Knock-knock! Who’s there?
The voice outside: Woah!
The voice indoors: “Oh Kimi, is that you? Why are you leaving?”
For someone who was, instead is, a synonym of speed and will be remembered for winning a world championship in his first year with Ferrari, the sport’s most iconic outfit, Kimi Raikkonen was pure magnificence.
Though, it wasn’t just his world title in the maiden run with Ferrari, something that even the iconic Michael Schumacher failed to achieve, that made him special; former McLaren team engineers and past drivers admit, when the Finn arrived in the outfit, circa 2002, all that he ever wanted to do was to drive every car fast. Darn fast.
Perhaps it’s this unfailing devotion to speed, evident pretty much even as far recently in 2018, where at Monza, Kimi set the-then fastest lap of the sport, that made him different.
A Cut Above the Rest?
To that, some would say yes, but many would also offer a firm no for an answer.
While Kimi Raikkonen’s gorilla-outfit wearing shenanigans around 2010-11 brought to light a low-key man who cared simply for driving so much so that he hid underneath an animal suit to escape media attention, many critics would revile the former world champion as someone with a lackluster record.
Theirs is a polite albeit fair query- why’s it that a man so devoted to speed and with a penchant to go fast behind a racing car ends his journey with simply one F1 title.
There are catchy, eye-pleasing, even captivating records such as being the most experienced driver ever in the sport’s history, someone with four wins at the longest track of all in the calendar, besides having 103 podiums, which is no joke.
But to that, the only plausible answer is, some do compete for the fun.
And even in doing so, it ends up becoming significant headlining material.
Raikkonen: Keep Calm and Race
One reckons it’s in the lost chances and run-ins with poor luck, consider emerging second-best in 2003, his second season with McLaren and repeating the feat in 2005, his penultimate year with the team, as being both exciting and low points in the days of wearing the light grey racing suit.
While he had a fast car, what also hurt his chances was that the very machine was unpredictable.
With five race retirements, in all, from these two years, Raikkonen kept up the ante of pressure on the likes of Schumacher and Alonso, he’d never get to taste the ultimate triumph that was his for the taking come the famous 2007 stint with Ferrari.
These were also the years that birthed the legend of the ‘Iceman,’ a cold but calm, silently aggressive driver that cared little for shenanigans and everything for the glory of speed.
Formula 1 purists who grew up in an age that knew nothing of the DRS would see the significance of 2005 Suzuka, undoubtedly, one of Kimi Raikkonen’s greatest-ever victories, the Ice cool Raikkonen lunging forward from seventeenth to first in a win that was ballsy but breathtaking.
Not that Raikkonen lost an ounce of speed in 2007 when confronted by an equally manic McLaren powered by not one but two talents who’d always been precocious, it did little to dissuade Raikkonen to chase down his ultimate Formula 1 dream.
2007: Reaching the F1 Pinnacle
Winning a world championship is every driver’s aim. But to make fans and other drivers hold on to the very edge while eclipsing with the title by the barest of margins, Kimi Raikkonen taught the world and in his unique way.
Never a driver who’d jump up and down or paint his victory on the others’ face, Raikkonen at Brazil’s Interlagos, forget not the Senna-land, was all guts and glory but in his quintessential restrained way.
The Finnish talent crossed the checkered line and won the world championship by one point, getting off to a flier and then passing Massa.
Significant moments post the 2007-win would come but in spurts of brilliance, not under dazzling consistency.
2008 and 2009: Mischievous Kimi?
In an era where the sport was also mainly about a Sutil, Fisichella, Hamilton’s rise, and a young driver by the name of Vettel coming into his own, slowly but surely, Raikkonen was right on the money at the Belgian GP of 2009, wherein the final moments, minutes before the checkered flag he executed a bold overtake on a Force India that was perhaps faster than his Ferrari on the straights.
There’s a reason why they hail Eau Rouge; it’s probably because it always upholds the triumph of the brave.
In a car that wasn’t the deadliest by any scope of imagination, Kimi returned to excel on a track where he’s carved a bit of a reputation for himself, being the ‘King of Spa,’ again not a title he self-created. Still, one credited to him for his nearly faultless consistency, the venue being home to a fifth of Raikkonen’s 21 race wins.
