By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
Kimi Raikkonen overcame a rough start and avoided trouble en route to finishing third in Sunday’s Heineken Chinese Grand Prix.
The 38-year-old Finn got a nice jump from second on the grid, but Scuderia Ferrari teammate and pole sitter Sebastian Vettel came across the track and pinched Raikkonen on the inside. The bad entry angle into Turn 1 meant Raikkonen had to ease off the throttle, which pushed him down to fourth by the end of the opening lap.
The 2007 World Champion managed to take the lead on Lap 21 as pit stops ensued, pitting for a set of medium Pirelli tires on Lap 27 after losing the lead to Bottas. Moments later on Lap 31, the Safety Car was called out for debris from a collision between Toro Rosso teammates Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly at the Turn 14 hairpin.
While running sixth and putting pressure on Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Verstappen collided with Vettel at the troublesome Turn 14 on Lap 44, which saw Raikkonen take full advantage and jump all three drivers to move into third.
With Daniel Ricciardo (Aston Martin Red Bull Racing) checking out on the field on a fresh set of ultrasofts, Raikkonen did his best to apply pressure on Bottas for second-place, but in the end would have to settle for the final spot on the podium.
“Yeah, I think we made a good start and then got, unfortunately, blocked a bit and passed in the first corners,” said Raikkonen, owner of 93 career Formula 1 podiums (sixth all-time).
“I struggled a little bit following people in the beginning. On my own I wasn’t too bad, but far from ideal at the start of the race and then obviously we stayed very long out. A little bit of luck with the Safety Car.
“I had good speed on the mediums but in the end we would have needed the soft tires to really go for it. I think I was kind of OK in the end, but once I got close I had much more speed than Valtteri, but once you get close it’s so difficult to follow people, to get a good run you need much better tires to get that proper run and you can kind of offset yourself. But I’ll take what I got, because at one point it didn’t look good at all.”
Raikkonen leaves Shanghai International Circuit fifth in the championship standings, 24 points behind leader Vettel.
Sunday’s outcome presented Mercedes their first ever three-race stretch without a victory in the V6 era, but Raikkonen insisted that determining the best team is still an unknown.
“It’s very hard to say,” said Raikkonen. “I think if you ask anybody, it’s a bit tricky to give you an answer. I think today a lot of the end results depended on whether you had better tires than others, when you could offset yourself to the others. Obviously, it’s part of the game, a big part of the game. And here it made a big difference. And the Safety Car playing in there.
“So, like pure speed, with everybody on the same tires… it’s difficult, very difficult to say in a race. I think it’s nice like that, for everybody to watch, because nobody really knows, everybody would love to know, nobody really has because it changes from race to race. And such a small difference makes a big difference in the end results.
“I think you just have to wait and see. I think it might change from race to race and who runs what tires.”