Some time before Kimi's champ again
Ferrari's Raikkonen says car will have to get better for him to have a chance of winning
When Kimi Raikkonen's contract extension with Ferrari was confirmed at Silverstone earlier this year, the blunt Finn famously said: "I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I can drive well. I am very happy about it. It gives me pleasure to see disappointed people."
He was responding to a growing pool of critics in the racing community who felt the 36-year-old's best days were behind him, and that the most storied team in Formula 1 were better off signing a younger driver, like Williams' Valtteri Bottas, to partner Sebastian Vettel.
For much of his career, the talent of the driver billed as the "Ice Man" was never questioned.
Never fazed and extraordinarily laid back, he won the 2007 driver's world championship with Ferrari and talk was of more to come.
It has not come to pass, and Raikkonen acknowledged yesterday that it would take a while before he can mount a challenge for the drivers' title again.
"It isn't just about the driver, it's about the whole team," he said, after interacting with participants of the Shell Eco-marathon Asia at Suntec City, as he prepared for the 2016 Singapore Airlines Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix.
"We are improving things all the time and going in the right direction, but we still have a way to go.
"Next year will be a new year and the cars will change; as a team we will do our best and hopefully we'll be up there winning races."
In Formula 1, the way the car is set up is as important as the driver's skills itself.
The 2016 Ferrari, with a more positive front end, has been tweaked to suit Raikkonen, after he complained that the packages for the past two seasons did not complement his driving style.
The results have been telling - Raikkonen is now in fifth place with 136 points, just seven behind teammate Vettel.
Raikkonen was 99 points behind the four-time world champion at the same stage last year, and both Ferrari pilots are tipped to do well, along with the Red Bulls, along the Marina Bay street circuit on Sunday.
After all, Vettel won the Singapore race last year and Raikkonen finished third, while eventual overall champion Lewis Hamilton retired and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg finished fourth.
Ahead of this year's race, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and Rosberg said Singapore's night race would suit the Ferraris and Red Bulls more than the otherwise dominant Silver Arrows.
But Raikkonen will not be drawn into talking up his team's chances here.
"Obviously we did well last year but who knows if it'll be the same this year," he said.
"We can only do the normal things that we do and hopefully be up there to challenge for a win.
"This is a tricky circuit; you need to get the set-up right to get the car working nicely and that will make a lot of difference."
One thing, though, don't be fooled by the Ice Man's demeanour.
Despite having almost 250 F1 races under his belt, Raikkonen will still be a bundle of nerves at the start line on Sunday.
"I like it (going fast), I enjoy racing and I enjoy driving. I am always a little nervous (at the start of races), but it's normal," he said, with a shrug.
Bottas confident he'll get there
He is seen as one of the up-and-coming pilots in Formula 1 and showed his promise by finishing fourth in the drivers' championship in 2014.
But Williams Martini Racing's Valtteri Bottas has not been able to top that achievement, struggling somewhat in this year's campaign.
But the 27-year-old was calm when quizzed about it last night on the sidelines of a Martini event at the Marina Bay Sands' Ce La Vi bar.
Patience, he preached, ahead of this weekend's Grand Prix along downtown Singapore.
It will come, he said.
"It's close and I hope it's very soon, but I am prepared to wait and I am prepared to work hard for it," said the Finn, whose solitary podium finish this year was a third-place outing in Canada.
Bottas, who recently got married to his long-time girlfriend, finished fifth in the standings last season and is currently seventh with 70 points. He earned just 26 points from the seven races after Montreal.
"It's not quite as many as I was hoping for after being on the podium in Canada, but it is what it is at the moment," he said, at an FIA press conference at the paddock at Marina Bay.
"It's been a little more tricky this season because... this year we invested a lot of time and money in some special upgrades, but those didn't work as planned," he told The New Paper.
But he is hopeful that the new tyre sizes in the sport next year will be an equaliser for all the teams - bigger tyres next year will force teams to rethink their chassis designs to maximise the grip and timing gains - and that Williams can even break into the top three.
That is, if he is still with the British team.
Veteran teammate Felipe Massa will retire at the end of the season, and reports in recent weeks have pointed to Bottas inking a new two-year contract with Williams, but the former GP3 champion said nothing has been set in stone.
On his own contract situation, Bottas told TNP: "I can't confirm anything, there are still talks going on, we still need to wait and see what is going to happen."
Asked during the press conference who would be an ideal replacement for Massa, he said: "The quicker teammate you have, it doesn't matter who he is, as long as he's quick, it always boosts the performance of both drivers and helps the team, so that's always good.
"And a team player would be nice, but obviously I have nothing to do with choosing the teammate, it's completely up to the team who I will be racing with so I hope everything's okay."
He is absolutely certain of one thing though - that he has the chops to win a driver's title, and fulfil all the talk of his potential.
Asked by TNP if he has what it takes to win a world title, Bottas said without hesitation: "That is my only goal in Formula 1. Yes, I do."