Kimi Räikkönen drove a strong race at Sepang to convert his tenth-place start into fifth place and ten points. It was a tough race with mixed weather conditions, made tougher by a gearbox change penalty that put the Finn five slots back on the grid from his impressive qualifying time.
On Saturday, Kimi set the fastest time in Q2 and the joint fourth fastest time in Q3, a 1:36.461 shared with Mark Webber. It highlighted the raw pace of the Lotus E20. Team-mate Romain Grosjean, meanwhile, delivered the seventh fastest time and was promoted to P6 on the grid due to Kimi’s penalty.
Romain had a very strong start, bursting through the field and taking third at Turn 1. However, as rain fell and visibility was compromised, he had contact with Michael Schumacher and the two were sent spinning out. A few laps later, stuck out on intermediate tyres as the rain lashed down, Romain aquaplaned off into the gravel. His race was over.
Kimi fell to 13th after switching to extreme wets on Lap 5, just before the Safety Car came out and, finally, the race was red flagged. After nearly an hour sheltering under gazebos on the grid, the race was restarted.
On Lap 13, Kimi was back in for intermediates. With the track drying he made his third and final stop on Lap 40 having scythed his way back up the field to P6. On dry tarmac, Kimi set the fastest lap of the race and when Sebastian Vettel lost a rear tyre he was promoted to fifth place behind Mark Webber.
Kimi Räikkönen: “It was my first time on wet weather Pirellis - I didn’t know how they would react. I just tried to stay on the road and pushed as hard as I felt comfortable. When I changed to dry I could push much harder. The conditions changed a lot today so it was always a case of adapting and looking for grip. A fifth today is okay but we’re always looking for better results.”
Romain Grosjean: “It felt like the perfect start off the line. With KERS I managed to weave through the cars in front without touching anybody. Coming out of the first two corners I was up to third, which was an amazing feeling. In Turn 4 Mark Webber edged in front. Michael Schumacher tried to follow him through but there was not enough space and we touched, and both spun. From there things were really tough. The visibility was so poor. There was far too much water. I had a massive aquaplaning into Turn 5 and went backwards into the gravel.”
This season is shaping up to be a classic. Have you been on the edge of your seat too?
The racing is better than last year and it’s good to see the teams closing in and in some cases being even faster than the Red Bulls. Of course it’s a great field with six world champions and a lot of new talent.
Just two races in, and Kimi Räikkönen looks like he’s lost none of his speed. Are you surprised how quickly he’s got back to grips with F1?
I am surprised that it has taken no time for Kimi to be back at the top of his form. Michael Schumacher is on form this year too, but it took him two years to get back in the groove. Kimi was on it from the very first test.
Romain Grosjean once again qualified strongly but ended in the gravel within four laps. What advice would you give him?
The same advice I’d give any driver, especially a young one: first you have to finish, then you can finish first.
As a driver pairing, how good a partnership do you think Kimi and Romain make compared to the teams around them?
There are good pairings all around, and Lotus is no exception. With Kimi racing so well and Romain showing a lot of speed the pair will keep each other honest and the results will come.
We had a red flag period for nearly an hour due to rain. How difficult is it for a driver psychologically when a race is suspended?
I’m totally in favour of stopping the race in critical aquaplaning conditions. There is nothing the driver can do to defend himself in these conditions. I actually believe the red flag period in this case to be beneficial to the drivers, they can enter again and re-start the race at their best.
Lotus once again proved they are quick, but due to Kimi’s gearbox penalty they perhaps don’t have the optimum result. How do you think the E20 ranks compared to the McLaren, the Red Bull, the Mercedes and the Ferrari?
Lotus has made the most progress of any team. I am happy to celebrate the 40th anniversary of my 1972 World Championship with Lotus and see the marque becoming a serious contender in F1 again. I know so many of the people involved I am sure that they will get the job done. I have a lot of respect for the new management and especially for my friend Eric Boulier.
In mixed-weather conditions, experience usually comes to the fore. How impressed were you with Sergio Perez, in just his second season, challenging for the lead like he did?
I have known Sergio since he was in karting, and he’s always been fast. He is Mexico’s new hope in F1, and this is great news. His strategy was perfect and he drove like a veteran, turning in the fast laps when it mattered and making everybody follow.
You achieved success in F1 at an incredibly early age. What do you think is going through Sergio’s head right now? And how much is he daydreaming about Ferrari?
I think that he is taking things one at a time, and trying to do his best this season. Today he showed again that he is very focused, so I wouldn’t say he’s daydreaming just dealing with the present.