They say that anticipation only makes the event sweeter. Kimi Raikkonen has been stretching the limits of that theory for some time now, with the Finn always seeming to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. He nearly gave the Scuderia what would have been their only pole of 2016 in Shanghai, and again came within an error at the bus-stop chicane in Spa, but worse still, despite unquestionably being the fastest man on track in Sochi this year, handed a pole to his teammate with an error at the final corner.
Similarly, a fairly distant P4 in Barcelona despite, from the evidence of Vettel’s lap, having a car capable of pole, was more evidence to suggest that, whilst routinely quick in practice and the opening salvos of qualifying, Kimi is unable to produce that ultimate level of commitment without triggering an error.
Or rather, was unable, because the wait is over, Kimi is on pole. Despite arguably facing tougher opposition from a ferociously determined teammate than he did in Sochi, Kimi finally produced the goods when it mattered, and in doing so put in the fastest ever lap of Monaco. As for the lap itself, there is disappointment for those who hope it ushers in a new era of error-free qualifying for Kimi; indeed the lap comes within some opposite lock and right-foot dexterity of disaster at Saint-Devote.
Further missed apexes at the hairpin and Portier see another tenth go missing, albeit with the possible exception of Ricciardo’s stellar pole lap last year, I have almost never seen a fully optimized lap of Monaco. It is a feature of Monaco pole laps that they tend to be largely won in the final sector. Rosberg and Ricciardo’s mastery of the utter precision needed to find the optimal line through La Rascasse and Virage Antony Noghès have been the key to much of their speed at the circuit. Raikkonen’s lap is different, indeed he quite markedly spins up the rears on the exit of Rascasse. Raikkonen’s lap is all about a blueprint execution of the demanding harbour chicane, followed by truly stunning commitment and precision up against the barriers of Tabac and the swimming-pool.
Despite having just negotiated the demanding traction zone out of the harbour chicane, the rear of Kimi’s SF70H is a stable and supple enough platform to give him the confidence to open the circuit up against barriers through Tabac. Without even a hint of lift, he deftly coaxes the car through the first part of the swimming-pool roller coaster, before winning out in a game of dare with the same barrier that claimed Ocon and Vandoorne. For a man possibly looking down the barrel of his final season in F1, and one that many, myself included, would have preferred to have stepped aside for a young gun some years ago, this was beautiful, world-class commitment from Kimi through some of the most demanding corners in the world.
Can he claim a similarly overdue first win of his Ferrari reunion tomorrow? That will depend on the all-important start, and perhaps the internal team dynamic with his championship-challenging teammate; albeit the fact that the Scuderia’s main title rival starts in just 13th is good for Kimi’s cause.
However whilst Kimi wrote the headlines, the headline lap of the day goes to his younger compatriot. To qualify within a tenth of pole when the W08 hasn’t looked remotely capable of that since Thursday afternoon was an almighty performance from Valtteri, and even greater cause to ask, as I have, whether the paddock have underestimated the young Finn. Similar plaudits have to go to Carlos Sainz, who continues to ask questions of Red Bull’s policy of keeping world-class drivers captive in a midfield team for substitute convenience. Indeed, only in a sport with the sweet ironies of F1 would a day when Kimi takes his painfully overdue pole feature a pair of stellar laps from two of the leading contenders to replace him…
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