Why Kimi Raikkonen was a Great Driver: An Analysis

Since the so-called “Iceman” made his F1 debut for Sauber all the way back in 2001, he has gone on to win the affection and hearts of many Formula 1 fans the world over. While nowadays he has become infamous for his hilarious radio one-liners and emotionless interviews, the flying Finn was somewhat of a maestro behind the wheel back in the day. Now that he has entered retirement, I find it only fitting to demonstrate exactly how Kimi Raikkonen was one of the best drivers of his generation.

Kimi went straight to his boat after retiring from the Monaco Grand Prix in 2006. He may be retiring from the sport for good now, but he is leaving behind a legacy that few have matched

He Got to F1 Very Quickly

The pace of the flying Finn was visible for all to see from a young age. Once he made the jump from karting to open wheel motorsport in the shape of Formula Renault cars, he started to garner the attention of those at the highest echelon of motorsport, Formula 1. In just 2 seasons, Raikkonen had amassed a grand total of 13 victories in a mere 23 races, giving him a win percentage of 57%.

Peter Sauber was the first to clock on to the faintly believable antics of this young driver from Espoo, Finland, and in complete secrecy gave Raikkonen a test drive in the Sauber team to see if he would fit right into the squad for the upcoming 2001 season. Sure enough, Kimi immediately blasted Sauber’s regular driver Pedro Diniz out of the park, lapping in excess of 0.5 seconds quicker than the experienced Brazilian pilot. This was surely enough for Peter Sauber to replace Diniz who was retiring that year, and two more tests in other locations assured to the Swiss businessman that Kimi’s speed was no fluke.

He was subsequently signed for the 2001 season alongside Nick Heidfeld, much to the shock of all the other teams and fans who had never even heard of this guy before. The Iceman scored points on his debut in Australia and got a further 3 points-scoring finishes (which was only possible for the top 6 in 2001).

Both Kimi Raikkonen (left) and Fernando Alonso (right) made their F1 debuts at the Australian Grand Prix in 2001. I don’t think many knew just how legendary the pair of them would become in the future

He was Never Overtaken in 2005

Wait, what? Yep, you heard that right. Kimi Raikkonen, now in the seat of a McLaren, never saw a car go past him at any of the 19 rounds in the championship. This is of course not including any opening lap shenanigans, but it still makes for seriously impressive reading.

The MP4-20 was arguably the fastest car of 2005, faster than even eventual World Drivers’ Championship winner Fernando Alonso’s Renault. But like a raging bull in the stands, the McLaren was mighty quick but also suffered from frequent mechanical problems. This often meant that Raikkonen started near the back of the grid due to penalties for replacing parts. He then would charge his way through significantly slower vehicles and make his way up to a podium position, but more often than not an important part of his car would play up and he would be left watching a solid race result slip through his fingers.

Many regard Kimi’s 2005 season to be one of his best, where he was at the peak of his undeniable powers. He had many memorable moments, as we will talk about later on in this article.

Raikkonen had a lot to smile about in 2005, taking 7 victories over the season. But he also had many upsetting moments resulting from retirements in high-scoring positions

He was The 2007 World Champion

After 5 years at McLaren, Kimi Raikkonen decided to finally jump ship to bitter rivals Ferrari for the 2007 season. Towards the latter stages of his employment at the Woking outfit, Raikkonen became increasingly frustrated by his car’s reliability issues and after a frankly sub-par 2006 campaign (where he failed to get onto the top step of the podium), he replaced the retiring Michael Schumacher and partnered Felipe Massa.

Meanwhile his old team had a whole new team in the shape of defending World Champ Fernando Alonso and aspiring rookie Lewis Hamilton. From the first race of the season in Melbourne it was clear to see that Hamilton had all the makings of a future World Champion.

The Ferrari and McLaren cars were very close on outright pace all season long and Raikkonen, Hamilton and Alonso traded time at the top of the Drivers’ Standings. All three of them scored 12 podiums over the season, but ultimately Kimi’s 6 victories compared to the 2 McLaren drivers who achieved 4 a piece was enough for the flying Finn to take the Drivers’ crown.

It was the first season that I ever watched, and I remember being left speechless by the fact that Raikkonen had snatched victory from the hands of both McLarens despite being 3rd in the Championship with just the Brazilian Grand Prix left to go. “In a way, it is much nicer when you have to fight for it” is one of his iconic quotes, and I guess it all came to fruition for him in his WDC-winning year.

Look at how close the championship was by the end! It was the first time there was a three-way battle for the World Drivers’ Championship since 1986

He had a Long Shelf Life

Kimi Raikkonen has mentioned time and time again that he has a real passion for his job. “It’s more like a hobby for me”, he says. Perhaps this is part of the reason why he lasted so long in the sport; he could keep performing at a consistently high level because he didn’t have to put as much thought and stress into the whole driving thing.

Apart from a short two-year hiatus in 2010 and 2011 (where he competed in rallying), The Iceman participated in every Formula 1 campaign from 2001 to 2021. That is 19 full seasons at the pinnacle of motorsport! He holds the record for the greatest number of entries into F1 events (353) as well as highest number of race starts (349).

Many young drivers from lower formulae have threatened to take the race seat away from him in the past, and many drivers around him on the paddock have faltered under the pressure of ever faster junior prospects hungry to enter the most prestigious racing season in the world. But Kimi, as cold as ice, never caused any issues within the team he was at due to his ice-cold demeanour. Not to mention he was crazy fast!

