After terrible struggles in 2014 v Alonso and 2015 v Vettel, Räikkönen has massively improved this year and is 7 points clear of his teammate heading towards the end of the 2016 season.
Kimi was lucky to keep his seat for 2016; but this season he’s really upped his game. Credit to the Scuderia Ferrari F1 team for giving him another chance and also for giving him a seat for 2017.
Granted, Vettel has had more car issues this year but he’s also destroyed Kimi’s races in China and Belgium (Most people think racing incidents but contact is contact after all). There are no doubts that Kimi has improved big time this season though. Maybe not too difficult but it’s still a good effort.
Let’s look at the stats from 2014-2016 [Credit to F1StatBlog.co.uk for the 2014 and 2015 stats. 2016 stats don’t include retirements or problems]
2014 vs Alonso
2015 vs Vettel
2016 vs Vettel (up to R16)
Kimi’s performances in 2014 and 2015 were totally unacceptable and got destroyed in both of those seasons. However, we’ve seen a much better performance this year. Consistently fast and back to his lotus days in my opinion. He’ll probably never have his 2005 qualifying speed again; but he’s doing a really great job this year against a four-time world champion teammate in the prime of his career.
I think there’s 3 big reasons why Kimi has improved so much 2016. They will be listed below.
Big Qualifying Improvement
In 2014 and 2015 it was no secret that Kimi got trashed by his teammates over one lap. On multiple occasions he would be over half a second behind in quali and ending up at least 1 to 3 rows behind his teammate. The average grid positions [grid penalties not included] for 2014 and 2015 do not make for pretty reading.
2014 average grid position: Alonso: 6.89 Kimi: 9.89 [http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/statistics/2014-f1-statistics/qualifying-data/]
2015 average grid position: Vettel: 4.89 Kimi: 6.89 [http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2015-f1-season/statistics/qualifying-data/]
However, it’s a completely different story in 2016. Excluding his grid penalty at Monaco, Kimi has qualified in the top 6 at every race this year; apart from Hungary when he ended up P14 after not pushing hard enough on the dry tyres on a drying track. Thanks to less mistakes from him, much better speed and less reliability problems, his average grid position is almost equal to Vettel; Sebastian is known to be one of the best qualifiers in F1. There’s still been the odd poor quali session (e.g like Q3 in Russia) but overall he’s taken a huge step forward in 2016 so far as the average grid position comparison below shows. A very impressive improvement. This also helps make life much easier in races obviously.
2016 average grid position [up to the Malaysian GP and excluding grid penalties]: Vettel: 5.25 Kimi 5.31 [http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2016-f1-season/statistics/qualifying-data/]
Massively reducing the stupid errors from 2014 and 2015
In 2014 and 2015, Kimi was doing things I’d never seen from him before in all my years watching him. Completely crazy moves and really embarrassing spins were just some of those things.
His divebombs on Bottas in Russia in 2015 and Magnussen in Monaco in 2014 were desperate moves of a man under severe pressure. In 2016 we’ve seen Kimi return to the clean wheel-to-wheel racer we’ve known since 2001. Some beautiful overtakes [especially on HAM in Singapore and Bottas in Bahrain in my opinion] and good racing through the year. Obviously he had a contact with VES in Hungary but that was the young Dutchman in the wrong with his blatant weaving.
Kimi’s also cut down massively down on the many embarrassing spins and crashes from 2014 in 2015. The spins in successive years at the hairpin in the Canadian GP were brutal to watch and regular crashes through these seasons were also brutal to watch. Once again though, in 2016 he’s really cut down on these errors. Only in the race in Monaco has Kimi really made a stupid error this season. Every driver has one a season. So these are two more areas Kimi has improved in a lot.
Everything coming together
As well as the reasons above, it’s clear that the combination of a car more to Kimi’s style and pirelli’s 2016 tyres are helping Kimi this year. It’s very clear that when the car needs hustling and has a weak front end, Kimi struggles. He’s very sensitive to how the car feels and clearly this year it’s more the way he wants it. As he said after Monza ‘small details’ have got him on par with Sebastian. I also read somewhere he had a steering column adjusted by Ferrari to help him. We’re now seeing the results of these small details and the way he’s driving at the moment is definitely one of his best spells since his return to F1 in 2012.
Why isn’t Kimi getting a lot more credit for his performances in 2016?
Getting towards the end of this blog. Kimi got a massive kicking in the media for his performances in 2014 and 2015; some of it was deserved and fair and he was lucky to stay this year. However, it seemed personal for some of the journalists. Kimi kept his mouth shut and rammed the words back down their throats this year though.
It would have been easy for Ferrari to dump Kimi or for Kimi to retire after a terrible couple of seasons. He’s shown massive character this year and also shown how much speed and hunger he still has. He wants to get Ferrari back to the front and many Ferrari fans should appreciate their last world champion a lot more.
His driving has improved as the year has gone on and has come closest to winning a race for Ferrari this year at the Spanish Grand Prix. Yes, he’s made the odd errors in 2016 but overall he’s improved by 99% compared to the terrible seasons of 2014 and 2015.
He’s already scored more podiums in 2016 than the previous two years combined. He’s also already scored 10 more points [up to Malaysia] compared to the whole of 2015 [160 v 150].
The media’s lack of acknowledgement of this is quite disappointing; but not surprising in the slightest. Especially with AUTOSPORT, F1Fanatic and Ben Anderson, it was clear they desperately wanted Kimi out and didn’t get their way. Incredibly on average driver ratings in 2016, Kimi is 15th overall in the AUTOSPORT rankings [http://forums.autosport.com/topic/201587-driver-ratings-2016/?p=7710378]. Astonishing.
Vettel got a lot credit for bouncing back so well in 2015 after struggles in 2014. Kimi’s done the same this year; but he’s not getting anywhere near the same amount of credit. The media have their favourites though.
If you’re going to criticise him when he deserves it; at least give Kimi credit for his consistently excellent performances since Baku. Ferrari is not all about Sebastian Vettel and how his year is going. They have two drivers. Kimi is also a WORLD CHAMPION.
He’s putting massive pressure on his teammate and one of the best drivers in the sport in the last 10 years at the age of 36. Granted, Sebastian has had more car issues this year and should have more points; but Kimi had those a lot last year. That’s racing sometimes sadly.
He deserves more respect and praise than he’s getting from the UK media especially. Just because he’s not talkative, that shouldn’t mean he doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his big improvement this year. Let’s hope they realise just how good Kimi has been at the end of the 2016 season. Although I very much doubt it.
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