A beloved and iconic figure on the F1 circuit for years, Kimi Räikkönen drives his last Formula 1 Grand Prix in the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. ATRL’s Aino Ylitalo take a look at his career and just what the Iceman meant for so many.
The day that we all were dreading finally came. Kimi Räikkönen announced his retirement from F1 on the 1st of September. His career has gone through many phases. During his time, he has seen over a hundred drivers pass through the doors of F1. From almost not being able to test in F1 to being Mika Häkkinen’s apprentice to later winning a world championship and having the most GP starts in the history of Formula 1, Räikkönen sure has had one of the most exciting and longest careers in Formula 1.
Start to the life-long journey of racing
According to Kimi’s mother, he was a quiet kid. His first words didn’t come until he was closer to 3 years old. But he always needed speed and started running off as soon as he could walk. Now almost 40 years later, his name, Kimi-Matias’ name, has been chopped in half, and he only goes by Kimi. Not everything has changed though, he still doesn’t like to talk and has traded running around for driving a Formula 1 car.
He was initially supposed to be a car mechanic, but he wanted to drive fast. Thanks to his parents, that came true, but it had a cost to Kimi. He never wanted to be famous. To him, that was the price to pay for his dream.
With only a handful of Grand Prix starts to his name and a letter from the Finnish motorsport association assuring the FIA of Kimi’s talent, he got the all-clear to do his first F1 test with Sauber in 2000. And after a remarkable test impressing the team principal Peter Sauber and the world champion Michael Schumacher, he got the Sauber seat alongside the German driver Nick Heidfeld.
Pre-Sauber test Kimi had had a strong karting career; he had won the 1998 Nordic karting championship in Norway. In 1999 Kimi placed second in the European Super A championship and competed in the Formula Ford Euro Cup. He also won the British Formula Renault winter series in that same year. In addition to his run in Formula Renault in 2000, Kimi had a win rate of 56%.
Let the racing speak for itself
Despite even the FIA’s doubts about Kimi’s racing abilities, he proved everyone wrong, just in the first race. He finished the 2001 Albert Park Grand Prix in Melbourne in P7, just outside the points. Luck was on Kimi’s side, he had not only started from P13 and finished P7, but due to another driver’s penalty during the race, his position moved to P6. That penalty earned Kimi his first point during his first GP.
The rest of the year at Sauber was quiet, at least compared to what was to come in the future. Kimi still finished as a strong P10, with then career-best P4s at the Austrian and Canadian Grands Prix. He finished with 9 points overall with 7 retirements, which suggests that Kimi would’ve finished higher in the championship with fewer retirements. As the double world champion, Mika Häkkinen was retiring from Formula 1. He said to the then team boss Ron Dennis. “If you want to win, get the Finn,” which is believed to be one of the factors in McLaren signing Kimi on for 2002.
Kimi spent 5 years with the British team, from 2002 to 2006. His best results in the championship were two P2s in 2003 and 2005. Magazines even referred to young Räikkönen as Michael’s worst nightmare. Retirements might have cursed his time with McLaren, but it did bring the Finn 11 pole positions, 17 fastest laps, 27 podiums, and 9 stunning victories. What ultimately always seemed to stop Kimi’s title fight was the car’s reliability issues. The McLaren-Mercedes was very quick but was riddled with technical difficulties. Luckily, the best was yet to come.
“In Kimi, I sometimes almost recognise myself, as I was at the start of my own Formula 1 career.”
– Mika Häkkinen, two-time World Champion
His former race engineer Mark Slade, from his McLaren and Lotus years, said that Kimi had little to no issues in his first years. The only one was that he felt the need to go faster than the provisional pole-sitter during qualifying, which resulted in him pushing too hard and crashing. McLaren avoided this issue by not allowing Kimi to watch qualifying when it was happening. So when he was ‘banned’ from watching qualifying in the garage, and he just could drive to the best of his ability, all the crashing problems stopped.
Kimi’s years with Ferrari had a good start, winning the championship in the first year (more on that later). He had strong years with the Italian Scuderia, finishing P3 in 2008, losing only to teammate Felipe Massa and the McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton. In 2009 Räikkönen finished P6 in the standings, well above his teammate Massa, who got injured in the Hungarian GP. Kimi also recorded the Scuderia’s only victory of the season in the Belgian Grand Prix. His career with Ferrari ended the first time after 2009 after Santander bought his seat for the Spaniard Fernando Alonso, despite Kimi’s contract ending in 2010.
