Räikkönen back on the podium in Bahrain
The former World Champion was slightly annoyed with “only” finishing second in the fourth GP after his comeback to Formula One
The opinions are many and varied on the wisdom of going ahead with the Bahrain Grand Prix against the background of the troubles in the Middle East kingdom, but Kimi Räikkönen announced beforehand that this was just one race weekend on the Formula One calendar, and that his interests lay with points and a podium finish rather than protests.
And so it turned out.
Tried and tested driving skills, shrewd strategy, and a highly competent team performance made it possible for Räikkönen to claim second place in an excellent weekend all round for the Lotus stable.
Räikkönen’s first podium finish since his comeback to the sport came quickly in the end: the Bahrain GP was only his fourth race in F1 since his return after a two-year sabbatical from the sport, and it effectively silenced those remaining doubters who wondered if the Finnish Iceman still had the chops to succeed on the F1 stage. he's back, and he means business.
The reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel of Germany managed to take his first GP victory of this year in Bahrain, despite being harassed much of the way by Räikkönen, who even managed an overtaking attempt on the German.
What brought joy to the French people on their election day was the fact that the top three cars, two Lotuses and one Red Bull, all have a Renault engine. Plus the fact that the remaining podium place went to Romain Grosjean, who holds both French and Swiss passports.
Most of the excitement in the race was produced by Räikkönen, however. While Vettel started from pole and Grosjean from the 7th spot on the grid, Räikkönen was no higher than in eleventh place when the lights went green.
He had deliberately saved his tyres during Saturday’s qualifying rounds without trying too hard, unlike the drivers who made it to the third qualifying round. Räikkönen's bid to get on the podium in the previous race in Shanghai had foundered in the closing laps as his tyres "went off a cliff" and he slumped to 14th spot at the flag.
This time around, blessed with better grip, Räikkönen simply flew by his competitors in the early stages of the race. After the first lap he was already up into seventh place, and soon in sixth. At the conclusion of lap 17, Räikkönen found himself on Grosjean's heels in third.
Räikkönen duly claimed second spot from his teammate at the end of lap 24, before the race was even half way done, and set about cutting down Vettel in the Red Bull.
Before the final pit stop, Räikkönen prepared to overtake Vettel on the main straight but the reigning World Champion managed to keep the Finn at bay.
Räikkönen was slightly disappointed after the race.
“I got one chance to get past Sebastian, but I chose the wrong side. That was the only chance offered, really”, the Finn fretted.
After the race, Vettel joked that Räikkönen must have fixed up some kind of special tyre deal to guarantee him brand-new tyres.
"Kimi was quick, and so was Romain. It was a difficult race. Once he was close, I thought he would have more than one shot, but in the end I was able to pull out a gap”, the German commented.
At times Räikkönen was right on Vettel’s tail, but at the finish line 3.3 seconds separated the two.
Mercedes pilot Nico Rosberg, who took his first-ever GP victory a week ago in Shanghai, started fifth on the grid and finished fifth as well.
Räikkönen’s countryman Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham) finished 17th, after having had his first pit stop on the conclusion of the opening lap.
Vettel’s victory elevated him into the lead in the Championship table. Räikkönen is currently in 7th place, moving up only one slot but getting appreciably closer to the leading pack, after the McLarens of Jenson Button (18th) and Lewis Hamilton (8th) enjoyed a miserable day in the desert.
As a consequence of their failures and a fourth 4th spot for Vettel's teammate Mark Webber, Red Bull took the lead in the manufacturers’ table. Lotus are third, with 57 points, ahead of Ferrari and Mercedes.
This year’s F1 season looks to be a lively and interesting affair after the tedious Red Bull procession of 2011.
In the first four GPs, eight different men have already visited the podium, and four different teams have claimed victory.
During the entire 2011 season, only seven men ever made it to the top three.
The teams now have a lengthy break before they reconvene in Barcelona for the Spanish GP on May 13th.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Räikkönen: Bahrain F1 weekend is like any other (20.4.2012)
Kimi Räikkönen website
Bahrain Grand Prix (Wikipedia)
Kimi Räikkönen (Wikipedia)