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Christine Blachford

Christine became an avid follower of Formula One after getting a taste of the action way back in 2003. Today, you'll find Christine putting her experience to good use as writer and producer of the news show F1Minute, and editor of community F1 site Sidepodcast.

Confusion is nothing new // Räikkönen's revealing radio message in Russia

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Räikkönen with race engineer Dave Greenwood
Credit: Ferrari Media

“What do you mean, we are behind Bottas?”

Kimi Räikkönen’s now infamous radio transmission during the Russian Grand Prix, where the Finn was confused by which Mercedes driver was storming out front, and which was lagging behind somewhat. There are two interesting sides to this radio message – firstly, Kimi’s humourous inability to keep up with what’s going on, and secondly, the fact that no one was really expecting Bottas to dominate his teammate in Sochi quite so much.

Almost left behind

Let’s be honest, you can’t blame Kimi for being slightly out of the loop in terms of knowing which car he was following. The fact that teammates are quite hard to tell apart is something that’s been on the minds of fans and strategy groups for a while. It’s no coincidence that the FIA just announced they will be enforcing larger driver names and numbers on cars in the very near future. However, that is more for the fans watching in the grandstands and at home, rather than a driver in the midst of a battle.

In Russia, the two Ferrari drivers started on the front row of the grid, and whilst Sebastian benefitted from the clean side of the grid, Kimi was bogged down in second place. Bottas, also benefiting from the preferential tarmac, was able to sweep past both the red cars and move into the lead immediately. Räikkönen was left fighting one of the Mercedes, and we can assume at this point he did know which one. They were side by side heading into the first corner, Hamilton even managed to get his nose ahead, but Kimi kept his foot down and retained the position behind his teammate.

So, at this point, Bottas is two cars ahead and Hamilton is in his wing mirrors. No one would have anticipated that. Bottas has always been good around the Sochi circuit, and he was on the cleaner tarmac, but even so, Hamilton is usually the one muscling his car into the stronger position. And with team orders on everyone’s mind, you can see why Kimi gradually got confused about which car was dominating and which was running a solid number two strategy.

Kimi finishes third in Sochi
Credit: Ferrari Media

Yet, as funny as the radio transmission was, with race engineer Dave Greenwood’s slightly baffled response, you do have to wonder if Kimi was having a little nap during the later stages of the race. His strategy hadn’t worked, he was following behind in the last of the podium positions, whilst his teammate was up front hustling for a win.

It wouldn’t be the first time that Kimi hasn’t appeared to show up for a grand prix. The one-time champion is very much an on-off player in races, sometimes he’s there and the fire is clear and there’s no stopping him. Other days, you can easily detect that he’d much rather be somewhere else doing almost anything else. The jokes about vodka and ice cream are so old now as to not be funny anymore, but they did come from somewhere truthful, and aside from Alonso’s deckchair, there aren’t many other memes about drivers having half-hearted attitudes.

Räikkönen has been driving in F1 (with added sabbatical) since 2001, but hasn’t scored a race victory for over four years, and has only been as high as the second step since he rejoined Ferrari. This is his fifteenth season as a full time Formula One driver, so you could understand if his concentration is wavering a little, his attention distracted by outside activities. With many drivers around him moving onwards or outwards (Button’s joyous retirement, Rosberg’s snap decisions, Alonso looking to the US) Kimi might be starting to ponder his own situation.

Many people, me included, think Kimi’s time to shine has come and gone, and that the Ferrari race seat may be better served in the hands of someone else. You can read too much into this brilliantly funny radio message, but at the same time, it does reveal that perhaps Kimi might be starting to feel the same.

Bottas enjoys race win in Russia
Credit: Daimler AG

Too far ahead

“He was leading the race, Kimi.”

Dave Greenwood clarified the position for the Finnish driver, when Räikkönen’s confusion about Bottas was aired to the world. As mentioned above, there’s an element to this conversation that you can totally understand. Lewis Hamilton is a three times’ world champion, entering his fifth season at Mercedes, having securely wedged his feet under the table there. With Nico Rosberg’s retirement, he has a new teammate in Valtteri Bottas, and that meant an element of unknown for the 2017 season.

Hamilton has seemed more relaxed so far this year, with Bottas taking a few races to get to grips with the new power unit at his fingertips, but that could have all changed with the Russian race result. Just two weeks earlier, during the Bahrain Grand Prix, Mercedes came under fire for instigating team orders at such an early stage in the season, favouring Hamilton over their new driver.

He needed to prove that he wasn’t just going to settle for a number two driver position

The team orders argument is for another day, but it did feel as though all the pressure was suddenly on Bottas’ shoulders to prove that he wasn’t just going to settle for a number two driver position. He needed to show the world that he could at least stand shoulder to shoulder with his more experienced teammate, if not take the fight to him for a meaningful championship challenge.

Kimi isn’t alone in being surprised that Bottas was so strong in Russia. Clearly there was something hampering Hamilton’s race pace but even so, Bottas was able to fend off the challenge from the Italian competition, keeping both Ferraris behind him until the chequered flag. He had a presence of mind, a cool head, and an ability to soak up the pressure surrounding him – both from Vettel chasing him into the final few turns, as well as from the entire F1 paddock, eagerly watching to see whether this Finn could earn his stripes.

Bottas’ first ever race victory must have been a relief for the Finn in so many ways. After more than 80 races, it was about time he took home a trophy. Coming at this point in the season, the win has solidified his position as a Mercedes teammate rather than a number two driver. And that’s exactly what we need to keep this season as enticing as it has been in the first four rounds of the year. I’m hoping that Bottas can keep taking the fight to both Ferrari and to Mercedes, and that way, the season will continue to fascinate, and Kimi can have more time to learn the differences between the two Silver Arrows.