They are called speculation, hypothesis, insinuations. But now the numbers are up: for the move to Ferrari in 2007, Kimi Raikkonen would make £22 million per season. This is supported by the Sunday Mirror, relaunching a rumor that has been circulating for some time in Formula 1 and what seems confirm this is the esteem they have for the driver of McLaren in Maranello. The English tabloid quotes sources inside the Circus, according to which Jean Todt is going to field Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso’s main rival in 2005 World Championship, alongside Michael Schumacher. During the season, the finnish driver seems to have signed a pre-contract and now -also this is supported by the Sunday Mirror- the parties would sign a final contract. Kimi Raikkonen, 26 years old, twice vice World Champion, didn’t hide his frustration for not winning the title, despite being the fastest, due to the low reliability of his car. Ferrari refuses to comment on what it calls conjecture.
"The drivers for 2006 are Michael Schumacher e Felipe Massa, then we will see".
That’s the offical version. Too many variables still affect the future of the Maranello team. Michael Schumacher could decide to continue and in that case he will always find a car to run with us, they say in Maranello. Another unknown factor is the performance of Felipe Massa: if it turned out to be a small phenomenon it would obviously be confirmed. But in the pole position to run alongside Kimi Raikkonen there is Valentino Rossi: the italian driver will do others tests in winter. If he will confirm his talent also on four wheels it will be difficult to keep him out of Formula 1. In the meantime, the challenge between the numbers one of the current World Championship is over: Fernando Alonso is World Champion, followed by Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher. The winner of the Constructors' World Championship remains on the line. In order to gain it, we need the positions of number two, the various Giancarlo Fisichella, Juan Pablo Montoya and Rubens Barrichello. Sunday, October 9, 2005 the Circus moved to Japan, to compete in the eighteenth and penultimate Grand Prix of the longest season of Formula 1. Victories now count less: you need points, few and damned. Renault sealed the must important trophy with one of his driver, but was overtaken by McLaren-Mercedes, while Ferrari defends the third position from Toyota’s Jarno Trulli ands Ralf Schumacher. If Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso appear discounted in front, uncertainty reigns behind them. Statistics in hand, so far the comparison between teammates is without appeal.
Let’s take Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella: in the challenge in the family, the Spanish in qualifying dominates 13 to 3, in race 13 to 2, on the fastest lap 12 to 3. Kimi Raikkonen equals: Juan Pablo Montoya comes out crushed, 11 to 4 in qualifying, 9 to 5 in Grand Prix, 11 to 2 on the fast lap. Rubens Barrichello only loses 10-6, 10-6, 11-5. This is the most reliable way to assess the qualities of a pilot because it takes place with equal means. In theory: sometimes from the pits comes the order to reverse the positions; it happened in Belgium to Juan Pablo Montoya, who gave the first place to his colleague before getting involved in an accident. Down in the standings, the gap between Jenson Button and Takuma Sato stands out: 13-1, 11-2 and 13-0. Obvious that the BAR has put his hand in the wallet to keep the Englishman, who had unwisely already signed a contract with Williams, and away the Japanese driver, imposed by Honda, which provides engines to the team. Takuma Sato is one of the most kind and funny driver of the Circus but in race he deserved the easier of the nicknames: kamikaze. At Spa, Michael Schumacher got close to hìgetting his hands on him after a collision. Rubens Barrichello will take the place of Takuma Sato in 2006: it will be interesting to update the comparison between teammates next fall. But what makes Takuma Sato a driver who gets a lap right every now and then and Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher phenomena? Riccardo Ceccarelli, Toyota’s doctor and founder of Formula Medicina in Viareggio, explains, a medical-sports center for drivers.
"First, talent. And talent is a rare gift. Maybe one day we will discover that it is hidden in some chromosome, for now we are content to recognize it as an innate ability to go strong".
How much stronger?
"At most a second per lap. That’s five or six hundredths of a second per corner. To the eye it is an imperceptible difference: the champion is able to brake three meters later without the car breaking down, always keeps a perfect trajectory and accelerates slightly in advance".
According to the opinion of Dr Ceccarelli, who has followed hundred of pilots and aspirants in his center, phisical skills count less. It is possible to build in laboratory a discreet driver, even if poor. In class: he undergoes the same training Michael Schumacher did, from karts to the minor series and in the end you bring him to Formula 1, where he will be a slower second. Of course he will have to be a father’s son, because nobody will give him a car for his merits, contrary to what happened to the three leaders of the current standing, all of humble origins.
