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#924 2015 Austrian Grand Prix

2023-01-19 23:00

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#2015, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Aurora Asia Martignon,

#924 2015 Austrian Grand Prix

Kimi Raikkonen is increasingly under scrutiny. The Finnish driver's recent performance in Canada has raised many doubts within Ferrari, and with a per

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Kimi Raikkonen is under increasing scrutiny. The Finnish driver's recent performance in Canada has raised many doubts within Ferrari, and with his performance so far below expectations (just one second place compared to Vettel's victory and four podiums in seven races), his confirmation is becoming increasingly uncertain. Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene continues:

 

"Kimi's future, as I've said before, depends on results. If he achieves the goals we've set for him, why not consider keeping the same driver line-up for 2016? The objectives are good performances and points. For Enzo Ferrari, the Constructors' Championship was more important than the Drivers' Championship, and to achieve that, both drivers need to deliver results. I've spoken directly to Kimi and he knows very well that the more points he scores, the more likely he is to stay".

 

Arrivabene doesn't want to talk about replacements for the time being:

 

"At the moment I'm only thinking about our two drivers, and I know that if necessary we can have a driver ready to jump into a Ferrari in a minute. That's not a problem, the problem is to work with the drivers we have and make sure they perform at their best".

 

Reflecting on his experience at Maranello, Arrivabene admits:

 

"A chair is just a chair when you're concentrating on your work. It can be comfortable or not, but it's how you work, not how you sit. Of course I feel the responsibility, but if you take away the media pressure for a moment, it's a wonderful job. My dream for years has been to come back to Italy and do something for my country, and I was lucky enough to find the best job Italy could offer me".

 

Arrivabene talks about the role of a team principal and his relationship with Marchionne:

 

"The team principal is not an engineer. Maybe they were many years ago, but if you look at Todt, Briatore, Horner or Wolff, none of them is an engineer. You have to have a 360-degree approach and find the right balance between the technical aspect and the budget. If you give the engineers free rein, you'll go bankrupt very quickly. Marchionne? Of course I keep him informed, he's my boss. But the intensity of the communication depends on the situation. Sometimes we don't talk for three or four days, sometimes we talk three or four times in one day".

 

On Ferrari's ambitions:

 

"I was clear at the beginning of the season: for 2015 the goal is to win at least three races and next year we want to fight for the title. I have no doubt about that and we're working hard to achieve it. The rest of the season? I'm not looking for signs in the sky for the future, but obviously I don't like to lose and the team doesn't either. We want to win, but Mercedes have done a great job. They deserved the title last year and they deserve to be where they are now. We have to be realistic and do our best to make them a little less happy".

 

Finally, in response to Alonso's claim that he left Ferrari because he was tired of finishing second:

 

"People can say what they want. It wasn't very nice, but I don't care".

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Sebastian Vettel believes in his chances. And he doesn't hide it, not even in front of microphones, notebooks and cameras. On the eve of the Austrian Grand Prix, the German driver is very optimistic about the possibility of winning again, as he did in Malaysia.

 

"At Ferrari we always want to fight for victory. We have a competitive package and if everything goes right we can be up there, especially on Saturdays. But we also have to be realistic. To challenge Mercedes, we need a perfect weekend and hope they struggle a bit. But in a normal race it's going to be difficult to beat them because there's still a big gap, they're still the favourites".

 

When asked, the Maranello rider recalls his impressive comeback in Montreal, where he started from the back of the grid and finished third.

 

"It was more exciting than the previous races. Normally, when you start from the back, you pass slower cars, and in the end, when I found a stable position, I was able to push more and score points, avoiding the possible risks in the chaos of the first laps".

 

Nevertheless, Vettel is optimistic about the possibility of closing the gap to Mercedes before the end of the season.

 

"We have done an incredible job if you look at the winter tests and where we are now. We're closer, but it's not easy because Mercedes are a strong team and they've also improved, introducing a new engine specification. But we hope to get closer in the second half of the season. We're giving it our all, but we can't forget that we're competing against one of the best teams of recent years, and they're making progress to maintain the gap that makes their races more comfortable".