Kimi & the Fire of Ferari
Those who’ve sought delight from watching one of F1’s most admirable and brave contestants over the years would rewind the clocks to the Brazilian Grand Prix of 2009, the scene of Raikkonen’s finest champagne-opening moment punctuated by charisma and ice coolness!
It was a race where Kimi even failed to bag a podium, let alone record a win. So why was this special after all?
Even before the Grand Prix could reach the halfway stage, there was drama and almost a fatal one in the pits as Raikkonen followed Kovalainen in a McLaren into the pits. Unfortunately, after the stipulated tire change, the Finn in the McLaren was released erroneously with the fuel hose still attached to his McLaren.
Raikkonen, meanwhile, who was ready to exit the pits, would find his exhaust igniting the split fuel in a fireball leading to a mini inferno of sorts in his Ferrari.
Instead of slowing down and even race to retire, for his car was on fire, and his eyes were suffering from a burning sensation, he continued to drive only to end P6.
To those who’ve, perhaps even today, continued to deride Raikkonen, questioning his ‘intent’ on occasions- this was a Grand Prix where the Ice cooled down the fire, literally speaking, using nothing more than sheer resilience.
Albeit it’s also a moment that’s hardly discussed to wither away disconcerted critics who cannot possibly swallow the fact that Raikkonen has done things in the sport few have, many in his latter or declining years.
For instance, setting the fastest lap of the sport aged 38, in 2018 Italian Grand Prix at Monza was in the qualifying, an aging Kimi recorded the then-fastest lap blitzing the “Temple of Speed,” with a belter of a lap time- 1:19:119, something that Hamilton bettered a year and a half later in a much stronger Mercedes.
Monza 2018 and the Return to Podium
Some might say it was the excellent commentary by the British panel or ‘Crofty’s’ fantastic narration of what transpired at Monza. Still, whatever it was, the 2018 Italian GP saw two drivers going head to head in Ferrari land to claim not just a victory but script a golden chapter in the Mercedes versus Ferrari era.
Raikkonen, who one year back had taken a pole at Monaco, only to be backstabbed by his team who decided to put him on lap 33 to aid Vettel, when he was just as quick as the German was a man on a mission at Monza, the home of the Tifosi.
Hundreds of thousands of hearts had stopped on Saturday when Raikkonen beat the trinity of Bottas, Hamilton, and Vettel in blazing Monza’s time-sheets as he took a brilliant pole, thus far, the last of his career. But on race day, he’d prove his pole was no flash-in-the-pan occurrence and that he’d contest seriously for a win.
Emerging unscathed but only just in the run down to Ascari chicane, Raikkonen found a way to defy Hamilton, though not for long.
The Mercedes was past the Ferrari soon after, only to see Raikkonen fighting back and retaking the lead with Crofty exclaiming, “Monza goes wild!”
In a season where there was no shortage of controversy, Ricciardo’s Red Bull engine is often going up in smokes, Hamilton finding a podium- not a win- at Silverstone, only to return the favor by winning at Vettel-land courtesy an exciting Hockenheimring contest, Monza would produce a thriller.
On Lap 45 with just 8 to play, Raikkonen, functioning on barely-operational tires having suffered massive degradation, lost the lead eventually to Lewis, who’d never surrender the track position.
But for the 44 laps until such time, the famous racing duo produced a titanic slugfest of speed on a track that favors the bold and brave.
It was also Kimi’s 100th career podium though his next great Ferrari moment would come again that year, albeit after a few races.
Kimi’s All-American Rebirth
In Formula 1, you simply cannot down a strong force in motion, nor can you deny the inevitable; you can, at best, delay it. Something Kimi did avidly so by denying Lewis his world title in 2018 at the USA by spoiling his and his Mercedes’s party, and how?
Well, by simply taking the race win at the Circuit of the Americas.
In demonstrating excellent tire management whilst maintaining a steady race pace, Raikkonen, never on pole, snatched the lead from the 2018 world champion and kept up the pressure by defending brilliantly from a slightly faster car.
