Nobody can ever accuse Formula One driver Kimi Räikkönen of being melodramatic.
Known as the Iceman for his subdued manner, the Lotus driver hardly cracked a smile after taking his first win since returning to Formula One this season following a two-year hiatus.
“To be honest it’s just another win on the list for me,” he said after being asked about his 19th career F1 victory in Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. His last win was the Belgian Grand Prix in 2009.
“It’s great of course, because it’s been a few years, but the wins prior to this one were very similar. We didn’t have the best car, but we fought and still won. It’s great to win now, so people will stop asking me if I can win or not, and at least it makes it a bit clearer.”
While it was seemingly just another ho-hum day at the office for Räikkönen, his triumph marked the first victory for a team named Lotus since the late three-time world champion Ayrton Senna took the chequered flag for the team at the 1987 U.S. Grand Prix on the streets of Detroit.
Formerly the Renault outfit, Räikkönen’s team began using the iconic black and gold colours of the legendary John Player Special car of the 1970s last year and officially became the Lotus F1 Team in 2012. The outfit has the support of the family of Team Lotus founder Graham Chapman.
The original Team Lotus won 79 races in 491 starts between 1958 and 1994, taking seven constructors and six world championships. Its last title came when Mario Andretti captured the 1978 world championship in a John Player Special-Lotus.
And how does Räikkönen feel about adding to a victory the storied manufacturer’s list?
“It’s a name,” he said bluntly.
“It’s a great name for us, good past but you know I race for the team whatever the name is. I don’t really care, so it’s just for the guys who do all the work. Maybe it looks good in somebody’s eyes, but for me it really makes no difference.”
In Abu Dhabi, the Lotus driver started fourth on the grid but took advantage of a lightning fast getaway to jump to second by the first corner. When pole sitter Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren gave up on Lap 19, Räikkönen inherited the lead and never looked back.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was second, continuing his unlikely title challenge in a car that has not been as quick as his rivals all year. The second place finish helped Alonso close the gap to championship leader Sebastian Vettel, of Red Bull, by three points to 10 with two races to go. Vettel was a miraculous third after starting from the pitlane due to being disqualified from qualifying for not having the required one litre of fuel in his tanks following the session. He was helped immensely by a pair of well-timed safety car periods that played in his favour.
The next race is the inaugural U.S. Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Tex., on Nov. 18. The season finale goes in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Nov.25.
The win capped a spectacular return to F1 for the Finnish driver who rejoined the series this year after taking a break following the 2009 season to go rally racing. While he is officially out of the title hunt, the victory solidified Räikkönen’s hold on third overall in the championship, pushing the gap to fourth-place man Mark Webber, of Red Bull, to 31 points. With drivers getting 25 points for a win, Räikkönen looks to be headed for a top-3 overall finish as a maximum of 50 is up for grabs in the final two races.
While fans shouldn’t expect the 2007 world champion to get too excited about a top-three points finish this year, Räikkönen showed during the race in Abu Dhabi that he doesn’t always stay cool. Just after he took the lead, an annoyed Räikkönen chastised his race engineer Simon Rennie for telling him the gap to second-placed Alonso one too many times.
“Just leave me alone – I know what I am doing,” he snapped over the radio after being told the Ferrari was five seconds back and that more updates on Alonso’s pace would follow.
Later in the grand prix when Rennie told him to make sure to work all the tires behind the safety car, Räikkönen responded curtly: “Yes, yes, yes, I am doing it all the time. You don’t have to keep reminding me every second.”
After the race, Räikkönen explained that he’d simply rather the team not tell him too many details about what’s going on in the race because he has things under control in the cockpit. And while he knew the team was just covering its bases, Räikkönen said he would react exactly the same way if it happened again.
“I’m not so stupid that I cannot remember what I’m doing,” he said.
“It’s a normal thing, they are just trying to help – I will ask for help if I need it. Different people like different things.”
While the outburst may have been a case of clashing styles, you certainly can’t argue with Räikkönen’s results in 2012.
When the season began, many experts thought Räikkönen would show flashes of brilliance, but few predicted that would be ahead of both McLarens, one Red Bull and a Ferrari in the drivers’ championship with just two of 20 races to go.
In 18 starts so far this year, Räikkönen’s worst result came in the third race of 2012 in China where the team miscalculated his tire wear. The Lotus looked bound for a podium until his tires fell off a cliff and the Finn dropped from second to 14th in the final eight laps after he ran out of grip.
China was the only time in 2012 that the 33-year-old failed to score points, having finished at least ninth or better in his other 17 starts this year, including seven podiums. Along the way, he’s finished every lap of every race and, along with Alonso, is a top candidate for driver of the year honours.
While he is known for being less than chatty in the paddock, Räikkönen does have a bit of a reputation for hard partying.
And he did nothing to dispel that after being asked about the post-win bash he had planned.
“I have almost two weeks,” he said.
“As long as I manage to get myself to the next race, I think the team is happy.”
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