 

Finally, as for the rumours linking fellow German Nico Hulkenberg to Ferrari, especially after his impressive victory with Porsche at the Le Mans 24 Hours, Vettel deflects the question:

 

"To be honest, I don't read much Formula 1 news, I follow other sports more. As for Nico's victory, I'd say it's fantastic for him, a great triumph, something nobody can take away from him. We in the paddock are a bit jealous, but we respect him. As for the rest of the stories, I don't know".

 

Nico Rosberg is also looking forward with confidence, avoiding comparisons with last season when he began to lose ground to team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who went on to win his second world title, his first with Mercedes.

 

"I don't think about the past, for me it's the present that counts, and lately I have to say things have been going quite well. Except in Canada, where I didn't do so well because I lost, but I feel good and I'm very optimistic about this race, where I won last year. We have an excellent car that performs well, is constantly improving and is even better than the 2014 version. The 24 Hours of Le Mans? I'm not thinking about Le Mans".

 

Recently, Daniel Ricciardo expressed his frustration at a less than successful season with Red Bull, sparking rumours of a possible early exit. However, the Australian driver has dismissed the idea.

 

"I expressed some frustration in Canada, going from the best day of my life last year to this season. But when I got home I assessed the weekend: I'm with Red Bull and I want to get back on the top step of the podium with them and solve all the problems".

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It is likely that a new Renault engine, the fifth, will be fitted to his car for the Red Bull Ring race, incurring a ten place grid penalty.

 

"We'll probably change it. We'll have to decide by tonight what to do: either we take a penalty here, or if not here, then at Silverstone. We have to try to do our best and take the opportunities we have. Now we have to concentrate on improving. There are updates coming, but like everything, it takes time. I need to be a little more patient and make the most of the weekend, and put the race in Canada behind me".

 

Famous and successful, adored by the public. For Bernie Ecclestone, he is the perfect world champion. A record collector, the reigning champion, often unbeatable in his Mercedes. If Lewis Hamilton wins pole position in Austria, he will equal Sebastian Vettel's 45 poles.

 

"It would be nice, but in terms of the race, because it is difficult to overtake here. These records don't mean anything, I just keep an eye on the championship".

 

Why do you have two stars on your helmet?

 

"There are two titles, but I would like to add more soon. Last season I felt a lot of pressure on my shoulders, the fear of not being able to win again. The final triumph lifted a weight from my shoulders".

 

In 2015, you often dominated everyone, including your team-mate Nico Rosberg.

 

"I can't explain why I had that dominance, it's not that simple, but it's true that in the third year my connection with the car is at its peak. The Mercedes of last season was strong and this one is even stronger. It seemed impossible, but we have managed to improve even more. When you change cars, from McLaren to another team, it's normal to need time to adapt. I expected that, but the adaptation was quick".

 

At the beginning of 2013, some people criticised your decision to join Mercedes.

 

"The facts have proved me right. This is the ideal team for me, it doesn't overburden me and gives me complete freedom in my personal life, which allows me to give my best on the track. All I have to think about is driving and doing it to the best of my ability. Make no mistake, the team works with great professionalism and I trust them blindly".

 

Even in situations like Monte Carlo?

 

"Mistakes can happen, it's water under the bridge. In Canada, we drew a line under it, started from scratch and went right back to winning".

 

The relationship is so perfect that you recently extended your contract for another three years.

 

"I'm thirty and I can't see myself in any other team. I've been taught not to predict the future, so never say never. But when I think about my destiny, Mercedes for life is the most concrete hypothesis".

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To the dismay of Ferrari fans...