On that sparkling day at Texas, Kimi was “Owen Wilson kinda cool” in maintaining his authority, albeit ever so staidly despite battling the enormity of the pressure from behind.
Although Hamilton tried, Kimi didn’t budge and eventually broke another record, winning a GP after 113 races, the most extended wait for any racing driver in Formula 1.
This was to be his 21st and thus far, final race win but one that was massively celebrated, perhaps even by Mercedes fans who may have wondered what if a Kimi-Lewis pairing had ever happened.
Regardless, the man who stood third in the championship that year would move to compete with Sauber for 2019, the team that birthed Raikkonen into Formula 1.
Formula 1 Comes Full Circle
Peter Sauber’s famous find was back to the team that had undergone a complete overhaul, Raikkonen becoming the Alfa male for Alfa Romeo, and it didn’t take him long to prove why at 39, he was still a force to reckon with.
At the 2019 Brazilian GP, he stood fourth in a car with no Ferrari or Mercedes, as his teammate, Giovinazzi, who also considers the Iceman his idol, followed the hero.
There were exciting contests in Austria, Baku, France, just as there were in the first four races that season, with Raikkonen collecting points in all four.
But 2020 would prove to be the year of great undoing.
It would signal a nosedive in Alfa’s race pace and an overall package that neither helped a young Antonio nor a close-to-retirement Kimi wanting one last tango before the sunset of his career. Instead, an ailing, bland, uninspiring Ferrari-powered car saw Raikkonen suffer horribly, so much so that it wasn’t until Spain that he managed to drag somehow a vehicle that seemed slower than a road car into P2.
The results weren’t coming; they couldn’t have.
No More Frosting for the Iceman?
This year, the man who’s scored most points for Alfa Romeo is Raikkonen, albeit in a car that’s not even allowed him to break into double-digit figures.
In some instances, you could tell, the frustration was getting to him, for example, the closing-lap at Spielberg unfurling a brain-fade moment as Raikkonen collided into Vettel. This was when the Finn was in close contention of another point’s finish.
Being penalized for a pit entry fiasco and later serving yet another penalty at Hungary for an unsafe release that resulted in compromising Mazepin’s race, these incidents certainly exacerbated Raikkonen’s woes in comparison to his former machines was insipid.
Barring Baku’s point-scoring and that P10 at Hungaroring, venue of a blazing 2017 podium (P2), Kimi Raikkonen of 2021 has been less of a figure of inspiration but more of an idol crumbling under endless frustration.
Though he still has the stomach for a great contest as several of his pacy opening lap exploits have suggested so far, think Spielberg, don’t forget Spain and Portugal, the Iceman has too often lost his cool, of late, for a minor fault of his own you could say.
In an era where many young drivers are eager to forge their destinies, it’s only fair for Kimi Raikkonen to step aside and offer space; much like he always does during on-track scraps, he, unlike many others, provides space for clean and fair racing.
What we will most about Raikkonen, a true fighter, albeit one who never stooped to lows, would be his devotion to speed and his on-track charisma.
Enigma of Kimi Raikkonen
Okay, some would also say his laconic nature and one-line answers during boring media pressers.
But if you were to think of it, the most outstanding learning from one of the greats with an unfulfilled career with just one world title and lots of highs is the essence of detachment that Kimi almost consistently brought to the fore.
When asked at Abu Dhabi what his feelings were about Massa and Button’s exit- he laughed it off, “I’ve myself retired once, so I know how that feels.”
Someone who loved to race but also spared himself the pursuit of simple pleasures of life, be it walking off from a Monaco Grand Prix- having crashed- straight into his yacht while wearing the race-suit or doing funny Lotus videos with Matt le Blanc, Raikkonen epitomized the fighting but carefree spirit.
Cold, calm, calculative, but never cunning. Fast, blazingly quick- 46 fastest laps- and iconic, but never desirous of glowing nicknames; Kimi taught us a way of being dispassionate and aloof in a world where we are quick to hold onto things that are too often material.
Probably that’s why we mustn’t feel sad about Mr. Bwoah but celebrate him- shouldn’t we?
Feature Image Credit to Embed from Getty Images