Mysterious, Enigmatic

Finland has had quite a history in Formula One, especially considering their population of under 5.5 million.It may have never hosted a Grand Prix, and has produced just eight drivers good enough to make the grade in 61 years, but three of those have been world champions. All distant in emotion and none being too forthright in their opinion, one man stands out from the others.

Formative years

He partnered German Nick Heidfeld in a promising opening season

September 2000 had The Iceman out on track in his first F1 test. Swiss Peter Sauber, owner of the Sauber team, later that year decided to give him further test outings at the race circuits in Jerez and Barcelona, two tracks which have been testing favourites with teams over the years. Kimi was granted a race seat with Sauber for the 2001 season. This was something which some were critical about, pointing towards his lack of experience in single-seater race cars. At that point in his career, he had completed just 23 races, a total which many racing can get near or even pass in just a single season. After planting his mid-grid Sauber in a decent 13th in qualifying, no one was expecting much. On the Sunday morning of the race as the crowd waited with bated breath, engineers up and down the pitlane were preparing their cars in the garage. Drivers were entering their pre-race rituals, while one was stuck in a slumber. With just 30 minutes to go before the first race of the season, the Finn was found asleep. Whether he had a good or bad time in another land remains unknown, but he did bring the car home in 6th place, securing a point on his debut. In an event which saw many retirements,  he finished just two places behind his team-mate Nick Heidfeld, who had a season’s F1 experience behind him. Raikkonen finished the season in a good position, after a 5th-placed finish in Britain and two 4th-place finishes in Austria and Canada. With fellow Finn Mika Hakkinen taking a year off to assess his future, McLaren needed a replacement and it was for 2002 where they signed Raikkonen up.

McLaren

A hit in terms of results

2002 saw yet further progress. In what was seeming to be a favoured race-track, he got his first podium of his career. In a year which was swept aside by Ferrari, McLaren suffered many engine failures. In the races they did finish, four podium places were the prize for the man who was rapidly becoming the sport’s new star. The team produced a car which was sufficient challenge for the championship in 2003 and it was with Raikkonen that they did. A 3rd place and the first victory of his career came in his first two races of 2003. Round three of the season, the Brazilian GP, had Raikkonen initially as the winner, but this was proved to be wrong as a week following the race’s conclusion, it was discovered that an error in the rules had been found, which handed victory to Jordan’s Giancarlo Fisichella.

A late victory for Fisichella meant Raikkonen was left with 2nd place

Over the next few races, picking up some 2nd places, as well as missing out on valuable hauls of championship points due to an unreliable car, it was clear that the man was a championship contender. Something which was all the more remarkable considering his team were using a modified version of the previous year’s car. More wins awaited him in the year but also more breakdowns.  He ended the season finishing 2nd to champion Michael Schumacher, who had just won a record seventh world title.

The following season was a non-event in comparison. The Iceman achieved just four podiums, with one win among them as Ferrari  and Michael Schumacher yet again claimed the championship, though this time in much more striking fashion than 2003’s close fight. 2005 was another possible year where a title could be brought back to Finland. In the opening three races, he had only a single podium to show as Renault and Fernando Alonso began to show themselves as the new boys to beat. Raikkonen was about to fight back and show that while form may be temporary, class is permanent.

Alonso started '05 in fine form

Back-to-back race victories in Monaco and Canada, as well as podiums in France and Britain, had Kimi right in the hunt in the middle of the season. Wins were forthcoming again in the Hungarian and Turkish Grand Prix, but even a highly-impressive run of form, four podiums in the final four races, was not enough to catch the winner Alonso, who became Spain’s first Formula One World Champion.

2006 was a season in which little transpired, McLaren were not fast enough to challenge the top two teams of Renault and Ferrari and Raikkonen finished the season in October without winning a race, although acquiring some podiums. It was a downward note to end his time at McLaren as following the Italian GP in September of that year, Michael Schumacher announced his retirement, with Ferrari taking this as the queue to also announce to the public at their home race, that Raikkonen was to be a Ferrari driver from 2007 onwards.

Pleased to join the Italians

The high table

In a move which made the Finn the highest-earner in the sport according to reports, the cold, stiff Raikkonen said he was happy with the change of teams. His happiness was to be increased as he took the hat-trick of an F1 race, that being pole position, race win and fastest lap of the race. He became the first Ferrari driver since Mansell in ’89 to win on his debut outing for Ferrari.

The next two races had Kimi on the podium both times, but a series of car failures and incidents saw a retirement and lowly 8th-placed finish at the Spanish and Monaco Grand Prix respectively. Points finishes in the succeeding two races and consecutive wins in France and Britain were allowing fans to think perhaps it could be their year. Despite the McLarens being the quicker car,Raikkonen was showing omnious form.

