When Formula One arrives at the circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, there’s always a special feeling in the air.
Personally, the first grand prix I ever saw was the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, but it’s not just me who regards the place as special.
Kimi Raikkonen, winner on four occasions and the most successful of the current grid of drivers, has nothing but positive vibes, “For me there have only been good memories from Spa and it’s great to go racing there.
“You can’t get the same kind of a feeling anywhere else. It’s a proper circuit which has such a great tradition”.
Whether Kimi can add to his good memories and take a fifth victory in Belgium will be discovered this weekend, when Formula One returns from the summer break.
Raikkonen goes into the race knowing that he won’t be a Red Bull driver next season, as many, including this column, had predicted.
Why the talks between Kimi and the team broke down is as of now, unknown, but they seem to have been stopped by the team, rather than the driver. This indicates Red Bull have decided to show faith in their young driver programme by choosing their own Daniel Ricciardo, rather than an experienced hand.
How much Kimi wanted the deal with Red Bull is also unknown. His management was certainly actively pursuing a seat and the opportunity of driving alongside Sebastian Vettel is a golden one. However, Kimi is well known to be enjoying driving for the Lotus team, but that he is concerned about the teams finances, and hence its ability to deliver him a second world championship.
Lotus are trying to secure a deal with Infinity, the car manufacturer which already has title sponsorship with Red Bull and are publicly confident that they will get it signed. But officially nothing has yet been agreed, and when you combine that with the current absence of a 2014 engine deal, Kimi’s concerns about his team’s future look well founded.
With his top alternative option now out of the picture, rumours are rife that a Ferrari drive could be possible.
To people who remember how Kimi’s stint at Ferrari ended, with two seasons of regularly poor performances followed by team boss, Luca di Montezemolo paying him not to drive for the team in 2010 to make way for Fernando Alonso, this may seem rather unbelievable.
And this is probably what the rumours are – unbelievable. Raikkonen doesn’t fit the Ferrari culture and in a team where Alonso’s concerns are prioritised, other drivers would certainly make better and less difficult number twos.
Yet a deal is possible. Raikkonen appears to be in a much more determined mindset than he was at Ferrari and his qualities behind the wheel may help Ferrari out of their current predicament. But it’s an outside bet.
Talk of next year’s driver line ups is distracting from the championship picture. This weekend will be a real chance to see whether the Mercedes has the ability to challenge Red Bull through the rest of the season. The long, fast corners produce high lateral loads which will really test teams’ tyre degradation. If the Mercedes wins at Spa, they could win anywhere – promising for the championship.
Conversely, Alonso and Raikkonen could slip more than fifty points behind Vettel and Red Bull. If their teams show no improvement in pace, their hopes for 2013 may be over early.