x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Kimi Raikkonen is worn out over all the talk on tyres

As the tiring talk of tyres continues, the quietest driver in the paddock finds his voice and speaks out in defence of Pirelli. Gary Meenaghan reports from Sakhir

Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen won the opening race of the season at Australia and says the other drivers need to adjust their driving styles to the soft-compound tyres and stop complaining to Pirelli.
Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen won the opening race of the season at Australia and says the other drivers need to adjust their driving styles to the soft-compound tyres and stop complaining to Pirelli.

Perhaps Kimi Raikkonen simply enjoys being different.

As much of Formula One's traditionally fractious fraternity continues to criticise Pirelli's capricious tyres, its famously taciturn Finnish driver has finally found his voice.

And it is overwhelmingly in favour of the Italian manufacturers.

Lotus's 2007 world champion, so often a driver more willing to zip it than quip it, was to be found in a strangely talkative and quasi-philosophical mood Thursday in the Bahrain paddock as he spoke about what could quickly become known as the Pirelli Problem.

Even before last week's Chinese Grand Prix, which saw a soft tyre so vulnerable to degradation that Sebastian Vettel opted not to bother fighting for pole position during qualifying, Red Bull Racing had urged Pirelli to alter their notoriously quick-wearing compounds. Their argument was the rubber proved so fragile, it was preventing drivers from maximising the speed of their car.

After the contest, the third in a 19-race season, several other teams and drivers joined the chorus calling for change, lamenting that tyre conservation is hurting the sport as a spectacle as well as drivers' chances of success.

Raikkonen won the opening race of the year in Australia after requiring one pit-stop less than his rivals, so it is unsurprising he is in favour of preservation ahead of Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix.

What is a surprise, however, is the manner in which the 33 year old waxed lyrical on the subject, suggesting adaptation by the teams, rather than the tyre manufacturers, should be the way forward.

"I don't think the racing at the front is any different to what it has been in the past," Raikkonen, who raced with Ferrari between 2007 and 2009, said. "F1 hasn't really changed a lot in the 10-odd years I've been here. Of course, some years you've been able to go faster, but then you do more stops and shorter runs with less fuel.

"In those years, if you'd put 50 kilos more fuel in you'd have had to look after the tyres. It hasn't really changed. Sometimes now you have to look after the tyres, but if you did six stops you wouldn't have to look after your tyres. It's your option. Whatever is the fastest way for you to do the race, you try to do it."

Pirelli have routinely ruled out adapting their compounds, but they did change the two tyre options available to teams readying to race under a searing Middle East sun this weekend. The Italian company had originally intended to use the soft and hard compounds, but announced after Shanghai that they would instead bring the medium and hard tyres - the two most durable compounds in their range.

It is understood, the decision to switch was made before China, but only formally announced post-race.

"You can never please everybody, so for Pirelli, it's not an easy job," Raikkonen said. "Whatever they do, there will be teams, drivers and people who will not be happy. "In the past, we had different tyres, but some teams were not as happy with those tyres as other teams were. Sometimes you have some issues and you pay the price for it. But that's OK, because otherwise it would be easy."

Fernando Alonso won the Shanghai showdown to claim Ferrari's first win since last July, yet the Spaniard remains nine points off the championship lead after being forced to retire in Malaysia last month.

Alonso's three closest rivals this season are Vettel, Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes-GP, but it is the tyre-happy Finn who has impressed him the most.

"The first three races are more or less to see the potential of everyone and improve a little with the new rules and, this year, the tyres is obviously the learning process we are all going through," Alonso said.

"Last year, Lewis put McLaren in a very competitive position and now he is putting Mercedes in a very competitive position, so he's proving his talent once more. The Red Bull cars, we know are probably the strongest, so they will always be there, and Kimi is doing fantastic - he is driving better than anyone."

Raikkonen finished second in Bahrain last year, his first podium since returning from a two-year hiatus. He also won in Abu Dhabi, the sport's only grand prix in the Gulf.

By the time he came to speaking about his chances of sipping rosewater on the top step of the podium, he had returned to his withdrawn ways.

"We will see how it goes," he said. "Maybe we will be good, maybe we won't be good."

 

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

 

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