The Iceman, the Icon: The phenomenon of Kimi Raikkonen
Apart from Kimi Raikkonen, no other driver contesting on the grand stage of Formula One has ever secured a racing license from the FIA with just 23 prior races under his belt. Known for his constant cool demeanour and hiding aces up his sleeve, Raikkonen's cult persona precedes him wherever he goes.
Raikkonen, or the Iceman as he is popularly known, debuted with the German-Malaysian Sauber-Petronas team way back in 2001. He had previously found success in the Karting Championships and Renault 2000. With a slew of impressive performances and an amazingly calm and mature mien, several said that Raikkonen was destined for greatness.
Now into his 14th Formula One season, Raikkonen hasn't let the critics get the better of him despite disappointments. He may not be the Iceman of the glory days of 2007, where Kimi was not just Maranello's poster boy for winning the FIA World Championship by a margin as narrow as a single point, but even today, his presence continues to fill stands and fans cheer slogans of "Go Kimi" in undying support of their idol.
Ice-cold and laid back, with pithy responses to the media that can't get enough of him, Raikkonen is known for his commanding presence that eases Formula One's immensely competitive air. His presence as one of the most authentic characters on the circuit is a pleasant reminder that not all is not contrived and unconvincing about Formula One's extremely commercial and superficial world.
Raikkonen will soon be 36, and is already the oldest driver on the grid. At a time when young guns like Daniil Kvyat of Infiniti Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso's Max Verstappen are occupying F1 headlines, Kimi's nonchalant presence continues to make headlines.
He may not be a master of qualifying, a concern that has caused many a headache for Ferrari Team Principal Arrivabene as well as Kimi himself. He continues to have stiff problems that persist in the 2015 season, but on race day, Raikkonen transforms himself into something else entirely.
He lifts his game up to power with impressive speeds in the Ferrari, a phenomenon that has enabled the Finn to gather 1 podium and two 4th place finishes already this year, a vast improvement from a hugely disappointing 2014 season, where he had no podium spots or pole positions, setting only one fastest lap, at Monaco. In a significant step up since, he already has set the fastest laps at Canada and Bahrain this year.
To understand Kimi Raikkonen, the way he is, why he is so loved and just what makes him the unperturbed and carefree star of F1 that we know, it is important to look beyond adjectives and stare deep into some statistics.
A great stint with McLaren
Raikkonen first caught the attention of F1 legend Ron Dennis, who brought him into McLaren for the 2002 season. He was awestruck by the young Finn's blitzy speed during a 3-day test practice done specifically to recruit a younger driver.
Not many would have guessed that Raikkonen would replace the original Flying Finn, Mika Hakkinen, who was set to leave the popular race outfit at the end of 2001. After just a single year at Sauber where he impressed, if not amazed during his debut race at Australia, Raikkonen and McLaren would go on to forge a rewarding partnership, that gave worldwide fans its new racing star from Finland.
Raikkonen stayed with McLaren for 5 years from 2002 to 2006, a period during which he transformed from being a shy and reserved racer into becoming a supremely fast speedster.
By securing a podium in his very first race with team Mclaren, Kimi would go onto reward Dennis' faith in his rookie driver. The world took notice of this event at Australia in 2002 as did Raikkonen’s nervous contemporaries, some of whom still cannot beat him in raw pace out there.
He finished as the runner up with McLaren in 2003 and 2005 despite not having the best car at his disposal in the latter season.
His amazing technical skill not just impressed Michael Schumacher, but reminded Fernando Alonso that he would now have to contest with a man who could not be taken lightly in the upcoming years. Raikkonen excelled at Japan in 2005 in what many call the most amazing Kimi Raikkonen moment in F1.
He started 17th on the grid at Suzuka, now also known as the ill-fated circuit that brought down the curtains on Jules Bianchi's young and short-lived career and, by the time it was the final lap, he went on to overtake Giancharlo Fisichella on turn 1 in what became an extraordinary racing spectacle, acing his McLaren towards the chequered flag.
Even though he failed to impress at circuits like Singapore, where he first contested in its inaugural race in 2008, at the United States or Korea, he reserved his best for topsy-turvy circuits, securing glory during difficult conditions whilst making his name synonymous with speed.
Some of his best race performances came at Monaco in 2005 and at the 2008 Turkish Grand Prix, which Raikkonen claimed in clinical fashion. He was fastest at Silverstone during the McLaren years, and would ring in more recognition for his exploits at Hungaroring and Suzuka, two of the most grueling tests for any racers' caliber. He still holds the world record for the fastest ever lap at the Japanese circuit, a feat he achieved at the track in 2005.
Raikkonen's greatest successes of all time have come at the deceptive but equally beautiful circuit of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium with 4 overall wins, 2 each with McLaren and Ferrari.