Sun05012016

LAST_UPDATESun, 01 May 2016 10am

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kimi_raikonen738LONDON: "It was one of the easiest races I have done to win. Hopefully we can have many more of these races."

Kimi Raikkonen (pic) is a man of few words, so when he does say something, it tends to be worth listening to.

Sometimes it’s hilarious, as it was last season when he was powering to victory under pressure from Fernando Alonso in the Abu Dhabi GP.

All eyes were on the racing, but all ears were on Radio Raikkonen, where he told his well-intentioned race engineer to "just leave me alone, I know what I'm doing," before adding: "Yes, yes, yes, yes. I'm doing all the tyres. You don't have to remind me every second."

Sometimes it’s controversial, as it was in 2006 when he told Martin Brundle live on ITV that he had missed a farewell presentation to Michael Schumacher because he “was having a s**t”.

But when the Iceman has just reeled off the opening race of the year and decides to tell you it was ‘easy’, despite double world champion Alonso behind him, and triple world champion Sebastian Vettel in third, you have to take him seriously.

And he was right.

The Australian Grand Prix was a cracker with seven different drivers leading during the course of the race – but it wasn’t hard for Raikkonen.

He leapt up to fourth from a qualifying position of seventh within the first two laps, and unbeknown to the rest of the field was in total control of the race after his first pit stop, lying in fifth place.

Adrian Sutil had ascended to the front after starting on the more durable medium tyres, and a train of drivers formed behind him with Vettel, Felipe Massa, Alonso and Raikkonen queued up.

But while the others all needed a third stop, Raikkonen was coasting around on a two-stop strategy. Alonso found a way through his team-mate and his biggest rival, but little did he know that he was long since racing for second place.

Behind the Finn tyres went off, teams of the calibre of McLaren struggled, Sutil ran a brave comeback race that ended with his super-soft tyres melting Icarus-style in the final laps.

But none of it affected Raikkonen. He held a comfortable lead, and set the fastest lap of the race with just two laps remaining, ostensibly just because he could.

Does Kimi become a title contender off the back of it?

Perhaps, perhaps not.

The one caveat to his sensational win was that it came in conditions that are unlikely to be replicated anytime soon.

Air temperature in Melbourne was around 17C, track temperature just a handful of degrees higher.

In tropical Malaysia this weekend, in the unlikely event there’s not a huge rainshower, there’ll be sticky, humid conditions many degrees higher, and how the cars and their tyres combine may be completely different again.

But what the Australian Grand Prix does do is serve as a reminder of Raikkonen’s immense talent.

In recent times there has been an accepted ‘truth’ of racing that there are three stand-out drivers in the field – Vettel, Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, and that often all that splits them is the relative capabilities of their cars.

This was the reminder that Raikkonen deserves a place on that billing. He’s a world champion, he’s relentlessly fast and with the right frame of mind and the right set of wheels he can boss races.

He will also benefit from the fact that one of the major constructors, McLaren, appears to be in a mess.

Jenson Button finished ninth in Australia and seemed pretty pleased with his day’s work, given the limitations of his car.

Though it is early, their slow start, and the relative strength of their rivals, Lotus and even Mercedes included, suggest it could be a long year for the Woking marque.

On Sky their team principal Martin Whitmarsh was asked mid-race, in the clearest sign of all that the Grand Prix was passing their team by, which of his former drivers, Alonso or Raikkonen, he’d prefer to win the race.

Whitmarsh refused to pick favorites, but it bears repeating that fans are lucky to have the choice.

When Raikkonen was ushered out of Ferrari and found himself in the Formula One wilderness for two years, it was the sport’s loss as much as it was the Finn’s.

The good news for Lotus is that having got Raikkonen back on the grid in his 30s, there does indeed to appear to be more left in Kimi’s tank.

He even had enough in reserve to get through the entirety of the post-race interview on the podium without accidentally slipping in a swear word…


- Motorhead / Eurosport