After that, Kimi took a sabbatical from F1 and focused on rallying with a few NASCAR races. In 2010 Kimi was the first F1 driver to get points in the World Rally series since Carlos Reutemann. He ended up earning 25 points, also winning the Rookie of the year prize. In 2011, he founded a Rally team, and with a few strong points finishes, he got up to P10 in the standings. Ultimately, he ended his rally career there, returning to F1 with the Lotus team.
Räikkönen raced with the British team for 2012 and 2013, earning them a handful of podiums and even 2 victories in the 2012 Abu Dhabi GP and the 2013 Australian GP. Lotus ended up going bankrupt due to the intense expenses of F1 and had to pay Räikkönen his salary for the 2013 season a year later.
From 2014 through 2018, Kimi returned to Ferrari in a clear 2nd driver position. He spent most of those years as the 4-time world champion Sebastian Vettel’s teammate. His second stint at Ferrari brought him a handful of podiums and fastest laps, helping secure him third place on the all-time surpassing Alain Prost. His last year with the Italian outfit was one of his best. He got an incredible pole position in Monza and came first to the chequered flag in the American GP for the final win of his career.
For 2019 forward, Kimi returned to his roots, the Sauber team being rebranded as Alfa Romeo, driving beside the Italian Antonio Giovinazzi. Rumors for Kimi’s retirement swirled around over the past year, and on the 1st of September, he announced that the 2021 season would be his last in F1.
Behind the Iceman’s lid
Räikkönen’s social media presence consists mainly of blunt comments to the media, funny radio messages, and occasional family pictures. Many people don’t know who he is, and even race winner Daniel Ricciardo says that despite having raced with Kimi on the grid for a decade, he knows very little about his colleague.
Kimi is known for keeping to himself and having only a few friends in the paddock. He has had very few altercations with the media because he never addresses any drama. For example, Räikkönen received comments about his drinking and partying; the Finn simply replied that it doesn’t affect his results, so his private life doesn’t matter.
Most Finnish racing drivers have had the nickname “the Flying Finn,” however, Kimi is very famously known for his nickname “The Iceman.” Former McLaren team boss Ron Dennis gifted him the nickname due to his calm and cold behavior, and it stuck with him even after leaving McLaren.
2007, The year of glory
The 2007 F1 season is mainly known for the fierce rivalry between Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton and the Spygate incident between McLaren and Ferrari. The outcome of the investigation disqualified McLaren from the constructors’ championship, automatically making Ferrari the champions that year.
Kimi ended up winning the drivers’ championship by only one point from Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton failed to make a point to finish in the last Grand Prix, while Räikkönen took home a victory. While he benefited from both Lewis’ and Fernando’s misfortune, his fight throughout the season proved he deserved this victory. Räikkönen took home the most wins and fastest laps during the season, both being six, with a handful of podiums.
“If you want to win, get the Finn.”
– Mika Häkkinen, two-time World Champion, referring to Räikkönen
While Ferrari has competed for championships after that, the Iceman is still the last driver’s champion for the Italian team.
There is no denying the impact Kimi has had on motorsport. He is the F1 driver with the most GP starts and has driven the longest distance. It makes sense that people would grow attached to the man over two decades.
Finnish people have celebrated Kimi like no other. Räikkönen became the winningest driver for us after COTA 2018 when he won his 21st Grand Prix, surpassing the great Mika Häkkinen.
A lot of kids now growing up in karting and single-seaters have spent their entire childhood looking up to the Iceman. He has been their idol with his quick pace and clean driving. He has proved that you can get good results despite your age, first in 2001 and now in the 2020s.
Kimi Räikkönen has gone from the inexperienced rookie that everyone doubted to one of the most respected and successful drivers with the longest career in the whole of F1’s history. And his legacy and mark in F1 and the whole of motorsport will no doubt be massive.
So thank you for everything Iceman, we will miss you and wish you a great retirement with your family. You have inspired so many of us and glued our eyes to the screen, trying to watch your incredible racing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
My earliest memories of F1 were the Sundays I spent searching for the red Ferrari of Kimi Räikkönen. I guess you could say I was one of the kids Enzo Ferrari used to talk about. The ones who always drew a red car.
I’m currently a student hoping to focus on management & media in the future. Outside of motorsport I take interest in watches and music.
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