On the brink of turning 40, there were question marks over how Raikkonen would adapt to life back in F1’s midfield. But he thrived in the first part of the season with eight points finishes in 12 races, when his consistent and dependable performances ensured Alfa Romeo was usually to be found not far from the front of the midfield through that run of races.
But as the season progressed and the Alfa Romeo became less competitive, Raikkonen didn’t quite have that final couple of tenths needed to nab points – a fine run to fourth at Interlagos aside – as did the fact Antonio Giovinazzi often had stronger underlying pace, even if he didn’t consistently deliver it.
The rebranded Alfa Romeo team came into this season still rebuilding after its brush with extinction under the Sauber name. Raikkonen’s return to the team after a 17-year absence provided it with invaluable experience and genuine consistency on-track even when the car was sliding towards the back of the midfield. He had big boots to fill given Charles Leclerc’s remarkable rookie season in 2018.
“The approach was a bit different,” says team principal Frederic Vasseur of what Raikkonen offered in comparison to Leclerc. “I don’t talk about speed, but Kimi has a very good understanding of the ‘global’ performance of the car, in which areas you have to improve and pay the most attention to.
“Sometimes, the feeling of the driver will tell him the high-speed could be improved but there's no lap time there. Kimi, in this situation, will be able to say, ‘no, the lap time is on the kerbs in the low-speed corners. That’s very useful for us as a quite young team.”
Raikkonen’s biggest impact came in the first part of the season when he was regularly to the fore in the midfield fight. He scored points in the first four races and, after a difficult three-race run in Spain, Monaco and Canada, was regularly in the top 10 – Hockenheim start penalty excepted – up to the mid-season break.
“Kimi was very opportunistic,” says Vasseur. “Sometimes when there were three points [on the table], there he was scoring four. It went well.”
The second half of the season was less strong both for team and driver. There were moments, such as taking ‘Class B’ pole at Spa only to be clattered by Max Verstappen at the start. But perhaps Alfa Romeo did lack that edge of pace Leclerc brought the previous season.
Antonio Giovinazzi’s performances in the other car reveal much about Raikkonen’s contribution. His underlying pace was strong, arguably a little better than Raikkonen’s, but in the final reckoning, he only scored 14 points to Raikkonen’s 43.
“He’s been matching Kimi since Baku, it’s about 50/50 but he perhaps struggles when you have to do tyre management under the pace and want to extend [a stint],” says Vasseur. “It’s difficult for him to find the right level of management.”