 

"Ferrari is a closed chapter. I am having fun with Mercedes and the excellent relationship that has developed is good for my balance. I know some people criticise my life off the track, always travelling around the world. But that's who I am, I can't be restricted, I have to be hyperactive every day. I love roaming around Colorado with my two dogs, Coco and Roscoe, and my brother Nicolas. I love skiing, as I often do in Austria. I can go from a fashion show to a stay in a mountainous country where I remember my childhood, where I don't see houses or cars in front of me. I choose my world, where I want to be. Mercedes allows me to do that without constraints, and that makes me happy".

 

You also seem to be popular with Ecclestone, thanks to your fashionable appearance.

 

"When he said that, he was comparing me to Vettel: me with the VIPs, him with the family. We're two different characters, so it doesn't seem like an important detail. Besides, I like it when people in the USA ask me what I do for a living. I don't have the fear of popularity. I say: I'm an F1 driver. And they say: "That must be nice. Then we all laugh together. It would be impossible in Europe".

 

Just like with Senna.

 

"A legend, an example to follow. I can't imagine my life without F1. My mother says don't cry when you get out. I'm already thirty, nine years of racing have flown by. I would continue indefinitely".

 

Do you have problems with racism?

 

"Not any more. At the beginning, when I was a kid, on the kart tracks, a lot of white kids insulted me, but I enjoyed beating them on the track. Then there was the incident in Spain in 2008, but a lot of that was down to the rivalry with Alonso. Now I'm accepted by everyone, but I know it's not the same in other sports. There's a lot of racism in football. It's difficult to fight because it's hard to change the minds of ignorant people".

 

Your relationship with other sports?

 

"I follow football, but rugby is even better. No frills, just all-out action".

 

Can you imagine a dream moment?

 

"I would listen to music: U2, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder. But I only go into ecstasy with Pavarotti".

 

On Friday 19 June 2015, in the first practice session, both Mercedes drivers were fastest, with Nico Rosberg three tenths of a second quicker than team-mate Lewis Hamilton. Kimi Räikkönen's Ferrari was the only other car to come within a second of the Mercedes. Sebastian Vettel's other Ferrari was the slowest due to a gearbox problem which limited him to just four laps. Fernando Alonso's McLaren also experienced gearbox problems, but was able to return to the track later in the session following repairs. The McLaren team had introduced a new aerodynamic package for the race at Spielberg, which Alonso tested and found to be an improvement. 

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Sebastian Vettel bounced back in the second practice session for the Austrian Grand Prix after a transmission problem prevented him from running in the morning session. The Ferrari driver set the fastest time, just ahead of Nico Rosberg's Mercedes and his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. However, reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton struggled on the supersoft tyres and made several mistakes to finish fifth. Both Lotus cars finished in the top ten, with Pastor Maldonado fourth and Romain Grosjean seventh. Max Verstappen's Toro Rosso was the fastest Renault-powered car in eighth place, while the McLaren team experienced problems that led to an early end to their session. Sebastian Vettel had a difficult afternoon session as he experienced a gearbox problem that forced him into the pits after just a few laps. Despite the problems, Vettel was pleased and not concerned about Ferrari's reliability, stating that his race pace looked good. Referring to his inability to run the soft tyres in race trim, something his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was able to do, Vettel said:

 

"Kimi seems to have a good pace and we'll see from his runs. My situation is not ideal, but I'm not worried about reliability. Today two negative things happened at the same time and we'll try to test tomorrow".

 

Sebastian Vettel is hoping to end a three-year, 55-race pole drought that began at Hockenheim on 21 July 2012. The Austrian Grand Prix could provide the opportunity after setting the fastest time in the final practice session. Vettel proudly said:

 

"We are close to the Mercedes and qualifying promises to be interesting".

 

However, there are some clouds on the horizon. Not so much the predicted rain, as Sunday's race is expected to be dry, but the two breakdowns suffered by Ferrari, a half-shaft problem in the morning and a gearbox problem in the afternoon. These mechanical failures caused some concern, but not for Vettel, who said:

 

"A sensor alerted us and I had to slow down, but I don't think there's anything to worry about".

