Kimi Raikkonen will be missed by Formula 1
5 December, 2009
Report by Daniel Chalmers
Seeing Kimi Raikkonen back at McLaren alongside Lewis Hamilton would have been the recipe to delight any motor racing fan. Having Hamilton as team mate would have produced the fully motivated Kimi that we all admire. McLaren would also have been more than able to get the best out of him. 69% of YallaF1.com readers recently polled wanted Raikkonen to return to the Woking team, while 81% wanted him to remain in Formula 1. 15% were in favour of him retiring, with a mere 7% of the readers polled happy with him leaving F1 to pursue his rallying passion.
Raikkonen is one of F1’s most naturally gifted and bravest drivers. He entered the F1 arena in 2001 after competing in only 23 professional races. Despite this lack of experience he made an immediate impact at Sauber, which saw him move to McLaren for 2002 after an impressive debut season.
At McLaren he was soon to become stifled in the intensely corporately correct McLaren environment. Nevertheless he spent five years with the team and was runner-up in the F1 World Championship twice, notching up nine wins in the process.
Freedom of Ferrari and a World Championship
His move to Ferrari for the 2007 season gave him greater freedom to be Raikkonen the race driver. Sure there would be sponsor commitments and the like but nothing on the scale of his McLaren obligations. He was also granted the ffreedom to try his hand out at rallying and to cap it all there was a huge bundle of cash to go with driving for the Scuderia. And he would be leaving the team with another 9 F1 wins in the bag, taking his career total to 18 wins.
Ironically Raikkonen’s arrival at Maranello ended Michael Schumacher’s driving career for the team, perhaps prematurely. Raikkonen certainly fast tracked Schumie’s exit from the cockpit, but he delivered by winning the 2007 Formula 1 World Championship title against all the odds.
Since then the relationship with the Italian team cooled as the boys in red failed to warm to the seemingly aloof and distant Finn. There was really no love between the two parties despite what they achieved together in their first year. In 2009 Ferrari delivered arguably their worst chassis in memory, the F60. The drivers struggled and increasingly the team darling Felipe Massa was quicker than Raikkonen.
Raikkonen was transformed after Massa’s accident
After Massa’s accident Raikkonen was transformed and put in some of the best drives of his career, winning Spa in the process and alone salvaging pride forFerrari while Massa’s replacements, Luca Badoer and Giancarlo Fisichella, were totally out paced by the Finn who had come to terms with the awful F60.
But the damage was done, Ferrari had Fernando Alonso in their sights for some time and as the Iceman failed to warm the hot blooded Italian squad they conspired to oust him a year before his contract was due to end. In true Kimi tradition he was totally unflustered by the hype and media mayhem surrounding the Alonso move. He held his ground and typically, in very few words, told the world he had a contract and that was that.
Shrewd move because he knew he was not wanted at Maranello and likewise did not want to be part of such an arrangement, so he held out for an agreement which paved the way for Alonso to join the team and for him to depart with a sack-load of cash.
Raikkonen’s era at Ferrari, and perhaps even Formula, is now over and one cannot help but wonder if at the end of 2010 (or earlier) Ferrari won’t look back at their Iceman age fondly – let’s face it Alonso’s volatility and susceptibility under pressure from team mates is hardly the ingredients for a placid enviornment at the Scuderia. Time will tell.
Incredible raw speed in a Formula 1 car
On his day very few could match Raikkonen’s incredible raw speed. Fans loved his aggressive style of racing, and the fact he pushed to the limit and beyond.
His record at Belgium proves how exceptional a driver he is. Spa is very much considered to be the ultimate driver’s circuit. It’s one of the few tracks that isn’t as reliant on the performance of the car. Great drivers can make a real difference to their lap time there.
Therefore the fact that Raikkonen won on four of his seven visits to the circuit demonstrated his amazing natural speed. His 2004 and 2009 Spa victories were most impressive in cars that were a long way from being the class of the field. This was a circuit where Raikkonen was in his element, and always breathtaking to watch.
Arguably Raikkonen’s best F1 victory was at Suzuka in 2005. A mixed weather qualifying session left him 17th. He was in an impossible position, and he had lost the title to Alonso at the previous race. However he still went on full attack, and produced one of the best ever comeback drives to win the race.
His brave final lap manoeuvre going around the outside of Giancarlo Fisichella was a thrilling climax to one of F1’s all time great races. It’s a race that summed up what Raikkonen is all about as a racing driver. It’s exciting moments like this that will make F1 fans miss Kimi next season.
Kimi shunned F1 politics
Another aspect of Raikkonen that many fans liked about him was the fact that he rarely got involved in F1’s politics or disputes. His championship year (2007) was the best example of this. The bitter spy gate row was taking over the sport, as was the feud between Alonso and Hamilton at McLaren. Raikkonen stayed out of it all. He just focused on what he loved doing, which was driving the wheels off his car, and deservedly snatched the championship from his rivals.
Also in a sport where many of the driver’s personalities are manufactured to meet the needs of the team’s image and sponsors Raikkonen was always himself. He also lived his life to the full away from the track (as tabloid newspapers very often showed). That’s something you don’t see much from F1 drivers these days.
What was very clear was that Raikkonen didn’t enjoy the off-track side to Formula 1. This season was particularly nasty off- track with all the politics including: lie-gate, diffuser-gate, crash-gate, and the chaos surrounding the breakaway threat. This made the sport quite tiresome to be involved in at times.
Raikkonen is also well known to hate the all the PR and sponsorship that surrounds F1. “Driving is the only thing I love about F1” remarked Kimi. He really disliked having to talk to the media and blatantly cared less about how he was preceived.
The Iceman and his dry sense of humour
Memorably for British TV viewers when asked by ex driver Martin Brundle in Brazil 2006 why he wasn’t interested in a presentation to Michael Schumacher by Pele, Raikkonen responded “I was having a sh*t”.
Wry comments like these will be missed almost as much as his driving.
So you have to wonder whether it was all these off-track aspects that pushed Kimi to see if the grass is greener in the rallying world.
Perhaps F1 needs to learn from Raikkonen’s departure becoming less political, less serious and bring more of the fun factor back, or risk losing more of F1’s star attractions in the future. Let’s remember Juan Pablo Montoya left F1 for NASCAR in 2006 after becoming disillusioned with the sport.
As it is the line-up of drivers is still very strong without Raikkonen. We are lucky to have plenty of talent in F1 at the moment with the likes of: Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Kubica, Massa, Button, and Rosberg amongst others.
This may soften the blow of Raikkonen’s departure but he will be missed for his down to earth and no nonsense approach to Formula 1. Perhaps this is what makes him so liked by a large sector of F1 fans: he is not a PR machine out to get mega media mileage and flash his pearly whites at the camera. He is simply a very fast racing driver and that is what people see in his demeanour – and love about him.
The question that fans will be asking is will Kimi Raikkonen return in 2011?
The problem will persist that teams will still not be willing to offer him the wage he has been demanding. He will have to lower his salary expectations if he is to join a top team in 2011. The other question will be whether a top team will have a free seat for him. Most of the top teams have drivers signed on long-term contracts now.
Webber’s seat at Red Bull, and the second seat at Mercedes could potentially be vacant in 2011.
Although who is to say that Raikkonen will want to come back to F1? If he is enjoying his new challenge in WRC then he may well want to stay and continue there. Would F1’s frontrunners take a risk on a driver who has been out of the sport for a season?
What is certain though is that Formula 1’s loss is a huge gain for the World Rally Championship.
Good luck Kimi!!