F1 | Exclusive interview with race engineer Mark Slade: "Phenomenal" Räikkönen "the best driver I've ever worked with to set up the car"
MotorLAT talked to race engineer Mark Slade about his days working with Kimi Räikkönen at McLaren and Lotus.
Kimi Räikkönen’s stunning debut season in 2001 at Sauber led to big teams immediately showing interest in the Finn.
Mika Häkkinen’s retirement at the end of that year opened the door for Räikkönen to join McLaren in his place. The two had built up a good relationship during the course of that campaign.
Räikkönen would go on to drive with McLaren for five seasons, and Mark Slade was his race engineer every step of the way.
The Brit has worked with many other talented drivers, such as Mika Häkkinen, Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher and Nico Hülkenberg.
However, Räikkönen’s ability to understand how to set up a car and his understanding of changes puts him at another level in those areas according to Slade.
“For me, Kimi’s the best driver I’ve ever worked with to set up the car,” he said.
“He’s absolutely phenomenal. His feel for changes was just astonishing.
“And it just made our life very straightforward, because you would make a change, and he would tell you that was better here and worse here. Then you would come to an agreement on whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.
“He could tell you 'if you can sort this out, I’ll go quicker. So you just concentrate on sorting that out’. I think a lot of drivers find it more difficult to be that specific.”
Ahead of Räikkönen’s final race at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year, his trainer Mark Arnall shared a story of the Finn feeling a crack in his chassis. While it wasn’t detected during the race weekend itself, a crack was ultimately found when the car got back to the factory.
Slade confirmed Räikkönen had the ability to point out when something was fundamentally wrong with his machinery.
“A lot of them are very good, but I haven’t worked with anyone who was as good as Kimi at picking out details," Slade continued.
“Or even knowing when things weren’t right with the car – like if there was a software problem or something else in the car. He would tell you there is something wrong with the car.
“Obviously he wouldn’t be able to specify what it was, but if you looked and couldn’t see anything to start with, you kind of had to look again. The chances were that there was something wrong.”
Many observers of the sport believe Räikkönen’s best spell in Formula One was his McLaren era. The Finn narrowly missed out on two titles because of unreliability and bad luck.
Räikkönen eventually won the championship at Ferrari in 2007, and he would reunite with Slade at Lotus in 2012 and 2013. He won two races at Enstone and finished P3 in the championship ten years ago.
The British engineer explained what was different versus the Finn’s days at McLaren, as well as the possibility of winning a title with a bit more luck.
“He was older, so he had a lot more experience and had won a championship. It was quite a different approach from him," said Slade.
“The refreshing thing was that he was fully committed. When he came back he was so fast.
"That 2012/13 Lotus was a fantastic little car. It wouldn't be a stretch to say we could have won a championship with a little bit more luck and what have you. But lots of people can say that
"It was a really enjoyable time, and he was just a delight to work with. He was just great – and on it all the time."