This was to come to a brief halt due to a retirement in the European GP, but redemption was successfully sought with two podiums at the next two races. Three podiums in a row, including victory in Belgium, was good form yet he was still 17 points behind, as the season had just two races left and only a possible 20 points up for grabs.

In the penultimate race in China, rain was falling and the drivers were on intermediate tyres, tyres which are used in conditions where it is wet but not heavily so. As the track began to dry, leading man Lewis Hamilton began to lose grip on a track which was drying and could no longer accept intermediates as a right choice. Despite the track having reached the point in which dry tyres were the way to go some laps earlier, McLaren decided to keep Hamilton out until his scheduled pit-stop which was upcoming. On lap 31, Hamilton came into the pitlane, but on tyres which had severe wear, he slid into the gravel and frantic efforts from both himself and track marshalls to push the car out. At a race where a 5th-place finish would escure a first world title,  he failed to finish while Raikkonen won and set up an intriguing final race in Brazil in which any of Raikkonen, Hamilton and Alonso could claim the championship.

A desolate driver stands powerlessly out of his element

At Sao Paulo, in the early part of the race, Hamilton’s McLaren began to slow, struggling to find correct gears. He was dropped 12 places, from 6th to 18th in the space of the 30 seconds in which he had the problem. Despite a highly-charged fightback, Kimi Raikkonen won the race with Hamilton only finishing seventh and Alonso third. The man who had been ruled out by everyone with two races left, had done the unthinkable and came back to win  the championship. While he finished the winner by just one point, he had won more races than any other driver in ’07, with six to Hamilton and Alonso’s 4.

The elusive championship eluded him no more

Given up

The final two years of his Ferrari tenure were to be less fruitful as he seemed to grow increasingly bored and fall out of love with the sport. 2008 was the year in which a Ferrari driver went up against Lewis Hamilton for winner of the championship, but the Ferrari driver was Raikkonen’s team-mate, Felipe Massa. Kimi scored just two wins, and despite a number of podiums, was never seriously in contention. ’09 saw a serious shadow of the man. In a poor season for the team, he did score a number of podiums which including a victory, but it was evident that time was rapidly running out. By season’s end, his contract was terminated by the team. Efforts were made by McLaren, Mercedes and Toyota to sign the Finn, but they ultimately all failed. With no avenues left to run down, he left the sport and entered rally driving for the next two years.

Fed up, he walked out

The biggest character

Raikkonen has often been criticised by team members for a lack of emotion, a lack of caring. Often guilty of switching off too easily, many wonder what could have happened with the man if he had tried more.  The lacking attitude is something which his former Ferrari race engineer Chris Dyer refuted:

“He tends not to be distracted by what else is going on and he focuses on the job we are doing. It is very much a perception from the outside that he isn’t focused – we don’t see that. When he’s in the car, briefings, debriefings, he’s always on the job and very focused.”

Former McLaren team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya said that the man had never been one to be loud, or particularly friendly:

“I remember that Ron (Dennis, team boss) loved him! He was very fast but he drove the car in a very different way from mine…Off the track we never talked too much really – he was always very quiet. We never had any controversy or anything. “

Perhaps the best quote to sum up the man though, comes from his manager:

““I remember reading a book about how to stop worrying and start living and I thought after I had known Kimi for a very short time that he could have written that book himself. It just comes naturally to him.”

The playboy in the act

In 2005, he was caught in a lap-dancing club in London where he exposed himself and made headlines for the wrong reasons. The manager of the establishment, said in surprise:

“I thought I’d seen most things in the lap dancing game but when I saw one of the world’s top racing drivers sprawled there with his trousers undone I couldn’t believe it.”

At the season-ending 2006 race in Brazil, ITV’s Martin Brundle asked Kimi if he was sorry he had missed a trophy presentation by Pelé to the retiring Michael Schumacher which had just taken place on the track. Live on television at evening time in the UK to millions of viewers around the globe, the Iceman replied:

“I think I’ll get over it. I was having a shit!”

The comment has made him infamous even amongst those who do not follow the sport and merely wish to see the highly-viewed clip on video-sharing website Youtube.

In 2009 at the Malaysian GP, the race had been stopped due to heavy rain. While most drivers were out on the grid with their team members in case of a restart to the race, Kimi was viewed on television, back in the Ferrari garage, calmly eating an ice-cream whilst out of his racing overalls.

Taking it easy

A number of days before his Ferrari debut and in relaxed mood, he entered a fancy-dress contest in a gorilla suit under the name of former F1 driver and playboy-alike James Hunt.

Often up to the unexpected

One of the best

With 18 wins, 16 pole positions, and sitting third in the all-time fastest laps table, Kimi Raikkonen has a return to the sport in 2012 as driver for the Lotus-Renault team. While race wins may not be expected for a team which in 2010 were unspectacular, it can be sure to be full of excitement as one of the most popular drivers lines up on the grid in Melbourne to begin his eagerly-awaited comeback.

Ready with Lotus-Renault for 2012

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