He had Quite a Few Outstanding Drives

Sometimes it’s not quite enough for an F1 pilot to bang in quick laps and achieve victories and podiums on the regular. For someone to really cement themselves in the fond memories of fans all over the world, they need to have several gob-smacking moments on track to ensure they won’t be forgotten once they eventually hang up their racing boots. Kimi Raikkonen undoubtedly managed this with a handful of astonishingly great weekends. Let’s have a look at some of his best:

Monaco 2005

As exemplified by the lack of competitors behind him in this picture, Kimi was undoubtedly in a class of his own at Monaco in 2005

The street circuit of Monaco is often referred to as the great leveller, because achieving a win at the municipality is more about driving ability than relative performances of the car compared to competitors. As mentioned previously, Kimi Raikkonen’s 2005 season was marred by constant heavy grid penalties, meaning he often started races in the mid pack or near the rear-end of the grid.

But luckily he didn’t have any parts that needed urgent replacing coming into Monaco, and set a pair of blisteringly quick qualifying laps to start in 1st alongside Fernando Alonso. It was a bit of a struggle to keep the Spaniard behind him going into the first corner, but once that immediate threat was neutralised, the flying Finn didn’t look back. He was just so much faster than everyone else and built such a sizeable advantage (more than half a minute) that he decided to just take it easy in the final stages of the Grand Prix to avoid any unnecessary clouts with the guardrails. Meanwhile Alonso ended up in 4th place due to some tyre troubles. It was simply a flawless drive from The Iceman from start to finish; he didn’t put a foot wrong the entire weekend.

Australia 2013

Kimi Raikkonen ended up on the top step of the podium in the first race of the 2013 season in Melbourne. Unfortunately the pace of his Lotus was no match for that of the Red Bulls, and he would only manage 5th in the Drivers’ Championship that year

In the opening round of the 2013 season, Kimi Raikkonen provided us with an absolute masterclass in overall race management. He was in by no means the fastest car on the start line on that Sunday; Kimi had posted a best qualifying time which was a whole 1.3 seconds slower than that of polesitter Sebastian Vettel and was only in 5th place by the end of the first lap.

But Raikkonen’s greatest triumph at the Australian Grand Prix had nothing to do with overtaking or wheel-to-wheel action with any of those around him. Instead he executed a beautifully managed drive, rarely coming into the view of any other drivers but using his Pirelli tyres at a rate which made it look as if Vettel, Alonso and the like had cheese graters attached to their tyres.

While most others struggled to make even a 3-stop strategy work (such was the level of graining of the front tyres), Kimi Raikkonen danced his car around Albert Park like a ballerina and only needed to stop for fresh rubber twice. He even set the fastest lap on his way to what looked like a very easy victory. That’s the thing about champions: they make racing look like a piece of cake!

Belgium 2004

This victory was surely an exhausting one, as Kimi had to wrestle with a damaged vehicle. But in a way that makes victory taste even sweeter

Ferrari’s F2004 was, to put it mildly, in a different league in that year’s F1 campaign. It made all the other cars look like they belonged on the Formula 3000 grid. In fact Ferrari as a constructor were only beaten to 1st place 3 times over the year, and one of these rare moments was thanks to an astounding race by none other than Kimi Raikkonen.

A rain-affected Saturday meant the Finn was only able to muster a start on the 5th row of the grid, but after the usual kerfuffle at La Source, he was up to fifth place. However he had suffered a hit from behind and as a consequence had picked up a bit of damage.

Nevertheless he pushed on after the safety car restart, with a picturesque move on Michael Schumacher round Eau Rouge and a subsequent overtake on teammate Coulthard to move up into the podium places.

However around the same time he developed a further problem with his gearbox, necessitating an extreme setting of engine braking on some corners to even get the car stopped in time for them. There were several safety car periods in the race, allowing Schumacher to close up right behind the flying Finn. But he was just too fast for the reigning champion, and took victory by over 3 seconds despite having an ailing vehicle. A cut above the rest that day.

Japan 2005

“Can Raikkonen sweep in…. YEEEEAAAAAH! Yes he can what a brilliant move!”

This is the race that all die-hard fans remember when they think of Kimi Raikkonen. Not the “Gloves and steering wheel” or “Is the drink or not?” radio messages of recent days, but this. Pure, unbridled racing ability at its finest. The epitome of racing above and beyond even the highest of expectations placed upon the drivers at the highest level of car racing.

The whole race event was a memorable one from start to finish, with Alonso making nail-biting fearless overtakes on Schumacher at 130R and a trip over the grass to get past Webber with only a few laps to go. But it was Kimi Raikkonen who really stole the show at Suzuka in 2005. Many frontrunners started near the back of the grid, with Kimi placed in 17th places for Sunday after a wet qualifying session mixed up the starting order.

Like a piece of string through the eye of a needle, Raikkonen darted his way past other cars and made up an incredible 5 places by the time lap 2 came along. Both Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher ahead of him were making similar levels of progress, and by the first round of pitstops were complete they were running one behind the other in points-scoring territory. Raikkonen waltzed past Schumacher on lap 30 with a stunning overtake around the outside at turn 1 (!).

After the second pitstops Raikkonen had gained an advantage over Webber and Button and was closing in on Giancarlo Fisichella in 1st place at an average of around 1 second per lap. At the start of the final lap, The Iceman reeled Fisichella in with the help of slipstream and stuck it round the outside of turn 1 again, forcing the Renault driver to yield the lead of the race. The crowd went into raptures as they witnessed a faintly believable charge from near the back of the grid to winning the Grand Prix. Definitely his best race of all time.

What a driver. What a champion. The paddock will feel slightly odd without his presence. But his undoubted success despite doing things his own way despite early scrutiny can be a positive message to us all to only put your own best interests at heart to achieve your goals.

Kimi waves goodbye at his final race, the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. We will leave you alone now!

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