Kimi Räikkönen, 2007 Formula 1 World Champion: unconventional, reserved and a fan favourite. Initially known for his blazing speed, the ‘Iceman’ is now just as noted for his laconic one-liners as he is for his on-track performance.
After arriving with a bang in his first F1 stint as a precocious young Formula Renault graduate, Räikkönen eventually claimed the drivers’ title with Ferrari in 2007.
A two-year F1 sabbatical in 2009-2010 involved off-roading in the World Rally Championship and a brief foray into NASCAR, before the Finn returned in 2012 with a remodelled driving style as a ‘safe pair of hands’.
Räikkönen still fills that role for Alfa Romeo now at the age of 41 – 20 years after he first entered grand prix racing. The Finn says he now races just for a “hobby”, and hasn’t shown any indication he wants to stop just yet.
Formula 1 after just 23 car races – the Iceman cometh
His rise through the junior ranks was meteoric. Räikkönen switched from karts to cars in 1999 when he won all four rounds of the British Formula Renault 2.0 winter series for Manor Motorsport. He remained with John Booth’s team to add the British title a year later after winning seven of the 12 races. That form prompted the Sauber-Petronas F1 team to test Räikkönen at Mugello in September. Further mileage at Jerez and Barcelona that December confirmed a maturity and natural pace.
Having competed in just 23 car races so far, Räikkönen was included in Sauber’s race team for the 2001 F1 season. It was a decision that was criticised by some but Räikkönen responded by scoring a championship point on his debut in Australia when sixth at the finish. Fourth place finishes in Austria and Canada clinched tenth overall and confirmed Räikkönen as F1’s most sought after talent.
Challenging for the title with McLaren Mercedes
There were rumours of a switch to Ferrari in 2002 but he replaced compatriot Mika Häkkinen at West McLaren Mercedes instead. Delayed at the start of the opening round in Australia, he climbed from the back of the field to finish third – his first F1 podium finish. He then battled Michael Schumacher for victory in France before running wide in the closing laps to lose a maiden victory. Second position was scant consolation. Further third place finishes at the Nürburgring and Suzuka helped the youngster to finish sixth in the standings.
Räikkönen’s breakthrough victory finally came in the 2003 Malaysian GP and he challenged for the championship until the final round. First pole positions at the Nürburgring and Indianapolis could have yielded further victories but he retired from the lead in Germany and lost out to Schumacher in the wet United States GP. Räikkönen eventually finished as runner-up in 2003, a mere two points behind the German.
The new McLaren MP4/19-Mercedes was disappointing and it was not until the upgraded MP4/19B was introduced at the 2004 French GP that significant progress was made. Räikkönen qualified on pole position next time out at Silverstone and came from tenth on the grid to win at Spa-Francorchamps. He rounded off a difficult year by coming second in Brazil.
The following season was his most competitive so far. Räikkönen won seven races (including from pole position in Monaco) and emerged as Fernando Alonso’s closest challenger for the 2005 title. However, he lost the European GP with a spectacular tyre failure on the last lap and further mechanical gremlins blunted his challenge. Renault’s young Spaniard clinched the title in Brazil with Räikkönen finishing as runner-up once more.
Rather than maintain that challenge in 2006, Räikkönen endured the first season without a victory in his five-year McLaren career. Second in Australia and Italy were among his six podiums as he looked to move on.
World Champion for Ferrari
Räikkönen signed to replace the retirement-bound Michael Schumacher at Ferrari in 2007 and became F1’s highest earner in the process. Most of the headlines that year concerned the McLaren “Spygate” affair and the emergence of newcomer Lewis Hamilton. Almost lost amid the hype was Räikkönen’s victory from pole position in Australia on his Ferrari debut. Back-to-back wins in France and Britain was followed by subsequent successes at Spa-Francorchamps (a favourite circuit) and China. That gave the taciturn Finn a slim chance of the title in Brazil. Hamilton then suffered a gearbox glitch at Interlagos and Räikkönen won the race to steal the World Championship by a single point from the Englishman and his feuding McLaren team-mate, Alonso.
