The Inside Line #81: Affix postage stamp here …

TILI Logo PrintAnd a big congratulations to Kimi Raikkonen. It took 17 races, but the Finn finally achieved something at the Circuit of the Americas in the US Grand Prix earlier this month. With yet another finish outside the top 10, Raikkonen fell to more than 100 points behind Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso, the first driver pairing this season to be separated by three figures. And this from, remember, the driver who was brought in to bring Alonso into line, to give him the hurry up, and to make it clear that the Spaniard wasn’t calling the shots at the Scuderia. That went well, didn’t it?

Personal confession here: I’ve never brought into the Raikkonen mystique, why he’s had the following he has, and the attitude he takes to the sport that has paid him a lot of money over the years [1]. Before 2008, I appreciated his driving – his 2005 season for McLaren was spectacular for its consistent speed, and his win at the Japanese GP that year was the best I’ve witnessed in person, and frequently appears on lists of the best Grands Prix of all time. But since his 2007 title with Ferrari, he’s been mailing it in, quite frankly, and this second stint at Ferrari has the smell of a well-paid superannuation tour. Ferrari’s willingness to re-hire him after they paid him handsomely to go away at the end of 2009 is one of the craziest decisions imaginable. And to think he’s set to be one of the key holdovers for a team that, since March, has lost its team principal, engine boss, president and lead driver in eight months. With one man who was surely set to figure in Ferrari’s future still in a Japanese hospital, it’s been an awful year for F1’s most famous team. At least it hasn’t hurt them financially, right? [2]

Raikkonen came to mind in the past week as F1 made its annual trip to Sao Paulo for the Brazilian Grand Prix. It was at Interlagos, of course, that Raikkonen won the 2007 title after coming from the clouds to edge warring McLaren teammates Lewis Hamilton and Alonso in the final two races; more amusingly, Interlagos was where he did this in a Lotus. He couldn’t see the top of the championship standings with a telescope this season, but the weekend in Brazil was as compelling as always without Raikkonen’s involvement at the sharp end; one of the best atmospheres in the sport and an old-school circuit that’s a little rough around the edges is always a good recipe for drama [3], and you could have almost talked me into a double-points finale if it was held at a proper circuit with proper fans rather than a circuit in the desert once described by Mark Webber as “like a Tesco’s car park”. Note the use of ‘almost’ …

A comprehensive wrap of the second-last race of the season features on Episode 81 of The Inside Line this week, while we hear from another link to Ferrari’s past – you know, the past when they actually won races – in one Eddie Irvine [4], who is never short of something interesting to say about the sport and its participants. What he likes and doesn’t like about F1 2014 might just surprise you.

Catch ‘The Inside Line’ on Fox Sports 5 and ESPN if you’re in Australia, and check local guides if you’re in one of the 30-plus other countries that broadcast the show.

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[1] You’re being paid a lot of money to participate in the pinnacle of your profession. And like it or not, that money isn’t just for driving the car. It’s for being nice to sponsors, occasionally cooperative with the press, engaged with your fans and pretending to give a crap. Awesome natural talent and a hefty bank balance doesn’t give you the right to behave like a jerk, particularly when your results are nothing short of embarrassing.

[2] This is worth the investment of time and effort. Very interesting and explains a few things.

[3] Props to Trevor Long and his piece on the world’s best racetracks this week. Lists are used far too often these days by people filling editorial space who can’t write, but this is a good one – thought-provoking and with a nod to history while not ignoring the present. My personal rankings of the tracks on this year’s calendar: (1) Suzuka, because anyone who has walked it, let alone driven it, gets a new appreciation for it; (2) Spa-Francorchamps, not just for Eau Rouge but the double left-hander at Pouhon the causes a sharp intake of breath whenever you’re watching an onboard lap; (3) Sepang, the oldest and best Tilke track that has a little bit of everything; (4) Interlagos, for reasons detailed above; and (5) Silverstone, which has fallen down my personal list ever since Copse became known as ‘Turn 9’ on circuit maps when the start-finish line was moved. With less carpark-sized runoff areas, the Circuit of the Americas would make this list.

[4] Irvine in championship contention right to the end of 1999 still stays in my mind as being one of the most unlikely title tilts ever.

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