Raikkonen up to speed after rallying to the call of Lotus
Sunday 18 March 2012
In the season of six world champions, two are on the comeback trail. Ironically, Kimi Raikkonen is the man who replaced Michael Schumacher at Ferrari back in 2007, the year the Finn won his title.
They are following in the wheeltracks of fellow title-holders Alan Jones, Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell, who all walked away from the sport they loved but were later drawn back.
Battling Jones was awesome in Frank Williams and Patrick Head's breakthrough Williams FW07 in 1979, '80 and '81, but the Australian's return with Arrows in 1983 was a disaster.
Mansell quit in high dudgeon after winning the title for Williams in 1992, but returned in 1994 after Ayrton Senna's death, and scored his 31st win. The man who supplanted him at Williams, Prost, took his fourth title in 1993 after sitting out 1992. Niki Lauda, another to win big on his return, is pleased to see Raikkonen back after two years spent in the World Rally Championship.
"I like it that he comes back because two years out rallying doesn't mean he has retired," Lauda says. "I retired two years, ran an airline, nothing to do with cars.
"For me the question is how serious does he take his comeback? But for him it would be the easiest to come back because he never was out. He just went somewhere else, but tried to stay competitive.
"I'm particularly interested to watch what he will do, and if the Lotus is competitive. There is no reason why he shouldn't do it."
People tend to think drivers get slower with age, but it's more their level of commitment that changes. Lauda points to Schumacher, who retired at the end of 2006 then came back with Mercedes in 2010.
"Last year his aggression to race, his killer instinct, was always there, the only thing lacking was his speed in qualifying compared to [Nico] Rosberg. Now the car is driveable for his way of driving and he will be right there.
"I criticised him a lot the last two years because he could not cope like Rosberg could, with the car. Rosberg always was quicker. He drives absolutely perfectly, like [Jenson] Button, completely relaxed, perfect-grip line. Schumacher was very aggressive last year. My impression is he's less aggressive now and therefore he will have an advantage again if he gets it under control. Rosberg will have bigger a problem with Schumacher than last year if the car works way it should.
"Kimi for sure needs some training with the Pirelli tyres, how to use them, when to be quick. The signs are that he's come back quickly, but like I say, he was never out."
Lauda's own comeback with McLaren in 1982 yielded a third title, in 1984, but it wasn't as straightforward as Schumacher's and Raikkonen's return because he'd spent those two years away from fast cars, setting up LaudaAir.
"I went to Donington, a circuit where I have never been, and I had no physical condition, after three laps I couldn't drive. John Watson had run the car in for me to establish a baseline. I handed it back to him which was a little unfair because he had to drive more than I did, but I was half a second quicker. The speed was there, which was the most important. Therefore my comeback was very positive. For Kimi it's even less complicated because he's been away less. And he looks motivated."
As the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Button ruled, there was no fairy story for Schumacher and Raikkonen in yesterday's qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, and they were both upstaged by Romain Grosjean – another comeback kid.
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