Jacques Villeneuve is not known for being conservative with his public comments.
And he proved that again last week by criticising Kimi Raikkonen’s dismal 2014 form in typically blunt fashion.
“If he can’t drive in F1 anymore, he should go home,” the 1997 World Champion asserted. “He is a very experienced driver, so he shouldn’t be making excuses at every grand prix like a rookie does.”
There is no denying that Raikkonen is having a terrible season. The much-anticipated rivalry between himself and Fernando Alonso has not yet materialised as the Spaniard has been comfortably ahead of the Finn. Alonso has thus far accumulated 79 points to Raikkonen’s 19 - the biggest disparity between team-mates this year - and Kimi has become unusually vocal in interviews, feeling the need to explain his poor results and often blaming the team. In Austria he claimed he was instructed to slow the car down after just two laps to preserve the brakes and was later told to increase his pace despite his engine not having full power.
"Those two things should not be happening and we need to fix them,” he said afterwards. “We cannot go into a race and start slowing down after two laps because of issues like that.”
We all know how reserved Kimi is. He has never been one to publicly criticise his team's performance before, so why is he consistently doing so now?
Aside from a blip in 2009 (which is another story altogether) Raikkonen has always been at the top of his game, and when things went wrong it was usually clear that it was out of his control. He did not take the media’s bait very often, instead keeping his mouth shut, safe in the knowledge that he was doing his best.
But his current temperament indicates that he may perhaps be a little worried, and frustration has begun to set in. He is now the oldest man on the grid at 34 and in all likelihood the Ferrari drive is his last hurrah.
However, Villeneuve’s claim that Raikkonen should "go home" is unfair.
“You can’t go on like this when you’re a world champion. You have no right to make excuses,” the Canadian commented, which is perhaps ironic given that he failed to win a race in the nine years following his 1997 world title.
While Raikkonen’s struggles are plain to see, he hasn’t simply forgotten how to drive between leaving Lotus and returning to Ferrari. We’ve seen a number of uncharacteristic spins from the Finn this year, notably in Canada where the rear appeared to snap violently, deep into the braking phase, several times at turn 11. An experienced driver like Kimi simply does not make the same mistake consistently. He is known to be struggling with the new brake-by-wire system and his Ferrari is not only unpredictable but considerably off the pace.
The cars today are so complex that it’s not uncommon for the teams to have no understanding of why a particular car and driver cannot perform properly together. So by no means is Raikkonen down and out. Given his past achievements in the sport, he deserves more time to understand the issues he is experiencing and prove himself once again.
But Formula One is a ruthless business and Ferrari cannot afford to be giving away points as they chase Red Bull to be best of the rest behind Mercedes. They are already 45 in arrears, with Force India and Williams close behind and in better form. It would be a travesty for the Maranello outfit to drop to fifth in the constructor’s championship, but there is a very real chance of this occurring.
The reason for hiring Raikkonen in the first place was to push Ferrari up the constructor’s standings as Felipe Massa had been costing the team too many points.
However they seem to be suffering the same problems all over again with the Finn. Alonso has been in great form, with an average qualifying position of 5.88, whereas Raikkonen lies further back with 8.13. The race results make even worse reading: Fernando has beaten his team-mate in every one of the eight races this year and his average finishing position of 5.13 is massively better than Raikkonen, who has only produced an average race finish of 9.5.
Kimi is still a top driver, but he is also struggling badly with a poor car and complicated new rules. Villeneuve calling for the Finn to quit the sport is nonsense, but nevertheless there is something to what he’s saying. Even if Kimi is still a top driver, Ferrari will be forced to dump him at the end of the season if he can’t work with them to solve their issues.
And from there the outlook is bleak for the 2007 world champion. There are plenty of drivers waiting to take his seat, making the next few races crucial for Raikkonen. It won’t be long before Ferrari make decisions for 2015 and, given the current prognosis, they may be weighing up whether to honour the second year of his contract.