F1 returned to France after ten years with the French GP at Paul Ricard. Lewis Hamilton brought his A-game with a commanding win from pole as he reclaimed the championship lead from title rival Sebastian Vettel who clashed with Vattteri Bottas at the first corner in a chaotic opening lap. The Ferrari ace managed to claw his way back up to fifth but falling 14 points behind Hamilton in the drivers’ standings. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium. A big talking point of the weekend was the heroics of rising star Charles Leclerc as the Sauber rookie reached Q3 for the first time in his F1 career, qualifying eight and giving Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 team its first Q3 appearance since the 2015 Italian GP. Leclerc finished the race tenth on Sunday, leading to intensified calls for the Frenchman to replace arguably the most-loved active Formula 1 driver next season.
Kimi Raikkonen had an impressive drive on Sunday as he grabbed the final podium place from Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo with seven laps remaining after a ridiculous Q3 meant he started sixth on the grid. The 38-year old has had a bitter-sweet 2018 so far, scoring four podiums and sometimes outperforming teammate Vettel but the Finn had lost his nerve in some Q3 appearances and bungled potential pole starts leaving him fifth on the drivers’ standings with 83 points. Kimi has also been too careful in the first 3 turns of opening laps in his quest to get his SF71H out of harm’s way, losing positions to the likes of fellow Finn Bottas and the aggressive Verstappen in the process.
Kimi Raikkonen’s 2018 season so far
- Australia: Kimi outqualified Vettel to start P2 but he could only finish third as the German gained from Mercedes’ ‘software bug’.
- Bahrain: Kimi qualified P2 behind his teammate but his race ended on lap 35 after a pit stop accident left a tyre changer’s leg broken.
- China: The Iceman was pipped by his teammate to start pole with less than a tenth of a second, though he finished the race in third and Vettel eight (shunted by ‘Crashtappen’ in the race).
- Azerbaijan: After leading in Q2, Kimi goes wide at turn 16 and almost brushed the wall on his first Q3 attempt. He then makes a mistake at the same turn on his second attempt, throwing away a potential pole and starting sixth. Kimi goes on to impressively finish second while Vettel finished fourth.
- Spain: It was a disappointing weekend for Scuderia Ferrari as they were bested by Mercedes all weekend. Kimi improved to start P4 after a poor first Q3 run as he buckled at a turn. He would retire in the race after 25 laps due to turbo problem while Vettel finished fourth.
- Monaco: It was Red Bull’s Ricciardo who stole the show this weekend as the Australian led all through practice, qualifying and won the race, breaking records in the process. The Iceman was P2 after Q2 but slipped to P4 in Q3. With overtaking nearly impossible in the street circuit, Kimi finished as he started.
- Canada: Kimi was P5 after his Q2 runs and after a first Q3 run, he ruined his final flyer running wide exiting turn 2 and ends up P5 while Vettel started on Pole. The former finished the race as he started, though almost beating Lewis Hamilton with an overcut while the latter led from start to finish.
- France: Raikkonen’s first Q3 run was below par but his second attempt to improve was a disaster after oversteering at turn 4, ruining the lap and Kevin Magnussen’s push lap. The Haas driver went on a foul-mouthed tirade, lambasting the Finn. Kimi escapes getting penalized and goes on to finish third after starting sixth while his teammate recovered brilliantly to finish fifth after the lap 1 crash sent him to the pits and back of the grid.
Raikkonen was given a one-year contract extension by the prancing horse once again last year. Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne said last December that the 2007 Champion needed more consistency and “probably this (2018) is the last season to find the right key”. Raikkonen’s inconsistent season comes at a time Ferrari Driver Academy’s Leclerc maiden F1 season has brilliant so far, with the 20-year-old scoring points in four of the last five races and beating his experienced Sauber team-mate Marcus Ericsson. The Monégasque driver had won back-to-back titles in GP3 and Formula 2 under the academy scheme and he would be its first graduate to make it to a Ferrari F1 race seat if he is finally signed after the Italian team decided against pushing for Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo. Kimi’s fate hasn’t been helped with Vettel outperforming him since joining The Prancing Horse in 2015 and age catching up with him real fast. It seems the calls for Leclerc to replace Kimi keeps growing every week.
No doubt Kimi is a legend, with lots of Formula One records and achievements, and famed for his expressionless face, funny accent and interesting team radio communications. Even when praised, he rarely shows his emotions as seen in the French GP post-race press conference when shown much respect by rival team driver Hamilton. But F1 fans believes that ‘Classic Kimi’ smiles in his heart, as some say that a typical Finn keeps his emotions in check. Maybe Bottas isn’t a typical Finn. He’s shown his stuff when criticized in the past too. The Iceman has another chance to show that he’s good enough for another 1-year contract in the second race of the triple header this weekend in the Red Bull Ring for the Austrian Grand Prix and put his replacement calls to a pause. But one thing is certain: everybody loves Kimi!
By Ekwonye Osy Ernesto