Reigning world champion receives Ferrari backing, but questions still hang over the Finn’s hunger for Formula One.
When the scarlet cars arrive on his patch, Luca di Montezemolo is always a notable presence. It is rare, though, for the Ferrari president to show his face at testing.
So when the boss turned up on the third and final day of running at Monza on Friday the same day that Kimi Raikkonen took charge of his team’s Italian Grand Prix preparations heads turned.
The reigning world champion, it would seem, was top on Mr Montezemolo’s to-do list, followed by Ferrari’s new fuel team which is minus the mechanic that Kimi injured in Valencia.
Only Raikkonen and his employer will know of the words exchanged but in public at least, the upshot was backing from the Ferrari President.
“Absolutely, yes,” Montezemolo affirmed when asked by reporters if Ferrari’s driver line-up would remain the same in 2009. He went on to rubbish claims that the defending world champion is lacking motivation for Formula One after a trying few races.
“All this criticism of Raikkonen reminds me of when (Filippo) Inzaghi was at Juventus,” he said. “If he did not score in three matches, everyone said he was in crisis.”
“He is motivated and we must work hard so that he is in a position to make a quick start – especially on the new circuits which I don’t like and are doing harm to Formula One. You can’t overtake and nine times out of 10 whoever takes pole position wins.”
But perhaps most significant of all was the manner in which the Ferrari chief ruled out the possibility of Fernando Alonso joining the team, at least for next year. The hint took the form of a snipe at the double world champion for failing to finish in Valencia, despite the fact that this was largely out of the Spaniard’s control: Williams’ Kazuki Nakajima punted him into retirement on the opening lap.
“I was disappointed to see a champion like him not make the top 10 in Valencia,” said Mr di Montezemolo.
Raikkonen has been consistently out-qualified by team mate Felipe Massa in the last few races and this has severely compromised the defending world champion on race day. With speculation rife about the Finn’s future with the team beyond 2009, some may take a more cynical view of the meeting with Luca di Montezemolo and see it as a reflection of the concern that Ferrari currently have with his performances.
The fact that the Italian marquee elected to mention the meeting in their testing press release at all, suggests at the very least that thought went into giving the event a positive spin.
“It was a pleasure to meet with President Montezemolo, who visited the track today,” Raikkonen was quoted as saying in the team statement.
“Now we have to try and do everything as well as possible to get back to winning again, starting with the race in Spa. The world championship? I will give it my best shot and then we can count the points at the end.”
Whatever was said, it seemed to do the trick in the short term. Raikkonen clocked a 1.23.371 around the 5.793km circuit, winding up four tenths shy of pace-setter Lewis Hamilton.
The Belgian Grand Prix in a week’s time will provide the F1 fraternity with its clearest indication yet of Raikkonen’s hunger for the title. Spa-Francorchamps is undoubtedly the jewel in the F1 calendar as far as driver satisfaction is concerned and the Finn has made no secret of the fact that he is more at home there than anywhere else.
Another lacklustre display from the Iceman here will raise serious questions about his motivation for the sport.