Last weekend in Bahrain the Formula 1 world watched as Kimi Raikkonen gallantly fought Sebastian Vettel for the lead of the race, and came close to his first victory since the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix.
But just how far was Raikkonen from claiming his nineteenth F1 victory? The classification at the end of the race said the gap was a mere 3.3 seconds after 57 racing laps, but that does not tell the whole story. Look at how the race unfolded, and it seems that just three key moments prevented Raikkonen from standing on the top step of the podium on Sunday.
Here we relive the race-long battle between this championship-winning duo, and show just how closely the two were matched.
At the beginning of the race, few would have predicted that the battle for the lead would be between these two world champions. Raikkonen had qualified in eleventh, whilst Vettel was on pole. Between them was a wealth of potential race winners, including the two McLaren drivers, Mark Webber, and Nico Rosberg,
The Opening Laps
Obviously pole position gave Vettel a huge advantage in this contest. Once the German had got off the line and beaten Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber into the first corner, he had a clear track in front of him, and could quickly pull away from the rest of the field. By the second lap of the race he was lapping in the low 1:40s, and he had a 4.5 second lead by the end of Lap 5.
Raikkonen got a great start off the line, and was up to seventh place by the end of the first lap. But then, instead of continuing that upward trend, he got overtaken by Felipe Massa on Lap 2. He re-took sixth place from his former Ferrari team-mate on the fifth lap, but whilst behind the Brazilian he was losing over 2 seconds a lap to Vettel, and was already 10.3 seconds behind the Red Bull driver just five laps into the grand prix.
However, Raikkonen persisted. Next in the Finn’s path was Lewis Hamilton, who was dispatched with ease by the end of Lap 6. Once past Hamilton, Raikkonen could begin to show the true speed of his Lotus E20 and, for the first time in the race, put in a faster lap than the race leader.
The next obstacle was Fernando Alonso. He was following Mark Webber, who was behind Jenson Button. These three drivers all pitted at the end of Lap 9, which allowed Raikkonen to painlessly inherit third place. The brief time behind Alonso had slowed Raikkonen’s charge slightly, but now only team-mate Romain Grosjean stood between him Vettel.
Grosjean pitted on Lap 10, by which time Raikkonen had a deficit of 11 seconds to Vettel, having lost a good five seconds behind Massa. The battling duo both came into the pits at the end of Lap 11, with Raikkonen spending marginally longer in the pit lane than Vettel (22.017 seconds to 22.412 seconds, since you ask); Vettel comfortably retained the race lead on exiting the pits, Raikkonen came out in fifth place, behind a two-stopping Paul di Resta, Grosjean, a late stopping Sergio Perez, and Mark Webber.
The Second Stint
Raikkonen had taken on a set of brand new soft Pirelli tyres in that first pit stop (the ones he saved by missing out on Q3 the day before), whereas Vettel choose a set of used medium tyres. Raikkonen made good use of those option tyres, and despite having to pass cars, the Finn was still setting faster laps than Vettel.
He was past Webber on Lap 13 and, with Perez and Di Resta making their first stops, he was less than three seconds behind his team-mate (and 8.2 behind Vettel) by the end of Lap 15. In clear air, Raikkonen was consistently lapping around half a second faster than his team-mate, and by Lap 20 was within a second of Grosjean.
And then came potential race loosing situation number 2: Raikkonen was now stuck behind Grosjean. The Frenchman was still lapping at a reasonable pace, but Raikkonen was quicker. He could have been making headway towards Vettel, if only Lotus had given Grosjean a small nudge, and suggested he let his team-mate past at this key point in the race.
On Lap 22, when Raikkonen was still 6.3 seconds behind the leader in third place, Vettel did something he had not been able to do for the last eight laps, and set a faster lap time than Raikkonen. Vettel was six-tenths of a second faster than the Finn on the next lap, and it had become clear that Raikkonen’s charge had been halted… but only momentarily.
Raikkonen Has His ‘One Chance’
After the race, Raikkonen said that he ‘only had one chance’ to pass Vettel. That came on Lap 35, after both drivers had made another pit stop. In contrast to their first stops, Vettel had opted to go on the soft tyre for his third stint, albeit a used set, and Raikkonen went to a brand new set of the medium compound.
A faster second stop than Vettel (22.362 v 22.717) and a couple of good laps from Raikkonen meant that, when Vettel emerged from his pit stop, the gap between the pair was now down to two seconds. Again Raikkonen made the most of the fresh tyres, and again there was a relentless series of laps that were faster than Vettel’s.
Raikkonen was within the magic one-second zone by the end of Lap 33 and so, on Lap 34, down into the first corner, he had his first chance to use DRS to find a way past his opponent.
His one real chance came a lap later. Raikkonen was gaining on Vettel as he came into that first corner, and all he had to do (or at least this is what Raikkonen though afterwards) was send one up the inside of Vettel into Turn 1, and the lead of the grand prix was as good as his. Unfortunately, Raikkonen went to the outside of the track, and the opportunity was gone.
The Race for the Finish
Raikkonen could not make another move on Vettel in the subsequent laps, and dropped to more than a second behind the German on Lap 38. At the end of the next lap, both drivers came in to the pits for their final set of tyres: both of them had a new set of the Pirelli medium compound to take them to the end of the race.
Vettel then eliminated virtually any hopes Raikkonen might have had to make another attempt at the lead by setting his fastest lap of the race on Lap 41. That time of 1:36.379 was the fastest of the afternoon, and more than seven-tenths of a second faster than Raikkonen’s best of the race, which was also set straight after his third pit stop.
After this extroadinary turn of speed by Vettel, the gap between the two world champions fluctuated between 2.5-3.5 seconds until the end of the race. Vettel emerged the victor, and Raikkonen felt he could have done better.
And it could have all been different. Had Raikkonen not lost so much time behind Massa at the end of the race, he would have been closer to Vettel after the first pit stop. Had Grosjean not halted his charge in the second stint of the race, he would have got right up to the back of Vettel and would perhaps have leap-frogged him in the second pit stops. And finally, what if Raikkonen had gone to the inside on Lap 35? Would the two drivers have just collided into Turn 1, or would he have made it past and gone on to claim that victory?
Raikkonen was not so lucky this time, but the Bahrain Grand Prix showed that the Iceman still has the ability to compete with the best of the current crop of drivers, and that his Lotus has got the performance needed to win races. He could do just that this season, but it wasn’t to be in Bahrain…