Earlier this year I wrote about my fan type status with regards to Lotus. Although I've been hoping for a win by Raikkonen in 2012 his car hasn't been the best. In Formula One that's an unfortunate thing - the best driver may not win if he's in an inferior car. Typically such drivers shine when the weather turns sour, like the legendary Aryton Senna in one of his early F1 races. Normally, though, the best cars win. The good cars (and teams) attract solid, proven drivers, the cars work well, they usually survive the race, and, simply put, they're faster.
Raikkonen, on the Lotus team (it's actually Renault, but that's okay by me), is a good driver that came back to F1 after (I think) pricing himself out of the market a couple years back. He's driven well but the car's pace has been just below the top teams' cars.
That said if things worked out just right he could win. It's not the best way to win, perhaps, but it's a deserved win if it's not a complete farce (like when just six cars started at Indianapolis). Raikkonen has taken advantage of weather, the strengths of his car, and such, but other drivers, arguably similar in skill, took the wins.
Today, though, he finally did it. Some of the top competitors had some bad luck, others pushed the rules a bit.
Sebastian Vettel, the probably champion for the season, tried to push qualifying with an illegal fuel load (less than one liter of fuel remaining after the qualifying lap). It's basically cheating, especially since the team knew it and told him to pull over before he got to the pits. That's kind of like being called to dope control after a race and sprinting away on the bike. I'm not sure what Vettel's team hoped to accomplish because the stewards (i.e. officials) checked his car and dutifully found just a few drops of fuel left in the tank. Even though he started at the back (albeit from pit lane, so they could work on his car before the start - a loophole in the rules, sort of), he really does have the best car at the moment, and he's a good solid driver. He dutifully set fastest lap on the way to a spectacular third place.
Fernando Alonso, probably the driver that wrung the best out of the car he had this season, did a great drive to finish second. I remember him more for being involved in cycling (forgive the horrible translation on the page). It seems, though, that he can drive a car very, very well, and he won a number of races in the 2012 season in a car that's acknowledged to be slightly behind the top cars like Vettel's.
But at the top of the podium, complete with the not-champagne-but-instead-rose-water-with-bubbles (the race took place in Abu Dhabi), stood Kimi Raikkonen. He inherited the lead in this race but that doesn't explain the difficulties of qualifying well, saving your tires, dealing with the stress of racing, etc etc etc. Nonetheless if an F1 driver inherits a lead the best he can do is keep it. Raikkonen did just that.
So what's that mean for me and cycling? Not much, actually. It's nice to see that a good driver won in a car that's been pretty controversy-free, that hasn't pushed the rulebook too far, and that earned its win through a season of hard work.
It does bring to mind a racer a while back that raced the Bethel Spring Series. He acknowledges he doesn't have a sprint so he goes for the late solo moves, or, if the race works out right, an earlier solo move.
At that year's Series I had a very strong team supporting me. We'd see the racer go, a friendly rival of ours, and we'd try and bring him back at the end of the race. We caught him at the bottom of the hill, halfway up the hill, and even at the line. Well technically I caught him but only because the team dragged me (and the field) across the gap.
One of my teammates, after I caught the poor racer at the line (I won, he got second), asked me why he kept trying.
"Because if you keep trying moves eventually you'll win. He got caught at the bottom of the hill, halfway up the hill, and at the line. He's getting closer and one week he may win."
The following week guess what happened?
He took off a few laps from the finish, drilled it when it counted, and beat me to the line by about 10 or 20 feet.
I was probably the second happiest racer in the race because he won the race fair and square. He made the move, we all knew he'd have to make the move, and he still made it stick.
That racer upgraded that year so I rarely raced against him for a while. Now I see him all the time at the Tuesday Night Races at Rentschler Field and sometimes we even line up in a Masters race together.
When I see him I always, always, always think about the time that I watched him cross the line just a few lengths clear of me, absolutely astonished with himself that he'd pulled off the move.
So maybe Raikkonen's win does have something to do with cycling in that cycling has something to do with life. You can't help but admire those that earn their way forward. It may not be as far forward as a Tour win (or not), it may not be a multi-million dollar F1 contract, but it's real.
Kudos to Raikkonen.