F1’s Fantastic Four – Kimi Raikkonen

Currently in Formula One, it is the general consensus that there are four drivers who are ‘a cut above’ the competition. While Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber have threatened to break into the elite group in recent years, 2012 and 2013 have further entrenched the top four. The ever opinionated and ever entertaining Youtuber, Harrison101, has recently posted commentaries on this very topic, and these have led me to question my own opinions as to why Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen have taken the sport by the scruff of the neck in recent times. Over the next few days, I will be posting articles analysing F1’s top tier drivers, in response to Harrison’s intriguing series. Today, the enigmatic Finn, Kimi Raikkonen, is the man under the spotlight.

Kimi Raikkonen – The 2007 World Champion who has returned to Maranello.
(c) Wiki

Extraordinary From A Young Age

While all four of the elite club launched onto the scene in awe-inspiring fashion, Kimi Raikkonen’s rise to glory was even more absurd. The Finn received his seat at Sauber in 2001 having only completed 23 competitive races in junior formula, which caused a stir in the paddock. Giving such an inexperienced rookie a seat was unprecedented, yet Kimi most certainly delivered, with a point on his debut. It was evident that he was an extraordinary talent – It was as though Mika Hakkinen had returned to the sport, yet was younger, even more stubborn and perhaps with even more potential. It was an exciting time and McLaren recognised the Finn’s immense speed early on.
McLaren have always been a team with an eye for talent. While Raikkonen never disappointed during his time at Woking, reliability conspired against him. 2002 was a season full of engine failures for the team, meaning that he had to wait until 2003 for his first career victory, which came in Malaysia in emphatic fashion. The first win is always crucial for any driver and 19 more were to follow.

Raikkonen – The Nearly Man

Until he finally took his first title in 2007, it looked as though Raikkonen’s career would be defined as close, but not quite close enough. 2003 was an incredible year for Kimi, as he lost out on the championship by just two points to Michael Schumacher. In this particular campaign, Raikkonen just ran out of talent, but in 2005, he simply ran out of luck. The R25 was a magnificent car produced by the Renault outfit – One of Pat Symonds’ best creations, but McLaren’s MP4-20, designed by Adrian Newey, was simply sublime. Of the 19 races, only four passed without either Kimi Raikkonen or his teammate Juan Pablo Montoya suffering bad luck through break-downs, or being collateral damage in other people’s accidents. Let’s run through Kimi’s unavoidable incidents shall we: In Malaysia, Kimi suffered a tyre failure which dropped him out of the points; In San Marino, Raikkonen broke down while in the lead of the race, handing Fernando Alonso the race victory. Then, Alonso was handed another victory in Europe, in one of Raikkonen’s most famous pieces of misfortune.
When lapping a Minardi, Raikkonen suffered a huge lock-up, which damaged the surface of the right-front tyre.With 2005 regulations stating that you could not change tyres during a race unless the rubber had suffered dangerous levels of damage, it would have been a severe disadvantage for McLaren to pit the Finn, but it was an option. The flat-spot was aggressive and began to cause significant vibrations at high speeds, yet Kimi had a big enough margin to Fernando Alonso to afford loosing some time. However, the Spaniard kept closing in and on the penultimate lap, McLaren had the choice to pit Raikkonen and drop to around P4, or alternatively, take the gamble and hope the tyre lasted. Ultimately this was the wrong decision and the tyre ripped itself from the suspension in dramatic fashion. While Raikkonen’s lock-up led to the issue, I still consider this as bad luck on Raikkonen’s part – Having the win stolen on the final lap and gifted to your closest title rival is always an unlucky turn of events. Later, in the German Grand Prix, Raikkonen broke clear from the field, only to suffer another hydraulic failure and guess who was in the prime location to pick up the pieces – Fernando Alonso. In San Marino, Europe and Germany, Kimi would have won, yet instead handed Fernando Alonso the victory.
Undoubtedly, Fernando Alonso is value for his title in 2005. The argument is that he always managed to capitalise on the shortcomings of McLaren and was magnificently consistent. However, McLaren and Raikkonen as a raw package, were stronger than Renault that season and the crown was theirs for the taking.

