Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
Only three weeks ago Lotus Renault announced they had secured a two-year deal with Kimi Raikkonen, and ever since media have been speculating whether the 2007 World Champion would be fit or motivated enough to make a successful return to the sport after two years of absence.
The 32-year old Finn however, has no doubts about his Formula One return and is adamant he will be just as successful as he has been before. He was however surprised by the many reactions and in a Lotus Renault interview jokingly remarked, “I guess people must have missed me!”
Especially with the difficult return of Michael Schumacher in mind, Raikkonen was asked whether he expects his return could be problematic as well. “Let’s put it this way: before my two years of rallying I had nine seasons, 157 races and 18 wins in Formula One. I know the sport well. When I went to rallying and when I tried NASCAR, there were many new things to learn, but with Formula One I feel like I’m coming home. I can’t wait to get behind the wheel,” he commented.
The Flying Finn has paid two visits to the Lotus Renault headquarters in Enstone, UK, and was pleasantly surprised by the support he has of his new team. “My two visits to Enstone have been great. The first one, at the team’s Christmas party, made me realise how much support I have there,” said Raikkonen, adding, “The second one, last week, allowed me to understand that this team has not been World Champion by coincidence.”
He was also impressed by the technical facilities at Enstone, “I also saw all the investments they have made recently: new simulator building, CFD upgrade, 60% wind tunnel… It gives me a lot of confidence for the season ahead.”
Getting on top of the tyres will be the hardest thing
Asked about his motivation and whether he will be quickly up to speed Raikkonen commented, “I am more motivated than ever and I don’t think I’ve lost any speed.” Like he had said before, he expects the tyres will be the only unknown factor for him, “Getting on top of the tyres will be the hardest thing, of course, but I’m not really worried.”
He is also confident the changes in the 2012 regulations that have been announced by the FIA, could actually be a benefit for his team. “Although the technical regulations don’t seem to change much, they apply to a lot of areas and quite a few elements will have to be re-designed. As a result, the cars will be significantly different next year. The order could be shaken up, which will make things very interesting.”
Unfortunately, Raikkonen will have to wait until the February pre-season test days to get behind the wheel of the 2012 contender, but he is confident ahead of the challenge that awaits him, “I will also be working on getting to know the team better and making sure I fully understand all the changes since I have been away.”
And he concluded, “For me, learning how the team works will be another important aspect. Learning Pirelli’s tyres will be the most important job, as it’s a different approach from what I experienced before.”
While Raikkonen will be the leading driver at Lotus Renault, to be named Lotus next season, the ‘men in black’ have also contracted Frenchman Romain Grosjean, who won this year’s GP2 title. The pre-season testing days will kick off at Jerez, Spain on February 7-9, two other test sessions will take place at the end of February and early March. The first race of the season will be the Australian Grand Prix which will take place on the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne on March 18.