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There’s nothing quite like being in the team garage when
an all-new F1 car is fired up for the first time, particularly if said car has the
returning Kimi Raikkonen at the wheel.

‘Racing is life. Anything before or after is just
waiting,’ Steve McQueen once said. That could just as easily be Kimi’s mantra, possibly
uttered after a refreshing vodka at the end of a long day.

As anyone in the pit-lane will confirm, he’s an almost
impossible person to coax a decent quote out of, and prefers to express himself
where it really counts: on the track. Fair enough, really. Watching him from
the pitwall it’s immediately clear he’s on it, and really wants it again, after
seemingly falling out of love with F1 and its attendant pressures and

Gallery: Lotus F1 testing at Jerez

Kimi’s commitment at this first test bodes very well
for the 2012 season. To be honest, even if he’d been mental enough to sign for
HRT, would have cheered him on. But after dallying with the
Williams squad, he did a last-minute deal with the Lotus F1 team – formerly
Lotus-Renault and Renault before that – and by the end of the third day of
testing at Jerez, it looks like he might have backed the right horse: Kimi was
fastest at the end of day one in the Lotus E20, while team-mate Romain
Grosjean, current GP2 champion and picking up where he prematurely left off
with the team after an unhappy 2009 season, was fastest in the 2012-spec cars on
Thursday on a 1.18.4.

Yes, yes, we know that pre-season testing is
notoriously inconclusive and we won’t know for sure how things are really to going
to be until that first Saturday afternoon in Melbourne. But I reckon these two
will be top six, and in the hunt for a podium in the race… After that, well, it’s
anyone’s guess, but with rumours of a trick new front wing from Mercedes –
whose new car will be unveiled in Barcelona in a few weeks – and blown
diffusers banned, there’s the promise of a reshuffled pack. That said, both Red
Bull drivers have looked ominously competitive this week.

But back to Kimi, and that elusive quote. I did manage
to tease something out of him. ‘Formula One is the highest form of racing in
the world, and has the fastest cars, the most downforce, the biggest g-forces,’
he told me on Monday. ‘It takes a bit of time getting used to being back in an
F1 car, but it’s normal for me, so it’s difficult to explain. I immediately got
a good feeling from the car – which hasn’t always been the case in my Formula
One career – so that’s a good starting point.’

Grosjean, who is enjoying that rare thing in F1 – a
second chance – is easier company. ‘F1 cars are just such fantastic things to
drive, you want to spend as much time as possible in them,’ he says. ‘It’s
genuinely difficult to explain the sensations of driving one to somebody who
has never experienced it, but all I can say is that it’s like having a little
fire inside your body, and when the engine starts the flames get bigger…’

Hmm, fire. An interesting analogy for F1, but we get
the picture. Don’t bet against the Frenchman keeping Kimi properly honest this
year, either.

Jenson Button looked happy enough after his first
installation laps on Monday. McLaren has shunned the boxer’s broken nose that
the rest of the cars on the grid will have, prompting a typically relaxed
response from JB on what is the best looking car by a country mile. ‘You know
McLaren, we’ve got to have a pretty car…’ he tells me with a smile, before
adding, ‘I don’t know, we’ve either got the jump on everyone else or we’ve
messed up. It looks much better than Ferrari’s Lego car, that’s for sure. It
feels pretty good so far. Let’s put it this way, I’m not thinking, ‘oh s**t, we’ve
got to fix that, we need to work on that.’ It feels good.’

Obviously, there’s a long, long way to go. Two further
tests are due to take place in Barcelona, between 21st and 24th
February, and 1st and 4th March, before the Australian GP weekend
kicks off on 16th March. We are officially very excited.

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