"Attention. Even a driver who sometimes does a fast lap has talent, what he lacks are the other mental characteristics".
You need confidence and self-esteem, cost-effectiveness to avoid wasting nervous energy while driving, the right reasons (narcissism is a serious flaw, Alonso, Raikkonen and Schumacher detest the corollary of glory that accompanies their enterprises), the reactivity of a feline, exasperated competition, intelligence to study telemetry with engineers.
"We also distinguish between sponges and raincoats, the sponge is sensitive. It’s the friend, not the champion who, on the contrary, is insensitive to external stimuli, to critics and accidents".
Understand why they are good and grumpy? One of these champions is Kimi Raikkonen, who loves to do one thing at a time.
"I want McLaren to win the constructors' title".
"I become World Champion, always with McLaren".
"We will see".
"For now these are only rumors. I have heard them for three years".
Yeah, but now that the deadlines are getting closer, the tone is up. Two of the following conditions are needed to make the deal: Michael Schumacher withdraws, Valentino Rossi renounces the Formula 1 project, but it isn’t a phenomenon. The Maranello team - it is understood - will have to guarantee a competitive means, to prove that 2005 was an unfortunate parenthesis. Messages of love have been sent. At Maranello they called Kimi the fastest driver among the new drivers. In the environment a joke circulate: he is the ideal driver because you don’t have to teach him to be silent with the mass media. Raikkonen is Iceman, a man who expresses a sample of harmless phrases even for the most scandalous of the newspapers, a feature that the Maranello team appreciates in a particular way. Away from the racetracks sometimes you let go a little, but he is able to learn a minimum of sobriety. From Suzuka, Japan, where he will race the penultimate Grand Prix of the season on Sunday, Raikkonen avoids refuting these rumors. His contract will expire at the end of next season. That of the other protagonists as well. The fascination of Ferraris is also able to seduce a cold finnish heart. Speculation has recently hit Michael Schumacher. It was said that the German would end his career at McLaren. He denies in a way that doesn’t allow replicas:
"Next year I will decide whether or not to continue the career, but I will have no other car except Ferrari".
Kimi Raikkonen is more uncertain about the long-term forecast: the goal, for now, is to win the Japan Grand Prix.
"There are two races to win for the constructors' title. I will give my best to succeed".
Then he will prepare the rematch on Fernando Alonso:
"We don’t know what will happen in 2006 with the new rules (2400 cc 8-cylinder engines, ed). I think the car will remain good enough to allow me to win".
He finished in second place also in 2003. With a difference: in the lead there was Michael Schumacher with a Ferrari superior to McLaren. This year the mockery was more bitter, because the Anglo-German team managed to put on track a very fast car, which began to work only from the Spanish Grand Prix. The defeat matured in the first part of the season, when Fernando Alonso put aside the advantage he needed to build the masterpiece. Suzuka is a sad and grey place to celebrate the title won two weeks before in Brazil. But Fernando Alonso gets over it. Friday, October 7, 2005 will face the World Champion free practice. Says the youngest World Champion in the history of Formula 1:
"It’s an amazing feeling. A dream came true. I enjoyed and relived all the exciting moments of the season. This year I was the strongest, in 2006 there will be new situations and new challenges and we will try to win again. Life goes on, I never look back".
What did you learn from this season?
"I learned that when you have a good car and a good team you can win. It happened in my third year of Formula 1 and I could go on for another ten, like a great Schumacher".
The race on Sunday?
"McLaren has 164 points, we have 162. Fisichella and I will do everything to reach the goal, but the maximum is the individual title".
Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen agree on one point:
"2005 doesn’t mark the end of the Schumacher era. Michael is still Michael. He and Ferrari had a bad year, with an inferior car and tires. Next year they will be back strong as before. We’ll have one more opponent".
The German driver thanks:
"I’m glad to hear that. Unfortunately we have to understand and solve our problems first. And we haven’t managed to do that yet".
Meanwhile, for Rubens Barrichello there are no races in Suzuka and Shanghai, then after six years in common with Ferrari and Michael Schumacher, he will go to run with the BAR, now only Honda. Rubinho relies on memories ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix:
"I can’t forget the victory of 2003 and the many happy moments I experienced here in Suzuka, a track that I have always loved. Just as I still remember last year’s success in China. But I don’t want to let my emotions get in the way when he’s behind the wheel of the F2005. It wouldn’t be useful, we’d better focus on the race".
