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Rediff News  All News  » Sports » Enigmatic Raikkonen needs to raise his game

Enigmatic Raikkonen needs to raise his game

March 18, 2009 16:23 IST

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen spent a large part of last season denying that he lacked motivation while looking for all the world like a man going through the motions.

This year, with Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa grown in stature after a title battle down to the wire with McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, the 29-year-old Finn needs to be far more convincing.

The question Formula One's most enigmatic driver has to answer, even if the sport's hardcore fans love him just the way he is, is how much that second title really matters to him.

The suspicion among many in the Formula One paddock is that even he does not know for sure.

After taking the 2007 crown against the odds and by a single point in his first season with Ferrari, Raikkonen had been expected to move up a gear and stamp his authority on the team just as predecessor Michael Schumacher had done.

The accepted wisdom was that the 'Iceman' would be unleashed, forcing Massa into the journeyman number two role filled for so many years before him by compatriot Rubens Barrichello.

Instead, he found himself eclipsed by a team mate who came within seconds of taking the title and won six races to Raikkonen's two.

Raikkonen has not won since the Spanish Grand Prix last April, a run of 14 races without success, and that hurts despite an impassive public demeanour that suggests he could not care less what people think.

"I definitely want to win races as badly as before," he said in his usual deadpan manner at Ferrari's ski retreat in the Dolomites in January. "If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't be here.

"I am still (a world champion), just not last year. I have no reason to change my way of doing things."

Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has compared Raikkonen to a soccer striker suffering a goal drought who needs just one breakthrough to be back on form.

Team boss Stefano Domenicali agreed that Raikkonen, if not exactly straining at the leash, had a clear focus.

"He wants to put last year behind him," he said in January. "Kimi is Kimi. His desire, his will, is to get back and I am sure from the start of the season he is going to show his qualities."

Raikkonen may be monosyllabic in front of the cameras and microphones but he remains one of the quickest drivers around, even if last year his pace was visible only in occasional flashes.

Sometimes that was due to feeling unhappy with the car's handling, sometimes it was just bad luck.

He won in Malaysia and Spain, and would probably have won in Canada had Hamilton not made a schoolboy error and crashed into the back of his car in the pit lane while the Finn was waiting for a red light to change.

He should also have won in France after leading from pole position but an exhaust problem forced him to slow and accept second place behind Massa.

Raikkonen's duel with Hamilton at Spa in Belgium ranked as a highlight of the season, showing that he lacks for nothing in bravery or determination when he gets the bit between his teeth.

Yet there were other races where he seemed strangely absent.

Raikkonen retired from the European Grand Prix in Valencia with a blown engine and at Ferrari's home Italian Grand Prix he trailed home in ninth.

He slammed his car into the barriers in the following night race in Singapore for his fourth race in a row without a point.

Raikkonen, who earned an estimated $37 million last season, is allowed plenty of freedom by Ferrari to be himself. Domenicali recently joked that his driver "lived on his own planet".

At home in Finland, Raikkonen has entered rallies, raced snowmobiles under the name of the late party-loving F1 champion James Hunt and entered a powerboat race dressed in a gorilla suit.

He keeps life simple, loves being in the car and hates most other things about life in the paddock.

His task this season is pretty simple too -- he just has to win races again.

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