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Rediff.com  » Sports » McLaren, by no means, uncatchable!

McLaren, by no means, uncatchable!

Last updated on: March 20, 2012 11:10 IST

We have missed the freakishly fast Finn quite a bit

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Raja Sen

"It feels like I've never been away," grinned Kimi Raikkonen, after the first race of the 2012 Formula One season, a race where he started eighteenth and carved his way up to seventh position.

- Button steers McLaren to win in Australia

We, on the other hand, have missed the freakishly fast Finn quite a bit over the last couple of years, during his sojourn in motorsport wilderness. Used to slicing through the asphalt with the unlikely elegance of a particularly violent ice-skater, effortlessly defying and bettering racing lines in the quest for more speed, Raikkonen's a hard driver to picture roughing it in a rally car -- and NASCAR's loopiness seems even more of a stretch.


Image: Lotus F1 driver Kimi Raikkonen
Photographs: Getty Images

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Kimi overtaking maneuvers were those of a poetic bully

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This is why Sunday felt like homecoming, albeit one where the relatives mixed up their placecards and sat down in unfamiliar positions.

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The McLaren of Jenson Button controlled the race from the start, and -- while the potentially scintillating dogfight between seven-time champion Michael Schumacher and his successor Sebastian Vettel was cut cruelly short by a spoilsport gearbox on the Mercedes -- Kimi was the man to watch, keeping his foot down and giving us something to root for.

His overtaking maneuvers were those of a poetic bully. He manhandled Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez as he passed them from around the outside, monstering his Lotus Renault steed against them brutally, yet leaving just enough room to avoid any steward-nudging carnage.


Photographs: Getty Images

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McLaren were good in Australia

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McLaren were good in Australia, but their best came on Saturday, not Sunday, when they qualified one and two. Their race pace is striking, yes -- and we'll get a much clearer picture of just how strong they are in comparison to the rest of the field after the Malaysian race -- but they are, by no means, uncatchable.

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As demonstrated by Lewis Hamilton, who was sloppy when it counted most during the race, cocking up his start to let Button through, and doing very ordinary laps allowing Sebastian Vettel to leapfrog him with the pitstops.

Granted, nobody could foresee Vitaly Petrov's spin bringing out the safety car, but even without serendipitous timing, Vettel would likely have taken Hamilton.

Heck, even Mark Webber in the second Red Bull nearly knocked him off the podium.


Photographs: Getty Images

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Superhuman effort from Alonso in an ordinary car

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This year's DRS wing doesn't seem to be as helpful, shall we say, and the cars closing in didn't look to have as immediate and visible an advantage as we saw in 2011. If this is indeed true, it is the sort of blessed news that can only liven up a season where six world champions slog it out in what currently look like evenly-enough matched cars to at least not make for one-sided overtaking.

- Video: Force India's aim is to finish fifth: Nico Hulkenberg

When I say six world champions, I mean, of course, five, since Fernando Alonso's Ferrari really might not be mixing it up with the rest of the big boys. Fifth place is nothing to sneer at, true, but that was a superhuman effort from Alonso in an ordinary car wreaking havoc on its tires.


Image: Ferrari's Fernando Alonso
Photographs: Getty Images

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Kimi Raikkonen - apex predator

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So then, Jenson. He's figured out a new and slightly unwieldy 'W' sign using both his hands, and is determined to perfect it just like his team-mate has mastered the art of the sulk. He drove a great race, slapping past Hamilton in Turn One and building himself a cushion in no time, reeling off the lap times just as he needed, and later restarting the race with extreme flair, slowing everyone down and bolting like a wild hare who just spotted a carrot. (Come to think of it, Jessy Michibata was wearing orange.) It was a fine performance from a man who clearly likes being McLaren's number one driver, and a few more of these could set him up to be this year's frontrunner.

It isn't soothsaying season just yet, which means there's everything to play for. And in tribute to the enormously special way with which he attacks the exit of a corner, I suggest a new nickname for the man likely to keep things thrilling all year around: Kimi Raikkonen, apex predator.

Raise your glasses.


Image: McLaren driver Jenson Button kisses his girlfriend Jessica Michibata after winning the Australian Grand Prix
Photographs: Getty Images

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