The Brazilian man is always positive, but doesn’t want to deceive anyone:
"The package we have in this championship isn’t the best we had. This depends partly on the car, partly on the tyres and how we prepare the set-up of the circuit. Maybe we haven’t been as good as we have in the past. Or the others have gone too far. Surely the new regulations haven’t helped us. Unfortunately for this event we don’t have a new tyre available and I don’t think that the Bridgestones are advantaged because this is their track. We hope we have chosen the right ones. Some say it will rain, but it will still be a lottery".
Rubens Barrichello will race for Honda, after the Japanese company buys all the British American Racing team. Another important car manufacturer, after Ferrari, Renault, Toyota and Bmw is engaged in the Formula 1 World Championship. In fact, Tuesday, October 4, 2005 Honda announces that they have decided to buy by the end of the year the entire share of the BAR - the team to which currently supplies the engines - that already owns 45%. The American Tobacco sponsor will sell his shares. From 2006 then the Japanese company will do everything on its own, chassis, aerodynamics in England, and engines in Tochigi, where the Japanese company’s Research and Development center operates. For the moment only Mercedes and Ford will participate in the championship by providing the engines to their allied teams. This is Honda’s third assault in Formula 1. The first was from 1964 to 1968 when he took pole position and two wins with Ginther (Mexico 1965) and Surtees (Italy 1967). After a long retirement he returned to the race in 1983 to abandon in 1992, but he limited himself to making engines. It was a success, eleven world titles, six manufacturers and five drivers, with McLaren and Williams. It was mainly the epic of Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, followed by Nigel Mansell. Then a new stop. In 2000 began the third assault with the BAR. A relationship not always happy, but culminated last year with the second place in the standings. In the current season more disappointments than satisfactions, with British chassis drivers and Japanese engines that don’t get along too well. Most likely also driven by the presence of Toyota, the Honda aims very high:
"We want to win the World Championship because we have the chance".
Among other things, in the coming year he will be able to count on one of the best drivers, with Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button. So on the eve of the Japanese Grand Prix, the motor circus is on fire with new perspectives. Among other things, Honda is willing to supply its engines to another team. On the name the mystery: they could be an eleventh new team (formed by Coca-Cola), the Jordan that will become Midland in 2006 or even Williams, orphan of Bmw. In one of these he will probably drive the Japanese driver Takuma Sato. On the eve of the Japanese Grand Prix, the only thing certain is that when the race begins Kimi Raikkonen will have been relegated to ten positions on the starting grid. For the fourth time since the beginning of the season the Finnish driver is forced to stop during Friday’s practice due to the failure of the engine of his McLaren-Mercedes, very fast but still fragile. Replaced the engine, the penalty is triggered. Another accident that could have a weight in the challenge between the British team and Renault for the victory of the Constructors' World Championship. Kimi Raikkonen, despite his congenital coldness, appears quite depressed, while Fernando Alonso has the courage to argue that his rival, all in all, was even lucky.
"Imagine if he had broken the engine in Brazil, now we would be in front of the standings and maybe they wouldn’t take us anymore, instead they have two points ahead".
Of the race there is little to say in terms of predictions. It will be a challenge between McLaren-Mercedes and Renault, although on everything weighs the threat of bad weather. In any case, Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello are quite fast (the Torino 2006 logo appears on the F2005), as the two Scuderia Ferrari drivers score the second and fourth time. But, as always, Michael Schumacher preaches calmly:
"We don’t know how the others were fixed, we used new tyres because we knew that the rain would only come towards the end of the tests. I repeat what I have said in recent days: maybe we can aim for the podium".
In the season finale, as usual, there is also talk of the future for Formula 1. The teams are discussing a new, more spectacular format for qualifying. The idea would be to carry out a elimination test. The five slowest of the first 15 minutes in the last rows of the grid, and so on for another five to half an hour. For the first ten a final shoot out type of twenty minutes, the fastest on pole and the remaining nine to follow according to the times. Tyre changes are also under discussion. Many teams would like to go back to the old regulations with stops and tyre replacement of their choice. But there is firm opposition from Ron Dennis for McLaren. With the winning Ferrari everyone had opted for changes. Now that the Anglo-German team has become the one to beat, he would like the status quo, that is, no changes. On Saturday, October 8, 2005, Suzuka also involved the kamiamè, what the Japanese call the rain of the Gods, to complicate things in the penultimate race of the Formula 1 World Championship. The starting line-up seems revolutionized compared to previous Grands Prix, with Ralf Schumacher’s Toyota on pole position alongside Jenson Button’s BAR-Honda and Giancarlo Fisichella’s Renault. Due to a sudden downpour in the middle of qualifying the parts are reversed: the favorites Kimi Raikkonen, Juan Pablo Montoya, Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli will start from the last rows. It’s bad at Scuderia Ferrari too, with Rubens Barrichello ninth and Michael Schumacher fourteenth. A way like any other to make the Japanese Grand Prix more spectacular and uncertain. Meanwhile, the FIA announces the regulatory proposals for 2006: one-hour qualifying, divided into three sessions (but all on track together in the first 15 minutes), ban on the use of the third car, allowed the change of tires during the races, only fourteen mechanics allowed to pit stops.
