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.
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…
What A Comeback
Check out Harrison’s opinions on Kimi Raikkonen, in the video which inspired this article: