F1 comment: Why Ferrari have made U-turn over Kimi Raikkonen
President Luca di Montezemolo hopes the uncomplicated Finn's return will provoke the necessary response from Fernando Alonso
Any deliberation of the Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo is a great bellwether of Italian life and of motor sport. When he speaks the Ferrari factory grinds to a halt and the rest of Formula One draws up a chair and turns up the radio. Something is going on.
This is the week of the Singapore Grand Prix, the first opportunity to address his volte-face regarding the re-appointment of Kimi Raikkonen to race alongside Fernando Alonso next year. When Alonso was appointed four years ago to replace Raikkonen as Ferrari's No 1 he was seen very much as the anti-Kimi, a driver willing and capable of leading not so much a team but an institution, a chunk of Italian culture. Kimi could barely manage himself, let alone the most celebrated marque in the history of motor racing.
At his annual Maranello address to the world's Formula One media in 2009 Di Montezemolo introduced us to Raikkonen's twin brother, an imposter who, he claimed, had assumed the controls of the Ferrari. He looked like Raikkonen, talked like Raikkonen but was in fact, somebody else entirely, a victim of some strange metamorphosis.
Now, Di Montezemolo would have it that the old Raikkonen is back, that the driver who claimed the world championship in 2007, or more accurately inherited it from Lewis Hamilton, has reconnected with his essential self. A counter view might be that he never went away, but that, four years removed from the deep immersion at Maranello, and that part of Formula One he terms "bullshit", Raikkonen was minded to go back on his terms, not Di Montezemolo's.
What has changed is not Raikkonen but Alonso, or at least Di Montezemolo's view of him. Alonso is being given the old Raikkonen treatment in reverse; bollocked yet retained. Raikkonen's appointment is not so much about what the returning Finn might bring to the piece but what he might bring out of the Spaniard, who, in the view of Il Presidente, needs to be more inclusive.
It is arguably the case that either Di Montezemolo did not take sufficient account of Alonso's keen sense of self and political nature or that he believed he could shape it to the will of Ferrari. That has not been the case. He hopes now that the thrusting of an uncomplicated Finnish spanner into the team machinations might provoke the necessary response. More likely, as the axed Felipe Massa pointed out, is a recurrence of the meltdown at McLaren when Alonso was ruinously partnered with Hamilton, allowing Raikkonen to recover a 17-point deficit in the final two races to claim his only world championship and the last by a Ferrari driver.
"I know both Fernando and Kimi on and off the track and I rate them as excellent drivers, but I'm afraid they will collide when sharing the team," said Massa. "I told the bosses to breathe as much as possible while they still can because it will be hard for them to breathe next season."
The post qualifying media conference at the Hungaroring in 2007 remains the most compelling of this correspondent's journalistic career, two drivers in a state of primal anger, Alonso masticating on a piece of fruit, Hamilton staring at his feet in McLaren's paddock home, which was packed to the rafters with reporters.
Alonso had deliberately blocked Hamilton in qualifying after Hamilton refused to let him pass to allow the drivers to revert to the pre-agreed sequence. Their dispute ultimately centred on McLaren's refusal to hold Hamilton back in the championship, breaking an agreement that Alonso alleged had been made by the team when they persuaded him to leave Renault after his first world championship in 2005. Co-incidently McLaren were engulfed in the Ferrari-gate controversy surrounding the acquisition of a dossier of Maranello design secrets, a delicate position Alonso threatened to manipulate with the release of information in his possession that he said would implicate his employers.
This was Alonso fighting a dirty, visceral war that only he could justify. There was no way back for him at McLaren after that, though he has repaired his relationship with Hamilton.
In his final year at Renault before the Japanese Grand Prix, the penultimate race of 2006, he gave another impassioned press conference lambasting his team for a lack of support at the previous race in China, won by Michael Schumacher.
The title race was on a knife-edge and Schumacher was closing on an eighth championship. Fate ultimately intervened, inflicting an engine failure on Schumacher, which cost him points in Japan and grid position at the final race in Brazil. Alonso triumphed and left for McLaren a double world champion. In his fourth season at Ferrari he has yet to advance that total. Di Montezemolo has responded, but not because he believes Raikkonen is the answer necessarily, but because Alonso has proved not to be.
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