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Analysis: Why Ferrari boss is giving Kimi Raikkonen the hurry-up over qualifying

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Analysis: Why Ferrari boss is giving Kimi Raikkonen the hurry-up over qualifying
Jun 1, 2015, 5:37 PM

Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene has made several comments in recent months about needing his driver Kimi Raikkonen to step up his game if he ...

Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene has made several comments in recent months about needing his driver Kimi Raikkonen to step up his game if he is to retain his seat for 2016, the most recent in Monaco being a hurry-up over his qualifying pace.

So we have analysed Raikkonen's qualifying performances not only this season, but since his return to F1 in 2012 and drawn some interesting conclusions.

This season he is 6-0 down to team mate Sebastian Vettel in qualifying (see table below). Vettel's average grid slot is 2.8, while Raikkonen's is 6.5. He has been behind Vettel on-track for 89% of the race laps, the worst record between any teammates on the grid, and he is the only driver to have not outqualified his teammate in 2015.

"The problem of Kimi is qualifying," Arrivabene said. "At certain points of the race he was the same pace as Seb. Sometimes it's like that in qualifying because he got some traffic, but it's also true that he had a very big gap to the cars in front of him.

"If he is going to improve in qualifying then he will have no problems in the race because we know Kimi in the race is super and he can do a good job. If I have to give him some homework, he has to write 100 times 'I have to be better in qualifying'."

It is clear that by qualifying lower down than optimum on Saturday, Raikkonen leaves himself too much to do on Sunday against strong opposition. It is all relative to his team mate, however, as one of the more striking notes is that since his comeback, Raikkonen hasn't been in a car that's delivered a single pole position.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 10.56.49

Between him and his teammates there have only been four front row starts with Lotus and Ferrari (Grosjean in Hungary 2012, Raikkonen in China 2013 - both Lotus; Vettel in Malaysia and Bahrain for Ferrari 2015) - so the issue is one of relative performance; he hasn't been in cars capable of qualifying at the very sharp end of the grid since his comeback.

Plus Mercedes has now taken 18 consecutive poles and Mercedes engines have taken 25 consecutive, an almost unprecedented streak of qualifying domination.

What is the issue?

Qualifying is about many things; putting your three fastest sector times together on the same lap, for example. It sounds easy but it's surprising how few drivers can do it reliably. Then there is the ability to get the car onto the limit for a whole lap, not just below the limit. One of Raikkonen's strengths as a race driver is to be able to run just below the limit for long stints, without taking too much out of the tyres with broken traction.

We suspect there is probably a small contribution from the changes to the Pirelli tyres this year in his problems, particularly the strengthening of the rear tyre due to construction changes. What often happens is that when a change is made to tyres year on year it shuffles the pack of drivers.

Kimi Raikkonen

Raikkonen has a conservative style as we know, which confers benefits in terms of tyre degradation in races, but quite likely the opposite when trying to find the peak grip in a slightly too hard or too cold tyre in Qualifying. Hamilton is the opposite, for example - quite aggressive with a lot of strength on the brakes and so generates more energy in the tyres. (It could be something that has slightly boosted him in qualifying this year.)

The rear tyres have changed more than the fronts for this year, and so again Raikkonen’s preference for a precise and responsive front end (although improved by Ferrari this year) might not be favoured by a stronger rear tyre. Equally, Vettel is far more competitive this year than last because his style is dependent on a very strong back end, which comes from the increased downforce of the Ferrari back end and the stronger rear tyres.

Raikkonen

The general pattern is clear, but with the research done by our own Will Saunders, we can drill down and see many interesting details.

At Lotus he was fairly even with Romain Grosjean, but since rejoining Ferrari he is 22-3 down in qualifying over the 25 races of his comeback, against strong team mates Fernando Alonso and Vettel.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 10.57.16

- 2012: Raikkinen 9-10 Grosjean. Very closely matched in quali with the Frenchman, on average qualified 0.2 places higher across the season, general trend that Raikkonen improved over the course of the season, narrowing the gap to Grosjean and then surpassing him during the Frenchman's well-publicised troubles at the end of the season (GRO 7-1 across first eight rounds, RAI 6-0 over last 6 races). Raikkonen made up on average 2 places per race, demonstrating his traditional strong race pace.

Will Saunders

- 2013: Raikkonen 11-6 Grosjean. Raikkonen on average 0.6 places higher on grid, more impressive quali from Raikkonen, reversal of 2012 when Kimi started strong and faded while Grosjean improved over second half. Raikkonen made up on average almost 3 places per race, demonstrating again his traditional strong race pace.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 10.56.58

- 2014: Raikkonen 3-16 Alonso. The Spaniard crushed Raikkonen over the season, on average qualifying almost three places higher and also outracing Raikkonen, finishing races on average four places higher. Both drivers qualified on average slightly worse as the season wore on, suggesting stagnant development. Raikkonen's forward progression in races slowed dramatically, only finishing 0.25 places higher on average than his starting position - suggesting an inherent discomfort with the car, which was well documented and possibly a diminution of motivation as a result.

- 2015 - Raikkonen 0-6 Vettel (see table at top). In a much faster Ferrari (Vettels's average qualifying slot is up 3.5 places on Alonso's in 2014, Raikkonen's up 3 places) the Finn has again lost out. Vettel qualifying on average 3.7 places higher than his team mate. Raikkonen again continues to make up places in races by an averse of 2.3 places per race (perhaps naturally given the pace of the Ferrari, its straight line speed with the improved 2015 power unit and his poor starting positions)

No wonder Arrivabene is on his case. The word in the paddock in Monaco is that Raikkonen is likely to get a renewal for 2016, as the team builds for a challenge on the championship most likely with Vettel, but they need Raikkonen to rack up the points for the Constructors' championship. For 2017 Valtteri Bottas and others are under consideration.

Raikkonen's Head to Heads- Click to Enlarge

Research and tables - Will Saunders

Additional content - Dominic Harlow, JA on F1 technical adviser

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 10.58.38
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Series Formula 1
Drivers Kimi Raikkonen Shop Now