LONDON, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Kimi Raikkonen has moved stealthily up the Formula One standings to a healthy third place and the Lotus driver could become even more of a contender now the championship has turned its back on Europe.
Lotus team principal Eric Boullier made no secret of the fact that Monza, the fastest track on the calendar and a power circuit with long straights and few corners, did not play to his car’s strengths on Sunday.
“We knew here would not be easy,” he said after Raikkonen finished fifth at the Italian Grand Prix, the last European race of the year with the focus now on the Far and Middle East before the season ends in the Americas.
“We look forward now obviously to the next races because it should suit our car much better.”
Scoring regular points has been key in this most unpredictable of championships and Raikkonen and Ferrari’s championship leader Fernando Alonso have been the kings of consistency.
Raikkonen has scored points in his last 10 races and, although the Finn has yet to win in his comeback season after two years in the world rally championship, he has been on the podium six times in 13 races.
Alonso’s focus has been mostly on Red Bull’s world champion Sebastian Vettel and McLaren’s Monza race winner Hamilton so far this season but the Spaniard may have to take his Ferrari predecessor into account as well now.
Both Red Bulls failed to finish at Monza but Raikkonen banked points as usual.
Alonso will need no reminding of how Raikkonen took the 2007 title against the odds, mounting one of the sport’s great comebacks by winning three of the last four races of that season to pip Hamilton and the Spaniard, at the time McLaren team mates, by a single point.
“It’s good to go into third position,” said Raikkonen, just one point behind Hamilton and 38 adrift of Alonso despite the top two having each won three races this year.
“It was a difficult weekend as we were too slow in a straight line. We came into the race looking for sixth or seventh so fifth is the maximum we could have done here this weekend.”
Nobody has won more than three races this year and Raikkonen has plenty of time to clamber on top of the podium before the year is out. Japan’s Suzuka circuit, which comes after next week’s Singapore Grand Prix, is a particular favourite.
Raikkonen was Lotus’s sole points scorer on Sunday, with regular French team mate Romain Grosjean banned for the race after causing a pile-up at the start in Belgium and replaced by Belgian reserve Jerome D‘Ambrosio.
D‘Ambrosio’s hopes were hit by a KERS problem, a big blow at a track like Monza, and Grosjean will be back for Singapore champing at the bit but with a lesson learned after a weekend spent watching and listening from the garages.
“I think he learned a lot because being in your car you have only one radio in your head, when you are sitting in the garage you have both cars and you can learn a lot,” said Boullier.
“I think he is extremely eager (to return).” (Editing by Tony Jimenez)