 

Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg both acknowledged the speed of the Ferraris, with Rosberg second in the afternoon session and both drivers expressing their intention to find some extra tenths on track. Kimi Raikkonen, despite setting the third fastest time, made a mistake during his run and damaged his right front tyre. Ferrari team principal Arrivabene had a close call when Felipe Massa braked suddenly in the pit lane, avoiding a collision with Arrivabene. Sebastian Vettel again topped the time charts in the third practice session on Saturday morning, just ahead of Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes. However, the session was interrupted when Fernando Alonso stopped on the start-finish straight, bringing out a red flag. When the session resumed, rain started to fall, preventing the drivers from improving their times. Only Force India's Sergio Pérez managed to set a lap time on the supersoft tyres, finishing fourth in the session. In the subsequent qualifying session (Q1), Kimi Räikkönen was eliminated due to a communication failure, leaving him without enough time for another fast lap. As the track dried during qualifying, times improved with each lap and the drivers were able to switch from intermediate to slick tyres by the end of the first session. Jenson Button also retired in Q1 and would be penalised in the race as he was unable to serve his full 25 place grid penalty. In the dry conditions of Q2, the two Mercedes drivers were the fastest, with Rosberg beating Hamilton by four-tenths of a second. Fernando Alonso failed to make Q3, the seventh time this season he has missed the final part of qualifying. In the final part of qualifying (Q3), both Mercedes drivers set two fast laps. After the first run, Rosberg was ahead of Hamilton, but Hamilton improved on his second lap to beat his team-mate by two-tenths of a second. However, both drivers spun on their final flying laps, Hamilton in turn one and Rosberg in the final corner. As a result, the order remained unchanged, with Hamilton taking the 45th pole of his career, level on points with Sebastian Vettel, who qualified third. 

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Last year's pole sitter Felipe Massa was fourth, with Le Mans winner Nico Hulkenberg fifth, ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the second Williams. Hamilton was delighted, but acknowledged the difficult track conditions:

 

"It was a very difficult session for everyone because of the track conditions. I'm happy to have a good lap in Q3. I pushed hard in the first run and then in the last run I pushed too hard and went off track. I tried to go flat out, but at a certain point I couldn't find a gear and I lost time going off track".

 

In contrast to Hamilton's delight, Nico Rosberg was disappointed but determined to drive an aggressive race:

 

"I'm not sure exactly what happened. I went a bit wide in the last corner and there was some artificial grass with water on it. Maybe I made a mistake by pushing too hard. Tomorrow? Like every race, I have to try to surprise the others at the start. Here in Austria it's a bit easier because the first straight is longer. So I will try to overtake right away, otherwise it will be difficult to overtake later".

 

Sebastian Vettel wasn't entirely satisfied as he had hoped to get closer to the two Mercedes drivers: 

 

"Once again I thought I would be a bit closer to the Mercedes, but they were too fast. We still have a lot of work to do, but overall I'm happy with third place. We tried everything, we seemed competitive in all the sessions and we arrived well in qualifying. Although Q1 was difficult for everyone, we managed to get through. In general, the cars with Mercedes engines seem to be able to improve their performance, even the Williams were very close. I'm happy with the car; we've done a great job, thanks to the team. We should have an excellent car for the race. We have a very quick car and I felt very comfortable in it this morning. Tomorrow could be different, we hope. This track requires a strong push all weekend, Nico and Lewis have done that and made some mistakes in practice, but that's normal. Hopefully tomorrow they will have to push to the limit. Usually those who don't make mistakes do well in the race and if you're the fastest, you win".

 

Kimi Raikkonen, on the other hand, was disappointed: 

 

"A really bad Saturday. Obviously we'll do our best tomorrow and we'll see where we end up".

 

Raikkonen thought he had one more lap to go, but found out otherwise: 

 

"Yes, but obviously that wasn't the case".

