x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Silence speaks volumes with Kimi Raikkonen return

Former world champion, who finished in second place at Bahrain Grand Prix, is known to be unpredictable as no one knows what he will say or do next.

Kimi Raikkonen, who marked his return to F1 with a second-place finish in Bahrain, is a hit with the fans because he is unpredictable. Srdjan Suki / EPA
Kimi Raikkonen, who marked his return to F1 with a second-place finish in Bahrain, is a hit with the fans because he is unpredictable. Srdjan Suki / EPA

The return of Kimi Raikkonen to the Formula One podium in Bahrain was greeted with rapture among his multitude of fans, but among those of us who make a living from reporting candid sound bites there was an inaudible internal groan.

The famously elliptical Finn, returning to the sport that crowned him world champion in 2007, has taken only four races to barge his way back into the official post-race news conference, and on Sunday he proceeded to prove a two-year hiatus spent racing trucks and chasing fun has done little to loosen his tongue.

"The Ice Man" remains as monosyllabic as a mime artist sucking lozenges. Yet it is precisely his impenetrable inner monologue that so entices the fans.

Everybody wants to know what he is thinking, what he might say, what he will do.

When he was asked at the season-opening race in Australia what he determined to be his favourite track, in contrast to other drivers who described in detail their reasons for liking circuits such as Macau and the Nurburgring, he instead answered immediately in the shortest possible way: "Spa".

Raikkonen's appeal, much like Mario Balotelli, the Manchester City footballer, is his unpredictability. In Malaysia, he distributed frozen Magnums to all accredited media representatives as a way of marking three years since he was shown on television eating an ice cream during a rain-forced suspension.

At the Sakhir circuit, the Lotus driver proved he is still cool on track too. After an indistinct start to the season, it had been suggested he had returned simply to collect a sizeable pay cheque after squandering his former fortune on an excessive lifestyle.

The 32 year old was the first to acknowledge (in the fewest words possible, naturally) that his reintroduction to the sport had been below expectations, but in Bahrain the proof of progress was in the pudding.

Raikkonen, not that he is ever likely to speak in any great detail of the challenge he faced in doing so, has clearly adapted quickly to the new regulations introduced since he retired in 2009.

He slalomed through the field with genuine hunger on Sunday and while, yes, his attempted pass on Sebastian Vettel using the adjustable rear-wing proved unsuccessful, the fact he was in such a position bodes well for the rest of his season.

Next time he will nail it.

When he removed his helmet after parking up in parc ferme, his flushed face belied his indefatigable performance, but regardless of whether his fitness was an issue before, there is now no doubt he is capable of fighting for a whole race.

If he maintains his focus and continues to assimilate all the new data he is being fed by his Lotus engineers, it will not be long before he makes the final step of the podium.

And when that happens, the internal groans of quote seekers will threaten to drown out Raikkonen's silence.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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