WORDS: ELLIOTT HUGHES | PHOTOGRAPHY: ferrari, mclaren and alfa romeo
Who’d have thought in the early 2000s that the famously apathetic Iceman would become the most experienced driver of all time, with a career that spanned 18 seasons across 20 years? And what a ride it’s been: Räikkönen has driven through three generations of engine for four different teams on his way to securing one World Championship, 21 victories, 103 podiums, 46 fastest laps and 18 pole positions from 353 races.
But all good things must come to an end, so it’s time to bid the 2007 Champion a fond farewell as we mark the end of an era. We’ve whittled down ten of our favourite moments from Kimi’s career to celebrate the end of the flying Finn’s long tenure at the pinnacle of motor sport.
10. Debuting with a P6 finish in Melbourne, 2001
Räikkönen’s F1 debut for Sauber in 2001 was met with criticism from many of the sport’s most influential figures; most notably, FIA president Max Mosley. The reason? Young Räikkönen had just 23 car races under his belt at the time, but thankfully he was granted an FIA Super Licence despite his relative lack of experience.
Not that the criticism seemed to bother the phlegmatic Räikkönen, who was found sleeping shortly before the start of the race by bewildered Sauber personnel. Once awake, the enigmatic Finn immediately silenced his critics by dragging his lowly Sauber to P6 at the chequered flag, adding three further points finishes by the end of the season. Räikkönen’s performances helped Sauber to finish fourth in the 2001 Constructors’ Championship – the best in the team’s history at the time.
9. Malaysia 2003: Win one of 21
Räikkönen’s blistering pace in his rookie year caught the attention of McLaren team boss Ron Dennis, who would later christen Räikkönen as ‘The Iceman’. Dennis went as far as to buy Sauber a wind tunnel and new trucks to buy the Finn out of his contract for 2002, but his decision didn’t take long to pay off.
Kimi secured his first victory for the Woking-based squad in the heat of the Malaysian Grand Prix from seventh on the grid in his second year as a McLaren driver. He went on to finish the 2003 season with ten podium finishes, just two points behind the indomitable Michael Schumacher.
8. Spa 2004: The King of Spa
McLaren-Mercedes was stricken by terrible reliability for the majority of Räikkönen’s five-year spell with the team. Kimi suffered ten retirements in his first season at Woking, and 2004 wasn’t much better as engine reliability problems contributed to another eight DNFs. Ferrari, on the other hand, were unstoppable. Schumacher tallied a record-breaking 13 victories that year, with China, Brazil and Monaco being the only races in which the German failed to finish on the podium.
Kimi broke up the monotony of Ferrari domination by putting in a scintillating performance at Spa Francorchamps, in what was one of the best drives of his career. Räikkönen started the race in P10 but shot up the order to P5 by avoiding a four-car pile-up in the first corner. The Iceman then caught Schumacher napping at the safety car restart and overtook him for P4 as they plunged down towards Eau Rouge and Radillon.
Schumacher and Barrichello then applied relentless pressure from second and third for the remainder of the race, but the unflappable Finn resisted the Ferrari onslaught and finished three seconds ahead of Schumacher to take the first of his four career wins in Belgium. Spa was Räikkönen’s best track, and his four victories at the circuit are second only to Michael Schumacher. He was dubbed by fans as ‘The King of Spa’ as a result.
7. Japan 2005: The drive of an F1 legend
Räikkönen’s drive at Suzuka in 2005 is now etched into F1 folklore as one of the greatest of all time. After a rain-sodden qualifying delivered a topsy-turvy grid, Kimi started from a lowly 17th ahead of teammate Juan-Pablo Montoya and behind the Ferrari of Schumacher and the Renault of Fernando Alonso.
Montoya ploughed into the barrier at the end of the first lap after a collision with Jacques Villeneuve, bringing out the safety car. Raikkonen, Schumacher and Alonso then proceeded to fight their way up the order, and Alonso produced one of the overtakes of the century by sweeping around the outside of Schumacher’s Ferrari at 130R.
But Räikkönen would become the star of the race. As drivers ahead of him made their final pit stops, he found himself in second place behind Giancarlo Fisichella in the closing stages. Fisichella was known to be adept at defending his position, and held off Räikkönen’s move into the final chicane on the penultimate lap.
Räikkönen was unperturbed, and ruthlessly streaked his McLaren around the outside of the Italian’s Renault at the first corner of the final lap. He went on to win one of the most exciting races in Formula 1 history.
6. Monaco and Brazil 2006
We wanted to resist the need to talk about Räikkönen’s off-track moments, as they often take the limelight away from his jaw-dropping performances behind the wheel. That said, it’s almost impossible to pay tribute to him without talking about at least a couple of them – and two incidents came in the Finn’s final year with McLaren in 2006.
The first was at Monaco, where The Iceman was once again let down by his car when a heat shield caught fire on lap 50, burning through his wiring loom and cutting power to the engine. Clearly disillusioned by his latest bout of unreliability, Kimi opted to return to his yacht still dressed in his race suit and helmet rather than sit through a debrief with his team.
Brazil provided another of Kimi’s trademark moments when he was asked by Martin Brundle if he would “get over” missing Schumacher’s retirement presentation by Pelé. “Yeah, I was having a s***,” came the reply.
7. Winning the 2007 World Championship
The 2007 Formula 1 season has gone down as one of the most controversial and dramatic years in the history of the sport. Michael Schumacher’s retirement at the end of 2006 culminated in a slew of driver changes across the top teams for 2007. Räikkönen filled Schumacher’s vacant seat at Ferrari and teamed up with Felipe Massa, while Fernando Alonso vacated his Renault seat and replaced Kimi at McLaren as the supposed number one driver alongside rookie Lewis Hamilton.
