Kimi Raikkonen: Assessing F1 Star's Past and Future on His 34th Birthday
Kimi Raikkonen turned 34 on Thursday, and it’s fair to say that he’s given Formula One fans a lot to talk about since he burst onto the scene with Sauber back in 2001.
Although he’s now one of F1’s elder statesmen in terms of the average grid age, Raikkonen still has plenty more in the tank as he winds down his spell at Lotus in preparation for a return to Ferrari in 2014.
His daredevil driving style, laid-back persona and wicked indifference to press duties make him one of the most popular drivers on the F1 grid.
So without further ado, here are some of the many highlights of the “Ice Man’s” career to date.
2001: A Sleepy Start with Sauber
With only 23 car races under his belt, Raikkonen was granted an F1 Super Licence to drive for Sauber for the 2001 season after impressing in three separate test sessions.
You would have thought that the young Finn would be a bundle of nervous energy before his F1 debut in Melbourne, but he was still asleep only 20 minutes before the start of the race according to Ferrari's official profile page of the Finn.
He went on to score a point and achieved several more points finishes, including four in the top eight, as Sauber achieved a high of fourth in the constructors’ standings.
The McLaren Years: So Near Yet So Far
Raikkonen’s impressive debut season with Sauber led to Ron Dennis wasting no time in snapping up the talented youngster for McLaren, where he enjoyed five successful seasons.
The Finn won his first race for the team in Malaysia in 2003, and nine further podiums meant he finished second in the title to Michael Schumacher.
The 2004 season was marred by reliability issues, but he came close to winning the title the following year, with seven race wins and five podiums, before Fernando Alonso’s greater consistency finally won out.
It would be as close as he would come to winning the title with McLaren, and after a less competitive season in 2006, he signed to drive for Ferrari.
2007: A Champion at Last
Raikkonen’s debut for Ferrari couldn’t have gone much better, as he won his first time out in Australia. But he would not win again until the eighth race of the season in France, following it up with victory in Germany.
By this stage, however, the warring McLaren teammates Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton were ahead of him in the title race, the latter 18 points clear.
Despite victory in Belgium, Raikkonen remained 13 points behind Hamilton and 11 behind Alonso with three rounds remaining, and it looked as if the title would go to one of the McLaren teammates.
But disaster struck for Hamilton in China, as he retired in the pit lane gravel trap as Raikkonen took victory ahead of Alonso, and the Finn took full advantage to win again in Brazil to clinch his first drivers’ title by a single point from Hamilton, who could only manage seventh.
Raikkonen suffered something of a championship hangover the following year, as Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa was edged out of the title by Hamilton, again by a single point.
Following a disappointing 2009 season, Ferrari announced that Raikkonen would be leaving the team to be replaced by Fernando Alonso, and the Finn's career then moved in a different direction.
2010-11: Raikkonen Rallies
Having made his WRC debut in the middle of the 2009 F1 season during the Rally Finland, Raikkonen switched to the series full time in 2010 for the Citroen Junior Team, driving a C4 WRC.
He scored his first WRC points with an eighth-place finish at the Jordan Rally and his first Rally win at the non-WRC Rallye Vosgien.
For 2011, Raikkonen entered his own team, ICE 1 Racing, driving a Citroen DS3 WRC and scored 34 points en route to 10th in the championship.
Where to Next?
More than one team was interested in acquiring the services of Kimi Raikkonen for the 2012 season, but who would he sign for and what would be the deciding factor?
2012-13: A Return to F1 with Lotus
With Lotus having announced Raikkonen had signed a two-year contract to drive for them in 2012, some doubted that Raikkonen would still be up for the F1 challenge, but he was immediately on the pace, finishing second in Bahrain and third in Spain.
Raikkonen would stand on the podium four further times before a memorable Abu Dhabi Grand Prix saw the Finn emerge victorious once again—but not before telling his team in no uncertain terms over the radio to leave him alone to concentrate on his job of driving. It became one of the most memorable moments of the season.
Raikkonen began 2013 with a bang, winning the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. Following second places in China, Bahrain and Spain, it looked as if Raikkonen would mount a serious title challenge, but it soon became clear that Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull was in a class of its own.
Further second-place finishes at Germany, Hungary and Korea mean Raikkonen is currently third in the drivers’ standings, 30 points adrift of Fernando Alonso.
2014: A Return to Ferrari
On September 11, it was announced that Raikkonen would join Fernando Alonso, the man who replaced him at Ferrari in 2010, to form one of the strongest driver pairings on the F1 grid.
It remains to be seen whether Raikkonen will have a destabilizing effect on Alonso, who is known to like the comfort of being the leader in a team built around his title ambitions.
It’s certainly going to be interesting.
Perhaps more than any other driver in the modern era, Kimi Raikkonen has provided us with some of the funniest television moments, whether deliberate or not.
Type “Raikkonen funny” into YouTube and you will get numerous of results of some classic moments from the Finn.
Some of my personal favourites include Raikkonen falling off a boat, possibly after one drink too many, and the Finn being kidnapped into signing a contract.
Here’s a little taste of why Raikkonen has made the life of many an F1 fan so much fun over the years.