Kimi Räikkönen - last of the real racing drivers


With a unique approach that will likely never be repeated, Anthony Peacock looks at how Kimi Räikkönen's retirement will mark the end of an era

Kimi Raikkonen, 2021 Dutch GP

There is no other F1 driver quite like Kimi Räikkönen


Of all the many tributes written about Kimi Räikkönen, there was one that made you stop and think. Somebody wrote on Twitter recently that they felt an epochal shift in F1 following Kimi’s retirement, as the only Formula 1 driver who was older than them had now called it a day.

His retirement truly marks the end of an era. There simply won’t be anyone like him ever again.

Kimi was the last of the real racing drivers: an endangered species since the early 1990s, when old-school heroes were gradually replaced by younger athletes with a higher degree of corporate awareness. The breed persisted right up to the dawn of the 2000s (Jan Magnussen was the last full-time smoker in the sport, for example). But Kimi marks the definitive close of the last chapter, the final bastion of – to use one of his favourite phrases – not giving a shit.

Of course, a lot of self-confidence comes from seniority. But Kimi has always been like that, ever since he arrived in the United Kingdom as a fresh-faced teenager, in the hands of managers Steve and David Robertson. He lived with them for a while in Essex, where a Finn in Chingford must have stood out like a zebra on the north pole. He still speaks fondly of those days. “Did you ever see that TV programme, Footballers Wives?” Kimi once asked with a grin. “I lived in that house where they filmed it, when I first came to England…”

So from a very young age he learned to be self-sufficient and stand on his own two feet.

Kimi Räikkönen, 2001 F1 Testing

Räikkönen looking fresh-faced during 2001 pre-season testing with Sauber

Mark Thompson /Allsport via Getty Images

Perhaps that’s where the nickname ‘Iceman’ came from, but in reality, that’s what he’s always been like, as his older brother Rami once pointed out.

“In the end, Kimi will just do what he wants to do,” said Rami. “The only sure thing is that the more you tell him not to do something, the more likely he is to do it.”

Rami has driven in a few races and rallies himself: the first competition car that Kimi drove was actually Rami’s Opel rally car, taken without consent one evening by little brother.

And it was through rallying, rather than racing, that I first got to know Kimi properly, back in 2010 – when he drove a Citroën C4 World Rally Car as part of the Red Bull Junior team.

“It was a fantastic time definitely; it’s maybe just a shame that it didn’t last a bit longer.”

His team-mate at the time was Sébastien Ogier, who has done pretty well for himself since – winning as many titles in rallying as Lewis Hamilton has done in Formula 1. So Kimi was immediately up against the very best.

I spent two years looking after Kimi’s media commitments in the World Rally Championship and then – in a parallel life – watched him return to Formula 1 and achieve even more success.

Throughout that whole time, he never changed. Perhaps what most people don’t realise is that Kimi, the Iceman, is in fact one of the warmest and friendliest people in the F1 paddock. But it’s in the less scrutinised environment of rallying that you really get to know him.

A lot has been said and written about Kimi in Formula 1: plenty of it untrue. Although that’s not something that Kimi especially minds: he sees it as normal and part of the game. But after he left Ferrari at the end of the 2009 season – on very favourable financial terms – he was hoping for something a bit different in the world of mud and gravel, which was very much a homecoming for any Finn. So Kimi began to show a side of himself that had been much more hidden in Formula 1. The media following in rallying is smaller, the atmosphere nowhere near as political. It’s an environment where you have to feel comfortable peeing in public, for example – there are many hours a day spent in the car, and little in the way of public toilets. And under those circumstances, it’s hard to stand on ceremony.

Kimi Raikkonen, 2010 WRC

The ‘Iceman’ was much more relaxed in WRC surroundings

Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images

Take the Rallye de France, which during Kimi’s WRC stint was hosted in Sébastien Loeb’s home territory, close to Strasbourg. Citroën’s base was a slightly grotty chain hotel smelling of cabbage, with dim lights and bolsters instead of pillows.

Definitely not the sort of establishment where you would expect to find a former Formula 1 world champion, or indeed any world champion. But Kimi didn’t mind. In fact, he slept very well there.

The morning of the start, with just a few minutes to go, co-driver Kaj Lindström was on the phone at reception, frantically ringing upstairs. The rest of the team was already in the bus. Including Sébastien Loeb, who was pretty amused. “It’s good that Kimi’s here because it takes the heat off me,” explained the Frenchman. “Normally I’m the one who’s late…”

“Say whatever you like, they’ll just make it up anyway…”

Just as the bus was about to leave, a freshly-showered Kimi appeared, wandering nonchalantly down the stairs, sipping a small coffee.

“It was such a nice hotel I thought I’d enjoy it a bit longer,” he explained, before discarding the coffee cup, hopping into the minibus, pulling his cap down over his eyes, and promptly falling asleep for the three-minute journey to the service park. Which is presumably the only reason why Citroën chose such a hole in the first place.

But the hotel did at least have a decent bar and kebab shop nearby. And Kimi’s patronage of it underlined again just how unpretentious he is. He says he’s not going to miss Formula 1, and in many ways, he never really belonged there: at least not in the modern era. For Kimi, it was always all about driving the car rather the whole show (or, in his own words, “bullshit”).

Perhaps the person who knows him best is Mark Arnall, his trainer since the McLaren days.

