Has Kimi Raikkonen finally turned the corner?

Raikkonen Belgium 2014 portrait

Kimi Raikkonen scored his best result of the season at Spa, but has the Finn really turned the corner after a nightmare start to 2014?

There was a time when Kimi Raikkonen would have been disappointed to leave Belgium without a winner's trophy. This year he was happy to take fourth and a solid haul of points.

The result was the Finn's best of 2014. It was the most his ill-handing and underpowered Ferrari could muster and, crucially, saw him finish ahead of team-mate Fernando Alonso for the first time this season.

If the recovery was going to start anywhere then Spa was the natural location. In 2002 a young Raikkonen made headlines at the circuit by keeping his foot planted through a thick cloud of engine smoke along the Kemmel straight. It helped build Kimi's image as a fearless racer in the old-school mould. Four wins have followed at the track, but those few seconds in 2002 remain the most powerful symbol of Raikkonen the racing driver.

12 years on he can clearly still mix it with the best of them at Spa. Raikkonen spent the entire race towards the front of the order and put in a number of fastest laps when pushing to make his strategy work. It seemed that he had rediscovered the magic at a circuit that means something to him but, typically, Kimi sees the situation in black and white.

"The race was clean," said the Finn afterwards. "No issues like in the past, we always had something happen. At the last few races we had a better feeling, but a lot of things happened in qualifying and the races. We had some damage on the wings by getting hit by other cars, and it compromises your race because you can't run your own speed.

"The main thing is we had a clean race with no issues. We could push. There was still difficulties with the car handling-wise, but we expect that."

It is true that Raikkonen has suffered from a litany of issues this year, some of them his doing and others entirely beyond his control. So perhaps there was no great step to be made; all he needed was some clean running.

But while he had a solid day at the office Raikkonen is clearly still not operating near team-mate Alonso's level. The Spaniard was four spots ahead of him in qualifying and a full second faster over one lap, despite Kimi's obvious affinity with the Spa circuit.

Alonso's race was spoiled by his mechanics remaining on the dummy grid beyond the regulation time, earning Fernando a stop-go penalty that dropped him into the pack and left him scrapping for the lower points placings. Had he not suffered the penalty Alonso reckons he was capable of being on the podium and, given his recent performances, that seems reasonable. Raikkonen finished eight seconds behind third-place man Valtteri Bottas yesterday, but Alonso has tended to be significantly further ahead of Kimi than that.

However that is speculation; the fact is that Raikkonen scored his best result in almost 12 months and looked more like the driver we know him to be.

And this could give him a platform to build upon for next year. Ferrari boss Marco Mattiacci effectively confirmed both drivers will remain at the team for 2015 over the Belgian weekend. The official news will come at the Scuderia's home race at Monza in two weeks, but that is merely a formality; Kimi will be a Ferrari driver next year in what is likely to be his final season in F1.

His performance at Spa suggests that, given a decent car, he is still capable of scoring strong results, perhaps even taking one last victory if the stars align. He is not a spent force, but nor is he able to compete with Alonso just yet. Only when he has beaten the Spaniard in a straight fight will Kimi's return to the top be complete.