Top 20 Greatest F1 Racers: Kimi Räikkönen
One of the most anticipated things for me when the 2012 season rolled around was the return of the Ice Man – perhaps one of the most interesting characters in present-day F1. Let’s just admit it: there haven’t really been many characters recently, barring of course Sebastian Vettel and his finger. For the most of it, the F1 racers of today are strait-laced, focused on the task at hand, engaged with the business of racing and winning.
But Kimi Räikkönen? There can be no one like Kimi Räikkönen. He brings the sheen to F1, the moments that make us laugh till our sides hurt – even when we are at a crucial turning point in a race. He’s the racer who can make the best of them sweat, the playboy who truly lives the life, the prankster with a hidden sense of humour, a man who believes in monosyllables, and for saying it like it is. Like the time Martin Brundle asked him if he would get over missing a special F1 presentation by Pele. Pat came the reply, “I was having a shit.”
It isn’t just his swift one-liners that make the Ice Man a character we all love. It’s also this intense love affair he has with his car during a race, focused and determined. The Finn’s romance with speed started when he was 3 years old and soon turned into a passion. His debut in 2001 for Sauber came under a cloud of speculation. He had won seven out of 10 races at the Formula Renault UK Championship the previous year. It was enough to impress Peter Sauber who allowed him to test for the F1 team and then signed him on. Max Mosley, the then-FIA president was concerned. Kimi was inexperienced with only 23 races to his name. The Finn did manage to get his license, but only after Peter Sauber made a performance delivery promise. Kimi stunned nay-sayers by scoring a championship point in his debut race at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix. He ended the year with 9 points and helped the team secure a 4th place in the Constructors’ Championship. The Ice Man had arrived. He scored his first podium finish the following year with McLaren, gathering up 4 podiums and 24 points, holding on to a 3rd place for his team at the Constructors’. But McLaren proved to be a tough nut to crack.
Kimi struggled through the five years he was with the team – his talent undisputed, but the Championship out of reach. The 2003 season ended with Michael Schumacher taking the crown of champion – a close finish if there ever was one. Kimi had narrowed the gap to 91 points, with Schumacher scoring 93 points to win the Drivers Championship. It was a tough season and the Ice Man proved his mettle: he may have had 3 retirements, but he also had 10 podium finishes to his name. It almost seemed like the Ice Man would give Ferrari and Michael Schumacher a run for their money.
But it wasn’t to be. We were well into the 2004 season and the points gave away the whole story. Schumacher had collected 60 points to Kimi’s lonesome 1 championship point. As the season continued and McLaren brought out its new MP4-19B, Kimi’s chances picked up. However, the car’s troubles did not end, nor did his bad luck, whether it was electronic issues at Monza or a first-lap shunt in Japan. He ended the season 7th in the championship. Would his luck ever change?
It did, with Ferrari. Michael Schumacher was retiring and Ferrari signed on Kimi Räikkönen to take his place. The change came like a breath of fresh air for the Finn’s career. The tumultuous 2007 season began with a bang, as Kimi grabbed the pole position, the fastest lap and the win. It was an incredible start for a driver who had been struggling with form and his car. The year ended with Kimi being crowned the champion. It was long in coming, yet, it was shrouded in controversy. There was the very real possibility of a race reclassification. If it went through, the Ice Man would lose his crown. But the FIA confirmed Kimi’s championship win later in the year. The Ice Man however, was never able to replicate that win the following two years, scoring a 3rd in the Championship in 2008 and a dismal 6th in 2009, finally announcing his retirement.
A large part of me watched Kimi leave with great sadness. Here was a racer with verve and zest, who lived for racing and nothing else. His return in 2012 has been nothing short of a classic Kimi move. Right from complaining about the blue flags at the Australian Grand Prix, sending chocolate ice cream bars to the press at Sepang, grumpily telling his team to leave him alone at Abu Dhabi as he drove to a podium finish, and then of course, going off-track at the final race of the season in Brazil. In all this, he managed to weave his way into the championship, becoming a contender and then ending 3rd.