Mercedes AMG Petronas Non-Executive Chairman Niki Lauda believes Kimi Raikkonen will be left behind by Scuderia Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel in 2017, if he is allowed to get into any sort of groove this year.
Raikkonen finished twenty-two seconds down the road from the German, who took victory at the first round of the 2017 Formula 1 season in Australia last weekend, as well as trailing both Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team drivers by a large margin.
Although he did not experience any specific issues during the race, the Finn put his lack lustre performance down to struggling on his opening stint with the ultra-soft tyres, which caused him to suffer from understeer, a recurring issue for the 2007 world champion across the Australian Grand Prix weekend.
However, Lauda feels that such a significant gap is rather telling, and could be a sign of the disparity we can expect between the two Ferrari men this year, as he explained to German broadcaster RTL recently.
“If Sebastian gets a momentum with this victory, then the whole team gets behind him because he is already the several-times world champion.
“Then it’s hard for Kimi to catch him.”
FIA president Jean Todt also appears to share the Austrian’s views. Speaking to German magazine Sport Bild, the Frenchman spoke of how he could see definite similarities between Vettel and Michael Schumacher, whom Todt was Team Manager to at the Italian squad during the German’s dominant years, in their will to succeed at any cost.
“Vettel reminds me of Michael.
“They both have the same thirst for victory that is so great that it can leverage a whole team to succeed.
“Vettel’s victory in Australia was important for Formula 1, because it means Mercedes finally has an opponent.”
It is an opinion echoed by many who have known and worked with both drivers, who often find themselves shocked when they see the same unrelenting commitment, work ethic and ability to uplift team spirits in Vettel, that led to the crushing success for the Maranello based squad in the time of Schumacher.
Ferrari definitely appear to have upped their game in 2017, the win in Australia backing up their performance in winter testing, whether they have enough in the tank to keep up that momentum for the remainder of the season however, is something we will have to wait in anticipation to find out.
Raikkonen showed in 2016 that he could compete on the same level as Vettel, ending the season just twenty-six points behind the German, a huge improvement in comparison to the one hundred and eighteen-point gap seen in 2015. The Finn also out-qualified his team-mate on a number of occasions that year, an area Vettel had often been considered king.
The Finn will surely have to step it up another level in 2017 if he is to stay close to his biggest rival, and many will question at this stage of the Finn’s life, whether he still has the desire, as well as the energy to do that.