 

The contrast between the two Ferrari drivers was stark, with Vettel remaining hopeful and Raikkonen frustrated. The Austrian Grand Prix took place on a track where overtaking is difficult, making the qualifying results even more crucial. Mercedes continued to dominate the front row, with Hamilton securing his 45th career pole position to equal Sebastian Vettel's record. Commenting on sharing the pole record with Vettel, Hamilton said:

 

"Tied with Vettel? I'd like to have his four world championships".

 

Hamilton has two world championships to his name and is looking to add to his tally with a strong performance. On Sunday 21 June 2015, at the start of the Austrian Grand Prix, Rosberg made a good start and passed his team-mate Hamilton to take the lead as they entered turn one. Coming out of the next corner, Kimi Räikkönen struggled with heavy wheelspin on his harder compound while running side-by-side and drifted to the outside of the track, colliding with Fernando Alonso's McLaren, which ended up on top of the Ferrari.

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Both drivers escaped uninjured. The collision resulted in the Safety Car being brought out. Towards the end of the lap, Daniil Kvyat pitted to replace a damaged front wing, while Will Stevens retired due to an oil leak. When the safety car returned to the pitlane at the end of the sixth lap, Rosberg successfully defended his lead against Hamilton and quickly opened up a gap, leading by 2.3 seconds by the eleventh lap. On the twelfth lap, the second McLaren, driven by Jenson Button, retired due to an induction system sensor failure. By the sixteenth lap, Valtteri Bottas had regained the sixth place he had lost at the start from Max Verstappen. Hamilton began to close the gap to Rosberg at the front. But the German responded and extended his lead to four seconds by the twenty-seventh lap. Meanwhile, Bottas passed Le Mans winner Nico Hulkenberg for fifth place on the twenty-sixth lap, but an earlier pit stop allowed the German to regain the lead from the Williams. Carlos Sainz Jr. received a five-second time penalty for speeding in the pit lane, but this was not applied as the Spaniard retired on lap 34 with a technical problem. Before the front runners made their pit stops, Lewis Hamilton managed to close the gap to 2.2 seconds by the thirty-second lap. By the time Rosberg pitted a lap later, Hamilton had taken the lead. It was also Hamilton's seventeenth consecutive race in which he had led at least one lap, equalling the record set by Jackie Stewart, who achieved the same feat between the 1968 United States Grand Prix and the 1970 Belgian Grand Prix. Hamilton made his pit stop on lap 35 and came out behind his team-mate, crossing the white pit exit line. This resulted in a five-second penalty being added to his final race time. Sebastian Vettel pitted two laps later, but was delayed by more than 13 seconds due to a problem with his right rear tyre. He rejoined the race in fourth place behind Felipe Massa. Meanwhile, Romain Grosjean retired with gearbox problems. Vettel closed the gap on Massa, who held the final podium position, but ultimately couldn't overtake the Brazilian, giving Massa his first podium finish of 2015. Towards the end of the race, Pastor Maldonado battled with Max Verstappen for seventh place. Passing the start/finish straight, Maldonado almost lost control of his car as he came out of the slipstream of the Toro Rosso, while Verstappen locked up entering turn one, allowing the Lotus driver to take the position. Rosberg, who had complained of front tyre vibration in the closing laps, crossed the line three seconds ahead of Hamilton to claim his third win of the season and his second consecutive victory at Spielberg, closing the gap to ten points at the top of the standings. Nico Rosberg's perfect day unfolds in just a few metres. It only takes a moment and the deed is done. Leading into the first corner and across the line, a victory in Austria like last year, a third win of the season and the championship race wide open again, especially as his rival Lewis Hamilton is now only ten points behind.

 

"It is a fantastic feeling to win here again, the start decided my race. Yes, it was a great start and then I managed to defend in the first few corners and then I just tried to push as hard as I could. I was really happy with the car, I liked seeing the gap to Lewis grow: it was the perfect day. I'm happy; it went well, a great battle in the first three corners. I'm also happy to have been the fastest in the race; that was certainly an area I needed to work on since last year and this year it's going much better, which I'm very happy about".

