x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

All eyes remain on Kimi Raikkonen at Belgian Grand Prix

Spa-Francorchamps has been a happy hunting ground for the Finn with four wins there in the past.

Kimi Raikkonen was not in the paddock at the Belgian Grand Prix on Thursday.
Kimi Raikkonen was not in the paddock at the Belgian Grand Prix on Thursday.

It was an anticlimax yesterday at Spa-Francorchamps when it was announced by Lotus thatKimi Raikkonen would not be fulfilling his media commitments due to illness and would not be at the venue until today.

During the four weeks since the Hungarian Grand Prix took place and Formula One enjoyed its summer break, Raikkonen has been the main source of interest.

The public rebuke given by Ferrari Luca di Montezemolo to team driver Fernando Alonso, for comments he did not like immediately after the race in Hungary, certainly attracted some eyes. But it has been Raikkonen whose narrative has held the attention.

The 2007 world champion had been linked heavily with a move to Red Bull Racing for 2014, with team principal Christian Horner, publicly acknowledging that he was under consideration along with Daniel Riccardio for the seat to be vacated by Mark Webber at the end of the season.

The chances of a pairing with world champion Sebastian Vettel, though, appear to be over after the Finn's manager, Steve Robertson, said this week that talks with the Austrian team had broken down.

Yet it appears that Red Bull was not the only option for the Lotus driver, who has also been linked with a return to Ferrari, where he won his world title, as well as staying with his current employers, with whom he has won two races since returning to F1 in 2012 after a two-year hiatus.

So, it was disappointing that the man with the most news value was nowhere to be seen yesterday.

Not that a man notoriously tight with his words would have given away much about his future plans, anyway. He has usually preferred to let his driving do the talking and he is in the perfect place this weekend for exactly that.

Raikkonen, 33, has a strong record at Spa, starting with qualifying second in a mediocre McLaren-Mercedes car in 2002.

He has won there in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009, was challenging for victory in 2008 until he crashed out while duelling with Lewis Hamilton in the closing laps, and was third last season in his Lotus.

He missed the 2010 and 2011 events during his sabbatical from the sport, and the 2003 and 2006 events were cancelled, so Raikkonen's record in his eight races at Spa is formidable, and he shares the third-best record at the track with his four wins.

He is not the first driver to have a great record at a specific race.

Ayrton Senna won the Monaco Grand Prix six times in seven races between 1988 and 1993, while Michael Schumacher won the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours eight times in 13 years between 1994 and 2006.

More recently, Vettel has yet to finish off the podium in four attempts when the Japanese Grand Prix is held at Suzuka, winning three times.

Raikkonen was typically low key in the past when he was asked about his success in Spa, telling The National back in 2009: "It is just a place I like.

"There is no special secret, I treat it like any other race and I have had some good results there."

Given the uncertainty for 2014, a fifth win at Spa this weekend would be a welcome one for Raikkonen.

If Sunday's race is dry, then the challenging nature of the 7km track, with its fast, sweeping turns, will test tyre durability to the limit, something that Lotus have been comfortable with.

The issue is going to be the raw pace of the Lotus.

In theory, being second in the championship, 38 points off the lead, should have Raikkonen feeling content with life at Lotus.

But the chassis lacks the raw pace of Red Bull and Mercedes. It makes up time in the races thanks to the ability of the car to be kind to the fragile Pirelli tyres, but often Raikkonen and Lotus have struggled in qualifying, leaving themselves too much to do in the race, something he acknowledged last month in Hungary that needed to change.

Back on his strongest track, though, Raikkonen will hope to be back on the top of the podium for the first time since the opening race in Australia in March.

Not just to boost his title bid, of course, but to help strengthen his position at the negotiating table for 2014 race seats.

gcaygill@thenational.ae