The 2008 campaign began with promise – Räikkönen’s four podium finishes in the first five races included victories in Malaysia and Spain – but his form faded thereafter, especially in qualifying. He may have finished third in the championship but being beaten by less renowned team-mate Felipe Massa was not acceptable to Ferrari management.
Räikkönen could only finish sixth in the 2009 standings despite winning in Belgium for a fourth time. There was no doubt about the Finn’s pace when on form but questions were now being asked about his motivation. Ferrari and Räikkönen agreed to part company at the end of the year with 12 months of his lucrative contract still to run.
Rallying and stock cars
Rather than find alternative employment in F1, Räikkönen made an unusual change of direction by signing with Citroën for the 2010 World Rally Championship. Fifth in the Turkish Rally was his best result as he finished tenth overall that year. He matched that championship performance in 2011 and also tried his hand in NASCAR-sanctioned stock cars – racing in both the second-tier Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Championship.
Räkkönen’s successful Formula 1 return with Lotus-Renault
With his two-year WRC adventure at an end, Räikkönen returned to F1 with Lotus-Renault in 2012. Consistency was the key as he remained in the title fight until three races from the end. He then won the Abu Dhabi GP after Hamilton retired – famously telling engineer Simon Rennie to “leave me alone, I know what I’m doing” when advised of his lead on the radio. However, the speed (if not the mistakes) of less experienced team-mate Romain Grosjean led to questions about how good the Lotus E20 would have been in the hands of an Alonso or Hamilton.
Victory in the 2013 Australian GP and five second place finishes before the summer break saw Räikkönen emerge as Sebastian Vettel’s closest challenger that year. However, the Lotus team was now financially stretched and Räikkönen quit with two races of the season remaining. Back surgery was cited as the reason but unpaid salary was believed to have caused that early exit. He was fifth in the final points despite not completing the season.
Second Ferrari career
By that time, Räikkönen had re-signed with Ferrari for 2014 as the Scuderia sought an alternative in case team leader Alonso decided to leave. In the event, the Spaniard stayed on for a final season and generally outperformed the Finn. It was Alonso who prevailed between the former world champions. The Ferrari F14T was an uncompetitive proposition but even so Räikkönen’s 12th in the standings was a disappointing return. Fourth in Belgium (perhaps inevitably) was the best result that campaign.
Räikkönen had a fresh challenge in 2015 for Sebastian Vettel joined as his new team-mate. Again, it was the Ferrari across the garage that led the team’s charge with Kimi restricted to just three podium finishes. He qualified second at Monza but contact with Valterri Bottas’ Williams in the Russian and Mexican GPs saw more points lost as he finished in a distant and somewhat lacklustre fourth overall.
He slipped to sixth overall a year later as he more-than matched Vettel in qualifying but struggled too often in the race. He finished second in Bahrain and Spain – chasing Max Verstappen’s Red Bull for victory that latter day. 2017 was a similarly underwhelming campaign and Ferrari President Sergio Marchionne publicly criticised him after the Chinese and Austrian GPs. Räikkönen did record his first pole position since 2008 in Monaco where he finished second in a Ferrari 1-2. He matched that result in Hungary as he finished in a distant fourth position in the standings.
Räikkönen remained with Ferrari fifth successive season in 2018 and used consistency and an excellent chassis and engine to finish third in the championship. He qualified on pole position at Monza and scored his first victory since 2013 in the United States. However, with Ferrari looking to younger talent to push Vettel, the Finn will move to the rebranded Sauber team in 2019.
Alfa Romeo Racing
Now 39 years old, Räikkönen made an impressive start on his return to the team he started his F1 career with. He scored points on his first four appearances for what was now known as Alfa Romeo Racing. Fifth on the grid in Germany, momentum in the team shifted as rookie team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi eventually acclimatised to F1 and outpaced the veteran. But Räikkönen benefitted from the chaotic final laps in Brazil to finish in a season-best fourth as both Alfa Romeo’s scored points.
2020 was a far cry from the highs of fourth for Alfa Romeo, with Räikkonen’s ninth-place finishes at Mugello and Imola the highest result for the team all season.