Kimi Raikkonen’s qualifying form has been a weakness during the 2021 Formula 1 season so far, but the Alfa Romeo team is aiming to find ways to improve his Saturday performances from this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix onwards.
Raikkonen has produced some good race drives this year and scored the Sauber-run team’s only point with 10th in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. But he has also missed out on points by one position on three occasions – in Bahrain, Monaco and Styria, with his low grid positions often limiting his potential in the race.
As the 2007 world champion admitted after Sunday’s race that his qualifying performances need to improve, but despite him also believing the team needs to make pace gains with the car his performances relative to team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi prove he’s not extracting the most from the car over a single lap.
“With Kimi, next week we will try to do a few things and see if we can bring him into Q2,” said Alfa Romeo head of trackside engineering Xevi Pujolar.
“This target is priority number one, to be ahead of Williams in qualifying and then hopefully do a race like we did today [in the Styrian GP].
“The cars are pretty close together [on set-up], it’s just trying to see if we can help.
“It’s all about the tyre preparation and out-laps, if there’s anything that we can fnd.
“We’ve got some ideas and we’ll try either set-up or the tyres.”
Raikkonen has been outpaced in qualifying by Giovinazzi six times out of eight this season with an average deficit of 0.364s based on their comparative pace in the latest qualifying segment both participated in.
He was quicker at Imola, where Giovinazzi was the faster Alfa Romeo driver on the first run but his second attempt was ruined by Nikita Mazepin overtaking him at the start of the lap.
The other instance was in Azerbaijan, where Giovinazzi didn’t set a time after crashing in Q1.
Although Raikkonen has produced strong first laps to gain ground this season, ending the first lap in a higher position than he started in seven races out of eight with a net gain of 22 places, this only partly compensates for the poor starting positions.
The Styrian Grand Prix was a case in point. Raikkonen climbed to 13th primarily thanks to the Turn 3 mess and went on to finish 11th, having been the only driver to start on hards.
He was within 2.5s of the points at the end of the race, but with stronger qualifying could conceivably have been able to run a more conventional strategy and been a bigger threat in the group of cars that claimed the final three points positions.
Raikkonen is also keen for the team to improve the car, which will boost Alfa Romeo’s chances of fighting for points. Currently, it requires both qualifying and the race to be executed well to be able to score.
“We need to make the car a bit faster,” said Raikkonen.
“Obviously it would help if I’m a bit better off on Saturdays and I did better qualifyings, but we gained a lot of places on the first lap so I have to really say that that wouldn’t exactly guarantee us to be in the points.
“It would help, but I think we just need to get a bit more speed out of the car.”