McLaren and Ferrari’s cars proved to be equally matched as the season got underway, but McLaren became the architect of its own downfall as the team became embroiled in the ‘Spygate Scandal’ and the fractious relationship that developed between its drivers.
The Spygate saga resulted in McLaren being thrown out of the Constructors’ Championship and slapped with a record $100 million fine. Even so, McLaren could still take the Drivers’ title and were the favourites to do so, as both their drivers led from Räikkönen at the top of the standings heading into the final round in Brazil.
Räikkönen’s tally of 100 points meant he had to win the race with championship leader Hamilton finishing sixth or lower and Alonso finishing third or lower to take the title. This looked increasingly unlikely as Felipe Massa took pole position ahead of Hamilton with Räikkönen qualifying on the second row in third.
Kimi made a brilliant start and muscled his way past Hamilton into second place in the Senna Esses, who then fell victim to teammate Alonso in turn three, falling back to eighth position. Hamilton’s race went from bad to worse when his car developed gearbox problems, and he found himself over a minute behind the Finn as he made his way through the pitlane for his second stop.
Hamilton could only recover to seventh position, while a sublime Räikkönen took the lead and won the race ahead of Massa with Alonso finishing third. Räikkönen won the title by a single point, and he remains Ferrari’s last World Champion some 14 years later.
8. Returning to F1 with Lotus
Räikkönen left Formula 1 at the end of 2009 after Ferrari bought him out of his contract to make way for Fernando Alonso for 2010. The Iceman spent a couple of years in the World Rally Championship and also made cameo appearances in the NASCAR series during his two-year sabbatical.
But the Finn soon realised his passion for Formula 1 was still there and so he signed for the Lotus F1 Team for the 2012 season. His return to F1 was an impressive one: he had scored six podiums heading into the finale in Abu Dhabi.
Räikkönen qualified for the race in fourth behind pole man Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber and the Williams of Pastor Maldonado. Track position is paramount at the Yas Marina Circuit and Kimi made a lightning-fast getaway, deposing both Maldonado and Webber before turn two. Räikkönen inherited the lead from the leading Hamilton when the Briton succumbed to reliability issues and took the win despite being under immense pressure from Alonso and Vettel in faster cars behind.
Abu Dhabi 2012 was also the scene of one of the most iconic radio messages of all time. When Kimi’s engineer informed him on the radio about the gap to Alonso behind, Räikkönen responded by saying: “Just leave me alone, I know what to do!”
Räikkönen started the 2013 season with Lotus in much the same way as he ended the previous one, taking an imperious victory and fastest lap in Australia from seventh on the grid. This was made even more impressive by the fact that Räikkönen only stopped for tyres twice while his rivals journeyed through the pitlane on three occasions.
The 2007 World Champion’s season-opening victory was followed up by seven podium appearances and he scored 183 points by the end of the season despite missing the final two races due to a dispute over his contract.
Ironically, the dispute was borne of Räikkönen’s stellar performances for the team as they had agreed to pay him €50,000 for every point scored. Kimi’s total of 390 points over his two years with Lotus equated to €19,500,000 owed and it is rumoured to be one of the team’s outstanding debts as it tipped on the precipice of financial collapse midway through the 2015 season.
9. USA 2018: Final Ferrari victory
When the F1 circus rolled into Texas for the 2018 US Grand Prix, five years and 113 days had passed since Räikkönen’s last victory with Lotus at the opening round in Australia, 2013.
At this point, 2018 was confirmed to be Räikkönen’s final season at Maranello, as Ferrari had decided to replace the Finnish veteran with its young prodigy, Charles Leclerc. Kimi’s fans were desperate for him to take one last victory in red before he moved back to the team where it all started 17 years ago.
The Iceman didn’t disappoint and delivered a rapid start from P2 on the grid, dispatching Hamilton to take the lead in turn one. There were echoes of Kimi’s previous victories as he drove a faultless race on an alternative one-stop strategy, resisting the dogged pursuit of Hamilton’s rapid Mercedes for the remainder of the race.
Ferrari’s pitwall were ecstatic with the result over the radio. But how did The Iceman respond to such jubilation after breaking a five-and-a-half-year win drought? True to character, “F****** finally” was his monosyllabic reply.
10. Portugal 2020: A first lap clinic
At 41 years old, Räikkönen was easily the oldest and most experienced driver on the grid when the Portuguese Grand Prix got underway in 2020. Sadly, his Alfa Romeo C39 offered precious little opportunities for the Finn to demonstrate his talent, such was its lack of pace compared with the rest of the field.
But having one of the slowest cars on the grid didn’t deter Kimi from overtaking half the field on the opening lap on F1’s return to Portimão. Kimi qualified 16th and took advantage of less experienced drivers in much faster cars ahead that were struggling with the cold, slippery circuit.
Kimi’s ten-car rampage through the pack saw him overtake cars from the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Racing Point and Alpha Tauri to wind up P6 by the end of the opening lap, nestling behind the gearbox of Max Verstappen’s Red Bull in P5.
Räikkönen’s generational talent behind the wheel was the only reason his sluggish Alfa Romeo got anywhere near the sharp end of the field and served as a strong reminder that on his day, he was effectively unbeatable.
If you liked this, then why not subscribe to Magneto magazine today?