 

As for the start, Nico doesn't forget to acknowledge the team's efforts:

 

"I have to thank my engineer for adjusting the clutch. And it was very important".

 

Regarding the significant vibrations in the front tyres, the German driver admits: 

 

"Yes, they were a bit annoying; I used the front tyres so much that the front started to vibrate and that worried me a bit, but then it stabilised and there was no problem. It was graining on the right front. It's very difficult to predict when it's going to happen and I think I suffered more than Lewis. Anyway, I was confident that I could stay in front because whoever stops earlier has new tyres to push and reopen the gap".

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The glorious Sunday was blessed with quick reactions and a perfectly functioning clutch, especially as the other half of the Mercedes duo, star Lewis, moved at a sluggish pace and described his start as amateurish. Hamilton acknowledged his rival's achievement.

 

"Congratulations to Nico, he did a fantastic job. I, on the other hand, had a terrible start. After the pit stop I just concentrated on getting the car home. I had a bad start, then I pushed as hard as I could, but Nico was fantastic, consistently faster than me throughout the race, especially in the second sector. After the pit stop, all I could think about was keeping the gap to the finish. There was no catching Nico today".

 

Losing the race at the start clearly upset the British driver:

 

"I changed something after Barcelona, tried to make the best start I could, but it had the opposite effect. Making a mistake by running wide and leaving space for those behind is another disappointment. Today I found myself in a situation where I couldn't do anything to improve. I used to start better than Nico, but now the roles are reversed and on a track like this, where it's difficult to overtake, I didn't have many opportunities to correct my starting mistake".

 

Today, the victorious Mercedes (although they always celebrate) belonged to Rosberg, despite some brake problems towards the end that caused some concern and a noticeable slowdown. Raikkonen only needed two corners to complete what the protagonist describes as a nightmare weekend. Despite a pep talk from President Marchionne, who arrived two hours before the race and made a quick trip from the Pope to Ferrari, from Turin by private plane to Vienna and then by helicopter to Zeltweg, Kimi couldn't turn things around:

 

"He has the class to make a comeback. As for confirmation, it is up to him. It's his choice. Get results or surrender".

 

Raikkonen's race was effectively over after less than a kilometre. The wheels spun, the car veered to the left, Kimi lost control, ran wide and inevitably collided with Alonso. It was a terrifying accident as Alonso's McLaren landed on the back of the Ferrari, just inches from the Finn's neck. Fernando said of the incident:

 

"I was scared for Kimi, luckily he's OK, and I was scared for myself, but it wasn't my fault. They passed him on both sides and I was right in front of him. There was nothing I could do".

 

Raikkonen also absolved Alonso when they met after the race, with the Finn admitting:

 

"I didn't lose control because I was hit; Alonso was far behind. I lost control before and I don't know why. Was I scared during the accident? No, because I didn't realise anything until his McLaren was on top of me".

 

Kimi Raikkonen, commenting on the incident that saw him and Fernando Alonso both retire on the first lap of the Austrian Grand Prix.

 

"Everything is fine, the checks were mandatory, but the best news is that we are both fine. It was a strong and spectacular crash from the outside".

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Fernando Alonso also commented on the first lap incident with Kimi Raikkonen, saying:

 

"I was five or six metres behind him when he had a lot of wheel spin and then lost the car to the left. I was there and we hit the wall. Luckily nothing happened, especially to him, because I passed very close to his head".

 

The mystery surrounding Raikkonen's incident remains, with Ferrari ruling out any similarities to Montreal (throttle mapping in the first 90 seconds of the race), as well as technical issues, and leaving the verdict in the balance. What is clear, however, is the coldness with which Arrivabene expects results from Raikkonen. So far, he has achieved very little, and Marchionne left the circuit immediately after the race, shaking his head. He can't be happy, except with the prospect of making money by selling engines to Red Bull (he admitted to offering them), because this time, at least in terms of results, he also let down Vettel, who fell off the podium due to a stripped nut and the crucial 10 seconds lost in the pits. Felipe Massa took advantage and the German chased him relentlessly, but had to settle for fourth. A bitter smile:

 

"It's human, mistakes can happen. The rear right had a problem. Sometimes these things happen, our guys are usually the best, but these are races. There's a bit of bitterness because I wanted to be on the podium. We had a great race pace, but overall I think we're closer to Mercedes, even if the result doesn't show it. I have good feelings".