On Sunday, 9 October, 2005, at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix, Ralf Schumacher sprinted well and maintained the first potion, while Giancarlo Fisichella passed both Jenson Button and David Coulthard, passing from sixth to eighth place. Meanwhile, Takuma Sato left the track at the first corner and passed over the gravel, after his front right tyre was hit sideways by Rubens Barrichello’s car. Both drivers continued the race, but the left rear of Rubens Barrichello’s Ferrari was damaged and the Brazilian driver was forced to pit at the end of the first lap to make repairs. Fernando Alonso starts very well and finishes the first lap in seventh position, while Kimi Raikkonen comets a mistake and goes straight to the chicane Casio Triangle, before his teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya, is the author of an accident after attempting to overtake the Jacques Villeneuve’s Sauber-Petronas. The canadian driver forced the colombian one to put the wheels of his McLaren on the gravel, recording the first withdrawal and compromising the ambitions of his team to win the Constructors' World Championship. The accident causes the safety car to enter the track. Then, during lap 10, Takuma Sato tried to pass Jarno Trulli to the chicane, but the contact between the two cars forced the Italian driver to retire. Ralf Schumacher is the first driver - among the leading drivers - to return to the pits, returning for the first of the three stops at the end of lap 13. This excludes him from the fight for the victory of the race. In the meantime, Giancarlo Fisichella takes the lead of the race.
During lap 19 Fernando Alonso completed one of the most daring overtaking maneuvers passing Michael Schumacher outside the scary 130R curve. Kimi Raikkonen tries to overtake the German driver at the entrance to the next corner, the Casio Triangle, but the Ferrari driver rejects the attack and the Finn is forced to wait for a better moment. Then Fernando Alonso stops at the pits to refuel. The Spanish driver returns to the track behind Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen. In Kimi Raikkonen passes Michael Schumacher on the pit straight. Three laps later, the german driver misses the braking point at the chicane stop, and gives Fernando Alonso the opportunity to overtake again. This time, the Renault driver manoeuvres along the pit straight. Kimi Raikkonen made his last stop on lap 45, returning the lead to Giancarlo Fisichella. But when he comes out of the pits, the finnish driver jumps into a thrilling recovery. Fernando Alonso approaches Mark Webber at the end of lap 49 and despite being forced to walk a stretch on the grass, the World Champion manages to complete the overtaking on the Australian and conquer the third position. Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen recovered 1.3 seconds against Giancarlo Fisichella at the end of lap 49 and began to put pressure on the Italian driver. Then, the finnish driver tries to overtake at the entrance of the chicane, but the Renault drivers manage to repel the attack of the rival. However, at the exit of the chicane and in the next straight of the pits Kimi Raikkonen joins the car of Giancarlo Fisichella and passes it outside the first corner, going then to win the Japanese Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso finished third, followed by Mark Webber, Jenson Button, David Coulthard, Michael Schumacher and Ralf Schumacher.
"One of my most beautiful races".
Kimi Raikkonen exclaims, for once talkative and cheerful, after his success in the Japanese Grand Prix. A chase race, from seventeenth place on the grid to the highest step of the podium. At the end of a spectacular show, with overtaking that hadn’t been seen for some time, thanks also to the almost inverted grid with the best on the bottom. The same Kimi Raikkonen performed a masterful overtaking on a bewildered and disconcerting Giancarlo Fisichella on the last lap, after having previously passed Michael Schumacher, twice surpassed by strength also by Fernando Alonso. It would be nice to know what Flavio Briatore said to Giancarlo Fisichella after the race. Publicly the general manager of the Renault team justifies the Italian driver:
"He couldn’t resist Raikkonen, we warned him he was coming".
