The Iceman on winter testing and the year ahead
Kimi Raikkonen had a spectacular 2003. In only his third season of Formula One racing he pushed Michael Schumacher to the limit, forcing the illustrious German to wait until the final round in Japan to secure his historic sixth world title.
However, in a recent interview Raikkonen did not appear too interested in looking back at his 2003 campaign, even though he came close to taking the championship. "Sure, we had a good season last year, coming second in the championship, but that was last year and now we have to start again. We have a new car and it's a case of going back to zero and trying to be the best this time."
Raikkonen might only be 24 years old, but he has already proved he has a mature 'race head' on his shoulders and he insists he is taking nothing for granted in this year's 18 race title chase. "It was nice to get my first win last year and we were quick, but just because that was the case in 2003, it doesn't automatically mean the same will happen in 2004," he said. "We must try and do better this year, even though we cannot expect to win every race. We will try and win as many as possible and I don't mind which ones I win as they are all worth the same ten points!"
Raikkonen is looking forward to the challenge of visiting new circuits in Bahrain and Shanghai. "We will have a lot more travelling outside Europe," he observed. "But I find it interesting to go to new circuits and to have the opportunity of visiting cities I have not seen before. So far, I haven't even looked at drawings of the new tracks nor tried them out on the simulator at the factory. When I go to a new track, I generally walk or cycle around it first. I find that once you get tackle it in the race car at the start of practice, it doesn't take long to learn it. Then, it's a case of working on finding the right car set-up and build up speed as you get used to it."
Like most of his colleagues, Raikkonen is not too bothered about changes to the sporting and technical regulations. "The new rules don't change much," he maintained. "Qualifying is very slightly different from last year, but it's basically just two sessions back to back. As for the new engine rule, that is for the team to deal with and their aim is to build engines which will have a longer track life, while still producing the necessary horsepower.
"Reliability will be the key element this year and I hope it will be a strong point for us," continued Raikkonen. "Because if you manage to finish all the races, usually you will pick up some points and just a couple of them could make a big difference at the end of the year. Of course, reliability alone is not enough and we need a car that is quick enough to win races."
So who does Raikkonen think will be winning races this year? "At the moment, it's difficult to say which team or driver will be strongest, because in winter testing, everyone does their own thing. Some teams have put in some very quick laps, but you cannot be sure what conditions they were running under. We will have to wait and see what happens in Melbourne at the first race. But it's fair to say that apart from McLaren Mercedes, we can expect Ferrari, Williams and Renault to be winning, while there might also be some other teams who are strong. Let's wait and see."