 

Only Arrivabene can express regret. It used to be all aluminium, but they decided to use a combination with titanium and the nut broke.

 

"Not criticism, but solutions".

 

They will go back to the old nuts, hoping to regain old habits and get Ferrari back on the podium, as they did in the first six races, unlike the last two.

 

"We threw away a podium because of a loose nut. Pressure shouldn't cause confusion, we need to move forward and look at the next race with even more determination. We've seen the pictures and even from them it's not clear. We saw Fernando's car on top of Kimi's; now we'll hear from him. What will I tell the boys? To keep going and not to stop at all, because the fact that two races have gone like this doesn't mean we should get discouraged, quite the opposite. We have to keep going and do even more".

 

Months have been counted, or rather races have been counted. Only three, no more, will secure Raikkonen a contract extension, perhaps due more to the lack of viable alternatives than to the actual merits of the Finnish driver. Great Britain, Hungary and Belgium, a track he loves, are the dates Kimi cannot afford to miss if he wants to stay with Ferrari. Sergio Marchionne was clear:

 

"It all depends on him, the renewal is his choice. Either he delivers results or he'll be forced to leave".

 

So the decision is not entirely voluntary. Who would say no to a lucrative contract with Ferrari? But it's tied to performance, not necessarily wins but at least podiums, something he's only achieved once so far, in Bahrain. It depends on his performance, something Arrivabene has been stressing since the start of the season. The Team Principal has never been in a hurry, and even now he is pushing the boundaries of the decision:

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"He knows what we expect from him: focus, speed, results. It's too early to do the maths, we'll take stock at the end of the summer".

 

In other words, after Belgium, but perhaps not after Monza, when Ferrari will be at the peak of its development to score a prestigious victory. In September, we will see if Raikkonen has managed to turn his fortunes around by finally becoming competitive in qualifying (the comparison with Vettel is harsh, seven out of eight Saturdays for the fastest lap) and consistent in the race, where he sometimes sets the fastest lap of the day, but more often than not it is little or nothing. In Great Britain, where Ferrari arrives with high hopes, Raikkonen must seek redemption, then persevere in Hungary and complete the mission in Belgium, a circuit where he has won even when Ferrari was struggling. He has no alternative; the nightmare weekend in Austria has wiped out his credit. It's true that the pretenders to his throne are beginning to hope, although they know they'll have to fight against the odds that currently threaten to suffocate the pros. There are three potential candidates: Williams' Bottas, Red Bull's Ricciardo and Hulkenberg, who finished sixth in Austria for the small Force India team. The first is Finnish like Raikkonen and has the same unexpressive face. His only podium of the season came in Montreal, but he hasn't been able to repeat last year's brilliant season with Williams (he was beaten in Austria by his team-mate Massa). He's young and talented, but he has two handicaps: Ferrari would have to pay a penalty to release him from Williams, and his manager is Toto Wolff, who also heads the Mercedes team. Is it wise to share the secrets of the new Ferrari, the 2016 version, with someone managed by a person who works for the main competitors? Daniel Ricciardo's situation is even more complicated. He's contracted to Red Bull, but an agreement could be reached, given Sergio Marchionne's desire to supply engines to the Anglo-Austrian team. However, persuading Sebastian Vettel to accept a new team-mate would be more difficult, especially after their conflicts during their time at Red Bull in 2014. At this point, the favourite is Nico Hulkenberg. He's a free agent, German like Sebastian Vettel, and he's just won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. His name may not set the hearts of the fans on fire, but he's certainly a better option than the current Kimi Raikkonen.


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