After securing the pole position on Ferrari’s home turf in Monza with the fastest ever Formula One lap, Kimi Räikkönen’s pursue for his 21st GP victory ended in tears during last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.
Kimi Räikkönen took the pole position for the Italian Grand Prix with a shocking lap time. The Finn driver, then, wanted to end his five-year-long winless period, having last won in the 2013 Australian Grand Prix for Lotus. Following a good start, the Finn was left alone with Lewis Hamilton in the battle for the race victory as his team-mate clashed with the Briton which sent him to the back of the grid. Räikkönen was, however, unable to keep the lead and had to settle for the second place.Pirelli's explanation
The 2007 world champion had hardly any rubber left on his Pirelli tyres which made him vulnerable against the hard-charging Lewis Hamilton who made the overtaking manoeuvre on lap 45. The blame was put on Räikkönen’s struggles with the tyres. Pirelli's motorsport racing manager Mario Isola said that team did not have enough time to fine-tune their setup following a Friday with mixed weather conditions in the first practice session and an interruption during the afternoon practice.
"Friday was a very strange day with FP1 that was wet, so teams had to concentrate all their work on the car in FP2. And then there was Ericsson's crash, so FP2 was one hour in which they had to set up the car, test two compounds for the delta lap time and try to do a long run with a heavy car on a full tank. The long run was 10 laps, so then you try to extrapolate what happens, but it is not something that is linear,” said the Italian.Mercedes' phantom stop and Bottas' helping role
However, Räikkönen’s issues with the tyre-life was not simply a consequence of setup problems, but they were rather down to external conditions during the race. The Finn was the first driver to pit aside from the drivers who suffered damages to their cars during the opening lap of the race. His arch rival Lewis Hamilton pitted on lap 28, and the duo of Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas also several laps later. The Dutch driver visited the pit on lap 26 while Bottas stretched his first stint as far as lap 36.
Räikkönen’s early pit stop was not induced by tyre wear, but by the ‘phantom’ pit stop of Mercedes. Over the last five laps before his pit visit on lap 20, the Finn posted a 1:24.582, 1:24.956,1:24.742, 1:24.839, 1:24.516. He clearly had the tyre life to keep up this pace for a few more laps, but Mercedes ‘fake’ pit stop lured Räikkönen in which compromised his whole race.
Enjoying free air, Hamilton immediately raised his speed and posted the then fastest lap of the race with a 1:23.611 which was followed by two other sub-1:24 laps. To stop Mercedes from completing an undercut, Räikkönen was instructed to go full beans on his new soft Pirelli tyres instead of saving them for later. In reaction to Hamilton’s astonishing pace, the Finn posted a series of quick laps: 1:23.953, 1:23.535, 1:23.840, 1:23.586, 1:23.670, 1:23.733, 1:23.515. This string of fast laps enabled the Finn to build an advantage of over five seconds to Hamilton after the Briton pitted and rejoined the track. However, that gap melted quickly when Mercedes applied another less elegant strategic ploy.
Bottas was asked to stay on the track to hold Räikkönen off. The Ferrari driver closed in on Bottas quickly which then made the gap to Hamilton shrinking to zero. On lap 33 and 34, Valtteri posted a 1:24. 762 and a 1:24.560 which was a full second slower than what the Espoo-born driver was able to do. The tyre life he ’sacrificed’ to stop a possible undercut from Hamilton and build a healthy margin ahead of his rival was thrown out of the window while cruising behind his countryman. Moreover, the dirty air coming off the Mercedes was a further factor in ruining his tyres.
The quick analysis of lap times shows that Mercedes’ phantom pit stop and Bottas’ desperate effort to hold Räikkönen off were detrimental in Räikkönen’s hope for his 21st victory and masked his great race pace which could have been easily enough to secure the win. Mercedes is clearly inclined to sacrifice Bottas in any situation to help Hamilton in his title fight against Sebastian Vettel, so it remains to be seen whether Ferrari starts exploiting the benefits of team orders in the remaining seven races.