Certainly that overtaking at the last lap, when the Italian driver was already seeing himself winning at the finish, must have been a tremendous blow to his morale. Because maybe it occurred to him how Fernando Alonso resisted at Imola, when Michael Schumacher had unnecessarily attacked him in the final of the race:
"I did my best. A great start, an immediate overtake on Button, great concentration, attentive to all risks. Probably if it hadn’t entered the track for several laps the safety car after the accident of Montoya things would have gone differently, I would have accumulated a greater advantage and Kimi wouldn’t have reached me. At this point I can be satisfied only because I brought valuable points in the standings to Renault".
To the displeasure of Giancarlo Fisichella is added that of Fernando Alonso, forced to slow down to get Christian Klien back on track, but after he had already given way once to the Austrian of Red Bull Racing:
"I slowed down, losing 7-8 seconds. Without that episode I could have won. Because I was also faster than Raikkonen".
Yet the penultimate race of the Formula 1 World Championship for many protagonists has a bitter aftertaste. The finnish McLaren driver, despite himself, equaled a negative record: he is the second driver in history to have won seven races in the same season without winning the world title. Only Alain Prost succeeded, twice second behind Niki Lauda and Ayrton Senna, with seven useless triumphs in 1984 and 1988. Fernando Alonso, McLaren and Renault were also disappointed. The new Spanish World Champion complains about the team strategy and for having been slowed down, in the initial stages, by the sports stewards. The Anglo-German team suffers from having lost the leadership of the Constructors' World Championship, the French for having lost another important statement. The Scuderia Ferrari didn’t make any particular complaint. The Maranello team is forced to settle for the seventh place of a combative Michael Schumacher, while Rubens Barrichello was eliminated in practice immediately after the start. Victim of an off-road collision with Takuma Sato’s BAR-Honda in a strange combination of trajectories in which Jacques Villeneuve was also involved. The brazilian driver, back in the pits to replace a punctured tyre, continued the race in the rear, ending with a modest eleventh position. Jean Todt, general manager of Scuderia Ferrari, admits:
"The result corresponds to the expectations, certainly not ambitious, that we had on the eve. Michael had to give all his talent to bring the Ferrari-Bridgestone package to a point finish. Rubens saw his chances for the first corner crash compromised. Two points are few, but we want to dedicate them to one of us, Ivan Petterlini, who tragically died last Sunday: in all these days away from home the team has always had a thought for him in the heart".
Those who have seen Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso - twice - overtake Michael Schumacher might think that the Scuderia Ferrari driver has reached the climax of the chamber, that point of no return that Enzo Ferrari had defined as the parable of the champion, while referring to different situations. But this is not the case: the german driver, like his finnish and spanish rivals, also played in Japan one of his most beautiful races of the year. A remarkable start, from fourteenth place in the grid to eighth after a few hundred meters, no mistakes, reaching the maximum possible results without external interventions. When a driver is at the wheel of a car that has no grip, that has difficulty in traction, that slowly comes out of the corners, he has no defense.
It has already been a miracle to keep McLaren and Renault behind for a few laps who were clearly faster on the straight, not only thanks to the tyres but also to perfect aerodynamics. Figures speak for themselves, as always. Michael Schumacher was fifth on the lap, 1.2 seconds behind Kimi Raikkonen’s record. But what is more relevant is that the fastest pass of the German in the whole race was the seventeenth overall. At times, especially in the second half of the race, the gap was over two seconds per lap. And you can not resist the attacks of those who have a car with such superior performance even on a track like Suzuka. So much so that in a track on which overtaking is considered difficult, Kimi and Fernando have passed the german driver outside of torn. Despite everything, the misadventures of Toyota - Ralf Schumacher in the lead for a few laps, then sucked for the car too slow and Jarno Trulli hit at the beginning by Takuma Sato, then disqualified and excluded from the standings - have however allowed the team of Maranello to finally conquer the third place in the Constructors' World Championship, minimum goal to be achieved at the end of a disappointing season. In front there are two teams, McLaren and Renault, which happen to be equipped with Michelin tyres. The McLaren delighted by the performance of Kimi Raikkonen and the MP4/20, however, must complain for the immediate exit of Juan Pablo Montoya, pushed off track by Jacques Villeneuve, penalized by 25 seconds for the incorrect manoeuvre. The colombian driver also had a hard time after hitting the barriers, on which his car broke down to a wreck. The challenge for the Constructors' World Championship remains standing. In Shanghai, Renault will have two new engines, while McLaren will have to mount the Mercedes engines used at Suzuka. And maybe Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella can finally take a good revenge.