Has Austria Dashed Kimi’s 2016 Hopes?

As far as disappointing weekend’s go, Kimi Raikkonen’s trip to Spielberg was an excellent definition. On a short circuit, where Mercedes had demonstrated potential vulnerability last season, Ferrari targeted a strong result with both cars at the Red Bull Ring. Sebastian Vettel may have secured 12 points for the Scuderia, but Kimi Raikkonen left pointless, following a nasty accident with Fernando Alonso on the opening lap. Albeit unfortunate circumstances, but the Iceman’s weekend unraveled on a Saturday once again, and had it not been for a confusing qualifying session which saw him ejected from contention at the Q1 stage, it all could have been very different come Sunday evening.

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Indeed, many of Raikkonen’s problems this season have stemmed for sub-optimal qualifying sessions. When Kimi has placed the Ferrari in its rightful place within the first three rows, a haul of points have been delivered in the race. Ultimately, the trend was continued in Austria, as Kimi’s Q1 departure placed him in the “carbon-fibre” zone and led to the admittedly unfortunate clash with his ex-teammate Fernando Alonso.

However, the accident was caused by another seemingly uncontrollable power-spike, similar to the incident which pitched Raikkonen into a spin in Canada and cost him a podium spot to Valtteri Bottas. Having experienced similar issues last season, this is perhaps an example of an area in which Kimi has struggled to adapt to the new formula of V6 Turbo Hybrids. Unquestionably, he is enjoying a far more fruitful 2015 compared to the slim-pickings of last season, but Raikkonen still appears below the form he displayed during his two years with Lotus, which saw him bag two race victories. Since rejoining Ferrari, his sole podium finish in Bahrain is the only notable result.

This result in Bahrain does, however, demonstrate that the Iceman can deliver the type of performance which saw him challenge for title honours at McLaren and eventually seal his maiden crown during his first stint at Maranello in 2007. This result, is exactly the kind of drive which will have the Ferrari boardroom scratching their heads when it comes to the proposition of resigning Kimi for another season – at one moment he is imperious and at another, anonymous.

Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene was quick to downplay the implications of Raikkonen’s Austrian Grand Prix weekend in the context of the Finn’s future. Following the race, the Italian commented, “It is not a question or today or yesterday. I am talking about performance. Performance means a kind of holistic approach. How is the feeling with engineers? How is he working with engineers? How is he getting podiums? How quick is he working?”

In this regard, Maurizio has ample reason to campaign in Kimi’s corner. Since Sebastian Vettel’s arrival to the team, Ferrari has become a much more harmonious place, from the outside looking in. Raikkonen and Vettel bring a positive atmosphere to the team and Arrivabene seems to be an excellent man-manager. In Kimi, Ferrari have a driver who is already integrated into an equation that is working and this attribute should not be underestimated.

Of course, this will not simply be a question of what Raikkonen offers to Ferrari, with the team reported to have been courting Williams’ Valtteri Bottas. One of the sport’s future super-stars, Bottas has carried his impressive form from 2014 into the current campaign and many suspect that he is now ahead of the likes of Nico Hulkenberg on Ferrari’s driver radar. Ultimately, it could come down to a battle between the Finn’s to earn the seat alongside Vettel in 2016, and with just five points separating the two in the championship, the table could become a decisive factor.

As Arrivabene noted, Raikkonen will not lose his seat at Ferrari on the basis of the Austrian Grand Prix, Canadian Grand Prix, or any individual race. For a team to make such a pivotal decision based on one factor would be irrational regardless. However, Raikkonen’s points tally as the season draws to a close could be telling – I highly doubt he would be required to either match or beat Sebastian, but his position in relation to Valtteri Bottas could be critical as, for now at least, it appears to be a battle between the Finn’s for the scarlet chassis. In my opinion, the 10 point swing of points in Valtteri’s favour is what could be more damaging to Kimi’s Ferrari future than the DNF itself, long-term.

Kimi’s relationship with Ferrari will be a factor which can compensate for a points deficit but as that famous cliche goes, “points make prizes”.

Image Credit: "Monaco Magic"
By Paul Williams (via Flickr) [CC-BY-ND-2.0]
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