Räikkönen? He’s not (yet) a Ferrari ‘great’


In his top 10 Formula 1 drivers of 2013, published in our February issue season review, Nigel Roebuck places Kimi Räikkönen fourth behind the obvious choices of Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso – and the man who has become almost universally rated as the most unfairly overlooked talent in the sport, Nico Hülkenberg. Force India’s returnee owns the copyright on that status right now.

By their nature, such rankings are always purely personal, but it would surely be churlish for anyone not to place Vettel at the top of their list for the season just past. We can agree on that – can’t we?

Beyond the champion though, the meritocracy is much easier (or harder?) to debate. You might well disagree, but for me – and with the greatest respect to Nigel – Räikkönen was not the fourth best driver of 2013.

Now, that’s not to say Kimi wasn’t impressive. He’s a class act, and victory in Australia followed by seven other podium finishes, including a hat trick of second places in China, Bahrain and Spain, kept him in touch with the title until Vettel’s winning streak kicked in.

But still I’d place his team-mate Romain Grosjean and Merc’s Nico Rosberg ahead of him in my rankings, in the former’s case thanks to his impressive growth into a genuine frontrunner and the rate of recovery from his personal disaster of 2012 – and in the latter’s, because of his form and general attitude in the face of such a daunting team-mate as Lewis Hamilton.

Like I say, purely personal.

Now, you might bristle at my demotion of Räikkönen if you are an ardent admirer. That’s fair enough. But if you do, I better warn you: read the cover story of the February issue peeking through your fingers…

This month, we tasked Simon Arron to give us his 20 greatest Ferrari F1 drivers (since the war), inspired by the Scuderia’s decision to re-sign Kimi alongside Alonso in 2014. For the first time since 1953 Ferrari has two crowned world champions as team-mates and beyond the massive regulation changes, Räikkönen vs Alonso has to be the most intriguing prospect of what will be the most unpredictable season in years.

The thing is, when we reviewed Simon’s list of 20, there was one glaring name missing. Yes – you know who.

Räikkönen won a world title for Ferrari, against the odds, in 2007. But our criteria of ‘greatest’ are not based on results and stats alone. For Ferrari, of all teams, such status requires so much more than that.

So Kimi doesn’t make the list – and the man he is replacing does.

What? Felipe Massa? Alonso’s docile number two? Well, yes… and no. The Brazilian wouldn’t be anywhere near the cut if his Ferrari career was limited to the seasons since 2010. But from Bahrain 2006 to Hungary 2009 – and the freak accident that could have killed him – Massa was a spirited Ferrari ace in the best traditions. Over the course of their three years together, he was more than a match for his team-mate: that man Räikkonen. He was also a class act as a human being and sportsman.

The thing is, this process proved to us that when you’re assessing more than 60 years of racing history, 20 drivers really isn’t very many. Simon and I ran through those he’d rated, and just as importantly, those he had not. As you’ll see, Räikkönen is in good company with those who didn’t make it… And 2007 title or not, as far as we’re concerned, he has work to do this year and beyond if he wants to be considered a true Ferrari great.

Now, if we were to list McLaren’s 20 greatest drivers he’d make it comfortably. But that’s a different story…

An addition at Motor Sport

Beyond details of the February issue, I’d also like to take this opportunity to bring you up to date with our own big signing for 2014.

As F1 enters a new era of high-efficiency technology, I’m delighted to welcome Mark Hughes to our team, to join Nigel Roebuck in spearheading our Grand Prix coverage. Mark has gained worldwide respect for his ability to analyse and explain race performance – which will be more than handy in a sport that is growing ever more complex. He’s a fantastic writer who brings an unbeatable depth and understanding to F1, and he also happens to share with Nigel a purist love for the sport and a deep-rooted encyclopaedic knowledge of motor racing history.

For both, the past informs and colours everything they write about – which is at the heart of what this magazine and website stands for. They’ll complement each other perfectly.

Mark has written for Motor Sport in the past, of course, so this is very much a homecoming for him, to a title he holds in the greatest affection. His work begins in January, writing for the website and the next issue of the magazine – and we’re all eager to read his first contributions.

His introduction will inevitably lead to a few tweaks to the print and digital magazine, but we won’t be losing sight of what makes Motor Sport special to our loyal and frighteningly knowledgeable readers. Denis Jenkinson’s words placed F1 at the centre of Motor Sport’s world, but Grand Prix racing was never the whole story for the magazine – and that hasn’t changed today. We will continue to offer perspective on almost every area and aspect of motor racing, both past and present. No other magazine offers such breadth, and that won’t change.

I’ll admit, this year has been one of the toughest I’ve known in publishing. How can I put this? Producing and selling magazines dedicated to motor racing – and just about any other specialist interest for that matter – isn’t a walk in the park these days… We can’t afford to sit still, we have to develop and appeal to as many people as possible – while continuing to serve those who’ve stuck with us for years, of which there are thankfully many with this particular magazine. It’s a tricky balance, but I’m confident we can do it.

I’d like to sign off by thanking you for reading in 2013, and for engaging with us either through the website, magazine or both. The passion and commitment of our readers never fails to amaze me, and as always it’s been a pleasure to write for you.

See you in 2014.

Click here to read more from Damien Smith

sports cars from the editor  McNish: guest editor and World Champion

You may also like