McLaren boss expects tandem to bring heat
SEPANG, Malaysia Fire and Ice will be competing in what is billed as the "World's Hottest Race" this weekend.
With temperatures near the 100-degree mark and energy-sapping humidity to match, the Malaysian Grand Prix just might live up to its marketing title.
What remains to be seen is whether the West McLaren Mercedes tandem of Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen lives up to its "Fire and Ice" nickname, which is derived from the drivers' vastly different personalities.
Colombia's Montoya, who joined McLaren after four years with Williams BMW, is the fiery Latin. He's laid-back but can have sudden bursts of anger.
Raikkonen is the cool Finn who seems to be fazed by nothing at all and long has been called "Ice Man."
Together, they comprise one of the strongest F1 team lineups in 2005.
Actually, Montoya and Raikkonen are similar in many ways. They have been getting along well, and have bonded quickly -- far better than Raikkonen and David Coulthard did in three seasons as teammates.
It's only now that Raikkonen and Montoya are really working together because their winter test schedule was staggered so that they rarely were at the track at the same time.
"We have had only a few days of testing together," Raikkonen said. "He is a nice guy, so everything is going on well between us and I don't see any problem.
"It has not influenced anything on my side and it is not going to influence anything," Raikkonen said of Montoya joining McLaren. "OK, I have a new teammate, but it is not going to change my situation in the team, so I don't mind."
Asked to describe their relationship, Montoya replied: "It is good. We have a lot of things in common. We like [motocross] bikes and things like that."
Team boss Ron Dennis has had plenty of experience with quiet Finns (Mika Hakkinen drove for McLaren from 1993 through 2001) and South Americans (Ayrton Senna was with the team from 1988 until 1993). He also has experience with feuding teammates (Senna and Alain Prost, 1988-89).
Dennis has a slightly different label for his present driver pairing, which he calls, "one of the strongest driver lineups in F1 history."
"Spirit and ice," he said of Montoya and Raikkonen. "They are both pretty cool in their way. Juan Pablo has a sort of fiery mentality but I think that it will be a mentality that will be somewhat tempered in our team.
"We have quite a calming influence on drivers. I hope we have the difficulty of trying to moderate their performances to each other. But at the moment they both know that their first goal is to win races and not worry too much about their teammate."
Raikkonen doesn't predict any feuds with Montoya.
"I don't see that we will have any fights," he said. "OK, we will fight against each other on the circuit, but that is normal. If you have a fast teammate you push each other, but I always try to go as fast as I can, so I don't know if it will make any difference."
How important is it that you are better than your teammate?
"That is always important because your teammate is the only one with the same car where you can really compare your speed," Raikkonen said, "but at the end you want to win [against] everybody, so that is the goal."
Asked the same question, Montoya replied: "It's not a big factor, especially in the first few races it doesn't bother me, to be honest."
The first race of 2005 for Fire and Ice was more like lukewarm water as each has a less-than-stellar drive in the season opener in Australia.
Raikkonen stalled his car, had to start from the pit lane, and finished eighth.
Montoya started ninth and finished sixth after an off-track excursion.
Both drivers and cars had the potential to finish on the podium. Dennis was less than pleased. Drivers are not supposed to make mistakes at this level.
With one race down and 18 to go, the McLaren Mercedes team is wary of making any predictions about how the season will go.
Said Dennis: "It is going be a few races before things really settle down and we can sort of determine how competitive we are, or how big the mountain is going to be to climb as regards maybe one team doing a better job than the rest."
Said Montoya: "My personal goal is to try to go as quick as we can. The best we can do could be winning the championship; the best we can do might be finishing fifth. It really depends on how the car performs against everybody else and how good we can work with the team. I need to make sure that I do my bit, and the team needs to make sure it does its bit. If we can put it together, it should be a good result."
Said Raikkonen: "I want to win as many races as possible and the championship, but it is early days. We will just do our best in every race over the season."
For now, it will be interesting to see how Fire and Ice fare in the Malaysian heat.
Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.