“Kimi doesn’t get caught up worrying about what people think of him,” said Mark. “People have differing opinions about Kimi but he really doesn’t care what they are. Instead, he has this ability to focus solely on driving the car.”

The people who thought that Kimi never really got his head around rally cars were wrong too. Here’s a little-known fact: in testing Kimi was frequently faster than Loeb. Rally testing, of course, is all about pounding up and down the same piece of road, and even though the shortest test stage contains far more corners than the average circuit, you do eventually end up learning them all by heart. It was only the assimilation of pace notes that sometimes held Kimi back.

Lindström, the only man in history to share a competition car with Kimi and witness his work at first hand, says: “It was a fantastic time definitely; it’s maybe just a shame that it didn’t last a bit longer. The talent he had for driving the car was massive, that was immediately obvious. But, looking at what he achieved afterwards, he probably did the right thing to go back to Formula 1. Nice memories for sure.”

Kimi Raikkonen, 2018 US Grand Prix

Absolutely ecstatic after his final F1 win

Grand Prix Photo

And that’s what it’s all about for Kimi, driving the car. He says he’s not that interested in road cars (he mostly drove a Volkswagen Transporter van to all the different rallies in Europe) but he’s owned some incredible machinery too such as the Mercedes CLK DTM, a road-going racer built as a homologation special in just 100 examples.

Everything else takes second place: especially media work. “In the end, they all mostly ask the same questions,” said Kimi once. “Then sometimes if you think about it and say exactly what you think, they use it against you. So really, it’s best to say nothing.”

I often used to do written interviews for Kimi in rallying; but started off thinking that it was best to check with him first about what he wanted to say. Kimi simply shrugged. “Say whatever you like,” he replied. “They’ll just make it up anyway…”

From the archive

Kimi may leave some interviewers frustrated but if he has made a commitment, he sticks to it. One journalist on Rally Finland thought he wasn’t going to get a Kimi interview scheduled for the afternoon, due to a re-arranged technical debrief. But at around seven in the evening, when the whole thing was long forgotten, Kimi suddenly mentioned that he hadn’t seen the journalist in question. “Where is he?” asked the Dictaphone-shy Iceman. “I can do it now.” And he did too, very eloquently. One of the other ways in which he was quite different in rallying to how he was in Formula 1.

And Kimi is properly funny. “What’s the best thing about Red Bull?” he was asked at a press conference. “You can put vodka in it,” came the deadpan reply.

There were many other anecdotes too; sadly, it’s best we don’t repeat them here. But the cackling laugh – which he spends a lot of time doing – is not what made him famous. Instead, it’s that transcendental sixth sense.

“He’s always had this great natural feel that lets him push hard and still get the most out of the tyres,” said Steve Robertson, his manager from the very beginning. “The number of fastest laps he’s set speaks for itself. It’s a God-given talent.”

The only drivers with more fastest laps than him are Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton. Kimi hasn’t ruled out a return to rallying or indeed anything (he’s been offered a test in the all-conquering Toyota Yaris WRC) but it’s going to have to be on his terms.

“No plans for now, but I don’t want to have a schedule,” he says. “Last time I did rallying and there was always a schedule and I don’t want that. I’m not in a rush.”

And that’s probably a first for a man whose alter ego is ‘James Hunt’.


Kimi Raikkonen’s record-breaking career

● Kimi is Finland’s most successful Formula 1 driver ever, with 1865 career points, 21 wins and 103 podiums.

● In the 2005 and 2008 Formula 1 seasons, Kimi equalled Michael Schumacher’s record of 10 fastest race laps in a season, set in 2004.

● Kimi currently holds the third-highest record for the total number of fastest Formula 1 laps at 46.

Kimi Raikkonen in James Hunt tribute helmet

Räikkönen ran a James Hunt tribute helmet at Monaco in 2012

Grand Prix Photo

● In 2008 Kimi scored six consecutive fastest race laps (in Spain, Turkey, Monaco, Canada, France and Britain) equalling Alberto Ascari’s record for the most consecutive fastest race laps in a single season.

● Kimi was the first driver to win on his Ferrari debut since Nigel Mansell at the 1989 Brazilian Grand Prix and the first to win, set fastest lap and claim pole position on his Ferrari debut since Juan Manuel Fangio at the 1956 Argentine Grand Prix.

● At the 2007 Chinese Grand Prix, Kimi gave Ferrari its 200th Grand Prix win. At the 2008 French Grand Prix, he gave the team its 200th pole position.●

● Kimi’s first drive in a World Rally Car came in January 2010 at a private gravel test track near Citroen’s headquarters on the outskirts of Paris. He has competed on 21 rounds of the World Rally Championship in total, scoring 59 points.

From the archive

● Kimi also has experience of snowmobiling and powerboat racing on an amateur basis. He has been known to use the pseudonym ‘James Hunt’ in homage to the 1976 Formula 1 World Champion, who is one of his heroes.

● Kimi bought his own rally car while he was at Ferrari – an Abarth Grande Punto Super 2000 – which he designed a unique livery for. He used it on the 2009 Rally Finland: his WRC debut.

● Kimi’s brother, Rami, has also tried rallying, competing in the Arctic Rally and Rally Finland with a Honda Integra.

● Kimi set just one fastest stage time during his rallying career: on the Circus Maximus stage on the 2010 Rallye Deutschland in Germany. His best-ever result was fifth on the 2010 Rally Turkey. During both his WRC seasons, he finished 10th in the final championship rankings.