 When It Eventually Came…

2007 was Kimi Raikkonen’s best season in my view. It was not filled with the awe-inspiring pole positions earned in 2005, or the magnificent last to first win in Japan that will live long in the memory of each and every F1 fan, but it was a tenacious display of determination. Kimi seems lazy and uninspired at times but in 2007, he proved his credentials and his resolve to win. Albeit illegally, his former team McLaren had an incredible car – the MP4-22 was a devastatingly fast machine, with the reigning world champion and the lighting quick rookie behind the wheel. Despite Kimi winning the first race in Melbourne, it was widely considered that one of the McLaren duo would take the title. However, after a difficult start, the Finn overhauled the vast points deficit, winning five of the last ten races, including an astonishing nine podiums. He was the outsider, yet kept a cool head in the title showdown in Brazil and snatched the crown. While McLaren had again thrown away a championship title, Raikkonen had written his name into Tifosi folk-law. 
A driver that can perform a run of consistency like that deserves acclaim. While McLaren and Ferrari had a large performance margin over their competitors in 2007, Lewis Hamilton was the only man to equal the Finn’s magical run of form. It is important to note that 2007 was a ‘yard-stick’ year – The top three drivers in the championship are all currently suggested as members of the elite club, with Raikkonen coming out on top. If anyone ever needed proof that Peter Sauber was right about this Finnish wonderkid, then Kimi provided it in his title year.

What A Comeback

The 2007 recovery was not the best comeback of Kimi’s career; I would consider his return to F1 in 2012 as his best. Consider the circumstances: after a very public ‘falling out’ with Luca Di Montezemolo, the Finn departed Ferrari in acrimonious fashion in 2009 – Pushed aside for his fellow “class of 2001” graduate Fernando Alonso to claim the prancing horse. Thoroughly disillusioned with the sport, very few people would have suggested that Kimi would ever return. To come back to the sport would somewhat contradict his reputation and personality. However, Lotus came knocking on the door and Raikkonen snapped up the opportunity. 
On reflection, Michael Schumacher’s comeback was better than people gave him credit for. He equalled the efforts of an underrated at the time, Nico Rosberg, and managed to claim a comeback podium in the crazy European Grand Prix of 2012. However, at the time, Schumacher came in for criticism, with many people believing that Michael should have wiped the floor with his fellow countryman and added to his remarkable tally of wins. Ultimately, Mercedes could not provide him with the machinery to do that, but Kimi Raikkonen’s comeback would always be compared with Michael’s. It placed even more pressure on the Finn to achieve, in order to prove that a return to F1 after several years in the wilderness, (quite literally in Kimi’s case,) was a viable and successful prospect. If we have learnt anything about Kimi over the years, it is that he is like a sponge – seamlessly soaking up the pressure.  
To date, Kimi has recorded two comeback wins with the Enstone outfit, with his 19th career win in Abu Dhabi, memorable for his hilarious radio calls, which have since found their way onto T-Shirts and mugs. Meanwhile, he knew just what he was doing in Australia last season, claiming a well deserved victory by stretching stint length. His maturity was evident in this race, as he managed to complete the race on a two stop strategy, while teammate Romain Grosjean had to settle for a three stop.
Evidently, his comeback has been successful and I am sure it will continue to be, now that Raikkonen has made a return to the Scuderia. For years, we have been waiting for Fernando and Kimi to become team-mates and go toe-to-toe in equal machinery. Who is the better of the two? This season will be the best barometer of this and we could finally have a definite answer to the question we have been asking since 2001.    

Check out Harrison’s opinions on Kimi Raikkonen, in the video which inspired this article:

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