situation where his destiny is pivotal: as soon as it becomes known where he is going, invariably other signings quickly fall into place.
This time around the big talking point was Ferrari: would Kimi Räikkönen remain as Sebastian Vettel’s team-mate next year, or not? The names of Bottas, Ricciardo, Hülkenberg, even Verstappen, were variously bandied about, and occasional remarks by Maurizio Arrivabene suggested he was leaning towards showing Räikkönen the door.
Although he has been much more competitive this year than last, in a Ferrari more to his taste than the disastrous F14 T, Kimi has not had the greatest of seasons. Undoubtedly he has had his moments, notably at Bahrain where he finished second, splitting the Mercedes, and undeniably, too, his luck has been lousy, but it also has to be said that in qualifying he has been disappointing, in the races rarely on par with Vettel.
For all that, though, Ferrari announced a few days before the Belgian Grand Prix that Räikkönen would indeed remain in the team next year. Frank Williams, the word goes, put a buy-out price on Bottas too rich even for Maranello blood, and Ricciardo’s Red Bull contract is apparently as watertight as these things can ever be – and in light of their season together in 2014, one wonders anyway how enthusiastic Vettel would have been about partnering Daniel again.
Ferrari – which originally considered hiring Hülkenberg two years ago – remains mysteriously lukewarm about him. Personally, if I were Gene Haas, and had carte blanche to go with my chequebook, I’d be looking to sign him and Romain Grosjean. Perhaps Nico is unfathomably never going to get a shot with a top team, and maybe the day will come when he takes the big offer from Porsche, but for now he remains committed to his F1 dream.
Not with Ferrari, though. Räikkönen it will definitely be alongside his good friend Vettel in 2016, although Arrivabene sounded firm at Spa: “One year – no option.” Many believe that his eyes are set on Verstappen for the one after.
That won’t necessarily be the end of the world for Kimi, who will be 36 in October, and recently became a father for the first time. He says he is happier with Ferrari as it is now than with any team he has previously been associated with, and one doesn’t doubt him, but after 13 years in F1 (plus two in the WRC) he has his world championship, as well as financial security for several lifetimes, and one imagines he will leave it more easily than most.
From the archive: Adam Cooper gets Räikkönen to open up
Or maybe not. Insouciance is the whole game with Räikkönen, and always has been. He was like that with Sauber back in 2001 – when Max Mosley, concerned about his lack of experience, questioned his eligibility for an FIA Super Licence – and has never changed. Almost never does Kimi show any emotion – be it joy on the podium or frustration in defeat – and it’s as if he just can’t be bothered. His monosyllabic replies to questions may be frustrating for journalists, but clearly delight enthusiasts across the world. In a couple of recent surveys, in which fans were asked to choose their favourite driver, he came out first in one, second in the other.
In the teams for which he has worked, too, Räikkönen – for all he has occasionally tried their patience – remains a well-liked figure. When, after the rallying adventure, he came back to F1, and so impressed everyone with his performances for Lotus, I remember talking about him with Martin Whitmarsh, who had worked with him through five seasons at McLaren.
“Kimi hasn’t surprised me,” said Whitmarsh. “I think perhaps the ultimate edge has gone – he had days with us that bordered on genius, as well as others best forgotten – but he can still do a bloody good job, and he’s not making many mistakes.
“Kimi’s quite a misunderstood individual, I have to say. He does like to party and drink, but he’s actually much more disciplined about training than most people realise, and he’s also very intelligent – one of the sharpest drivers out there, in fact. Because he doesn’t say very much, and has a generally flippant demeanour, people wouldn’t necessarily think that. Another thing is that, in my opinion, he’s one of the best drivers when it comes to understanding the car, and communicating that.
“’Communication’ and ‘Kimi’ in the same sentence might seem like a bit of a strange one, but I’m a big fan of his. He can be very, very quick, and he’s very smart too, so you have to say he’s got all the ingredients – but what he doesn’t have is the dedication.
“I remember we were in Montréal one year, and it was a back-to-back – we were going on to Indy the next weekend. On the Sunday night he was going to fly to Vegas, to party with his mates. I remember saying, ‘Kimi, at the end of the day, you’re an adult – you’re going to do what you’re going to do, and we can’t stop you, but I just want to put this question to you…’
“In those days, getting on the front row was pretty important, wasn’t it? There wasn’t a lot of overtaking. I said, ‘If, in six days’ time, you miss pole position at Indianapolis by five-thousandths of a second – which you could do – and you’ve flown from Montréal to Vegas, into a different time zone, had some drinks and a party or two, and then flown all the way back up to Indianapolis, won’t you want to kick yourself really f***ing hard?’ He smiled at me, and nodded – didn’t say it, but seemed to indicate his agreement – and an hour later flew down to Vegas! At the time he was in the championship fight!
“Although Kimi hates Ron with a passion, I always got on OK with him, and I was thinking of signing him again after he’d been pushed out of Ferrari at the end of ‘09. We were in negotiations with his management, but they were being a bit… commercially ambitious, and then Jenson became available, and it all fell into place, so that was that.
“Kimi is deeply frustrating, in that he’s as smart as he is, and has all that pace – and it just pisses you off that he compromises it. He hasn’t realised his potential – and he isn’t going to now, which is a great shame. Very insightful, very dry sense of humour… I really like the bloke…”
Räikkönen is as popular as he is with the fans, I suspect, because in this dreary climate of political correctness he is a throwback to a time people savoured more than now. It was not by chance that he showed up at Monaco a few years ago sporting a James Hunt helmet, and he has said that he believes he was born too late, that he would been much more in his element in the Formula 1 of the 1970s. It will surprise me if he continues beyond the end of next year, but, as I said, I suspect that won’t greatly trouble him. On the face of it, not much does.
From the archive: Doug Nye compares Räikkönen to Depailler