Notable Absentees: Kimi Raikkonen 20/03/10

In 2009 it became clear very early on that Kimi Raikkonen was not going to see out the full term of his Ferrari contract. Despite neither Kimi nor Felipe Massa starting the season particularly well, the perception had always been that Raikkonen lacked commitment and ambition having already achieved world champion status. What had never been in doubt was the talent at Kimi’s disposal, and however much you had read that on his day Raikkonen was unbeatable, those occurrences became few and far between.

In his last year at Ferrari, Raikkonen did record his customary victorious performance at Spa Francorchamps, albeit after a race-long battle with Force India’s Giancarlo Fisichella. This was an indication of how troubled the 2009 Ferrari F60 was, but Kimi and the team’s sole win of the season came among a short string of impressive results. Being partnered with Badoer, then Fisichella, seemed to spur Raikkonen on to squeeze the best out of a bad car in the last third of the year but it was never going to be enough to keep Alonso from usurping his seat. It was also not enough to guarantee him a drive anywhere else for 2010. There was interest in him from Mercedes GP and more obviously McLaren, but Kimi’s attempts to keep himself in a seat for 2010 seemed somewhat obligatory instead of voluntary. Reports of unreasonable wage demands and low-responsibility contracts inevitably resulted in Raikkonen being left standing when the music stopped.

Should F1 have done more to try and keep one of its most recent and well-supported champions in a seat for 2010? Surely in a year where every top team seems to have a world champion incumbent or at least a serious challenger, Raikkonen could only have added to the hype and the spectacle? This raises the question of where he could have gone, having spurned opportunities to sign for Mercedes and McLaren. Undoubtedly the return of Michael Schumacher is a bigger draw than a former world champion who seems borderline uninterested, so realistically the only other teams that could offer Kimi a tilt at race wins would be Williams and Renault, neither of which would have been able or prepared to pay what Kimi’s management were asking. Not even close.

With his heart turning towards more extreme forms of motorsport able to provide greater thrills than finishing anywhere below 1st in an F1 race, Kimi Raikkonen became a World Rally Championship driver in 2010. After Juan Pablo Montoya’s exit from F1 in 2006, Kimi’s is probably the greatest loss to the sport in recent years. While he may not have been a modern F1 driver in the commercial sense of the word, unsuitable for the demands of many teams, ironically Raikkonen had great personality specifically in his widely perceived lack of it. Without question one of the fastest, most gifted and cleanest drivers throughout the years, when Raikkonen got it right in 2007 he did it his way. While the McLaren duo of Hamilton and Alonso depleted each other, Raikkonen wrapped up the title with win after win.

Depending on who you talk to, Raikkonen should probably already be a 3-time world champion instead of that solitary title in 2007. A late change in tyre rules in 2003 swung the championship away from him and McLaren towards Schumacher and Ferrari. Furthermore, in 2005 Raikkonen and McLaren had the fastest car on the grid, but early season reliability woes allowed Fernando Alonso and Renault to amass an unassailable points advantage despite the fact that Raikkonen scored as many wins that year as the eventual champion. No F1 fan will ever forget what was arguably the greatest victory in modern F1, a last lap pass on Giancarlo Fisichella for the lead at the mighty racing temple that is Suzuka in 2005, having started 17th on the grid. Here’s to the future return of another great F1 champion, who completed his slow descent out of the limelight after being thrust into it so suddenly.


Anonymous said...

Not many leave F1 and have a company offer to sponsor and facilitate their dream. If he has a mad desire to return to F1 he can easily - and he could have stayed, possibly accepting a lower wage (which would still be an outrageous amount) - but if he really wanted to drive the circuits, he could have. He got the opportunity of a lifetime and took it - good for him, I'd do the same thing.

Matt said...

Kimi was a great driver, and has been robbed of other championships. Kimi was always regarded as he driver with natural talent and ability, and Im sure that if the Ferrari F2008 had oversteered, instead of understeering which would favour Massa, Kimi would have won that championship too. The F60 was a complete dog of a car, and I am glad to see that people saw how hard Kimi was working to get the best possible result; in a car that was only worthy of finishing around 8th. The cars have been Kimi's biggest problem, more notably during his McLaren years.
I feel the press have always bullied Kimi. And I am appauled in the manner that they have treated him over his F1 career span; just because he is a little different to all the other drivers, it does not give them the right to continually pick on every wrong move he makes, or how often he gets drunk. Lets face it, the majority of young people like to go out to nightclubs and enjoy themselves - plus it's in his Finnish nature.

I really hope Kimi decides to make a return, where we can see the true champions of Kimi, Lewis and Jenson fight for the championship. Alonso is another great contender, but I am not a fan of his attitude sometimes. As for Schumacher, he is just a cheat!!

s_geiszler said...
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osrg said...

Well, written Maz... as a fan of the Iceman for his entire F1 career, i miss him and his laconic style already..... he's wasted in WRC.

AERO said...

I doubt F1 will miss Kimi. And Kimi certainly won't miss F1. He's got a lot of winning to do in WRC and whilst his personality may not shine in front of a camera, he will no doubt use his driving style as a projection of who he is in rallying. The one thing I respect about the WRC is that your driving does all the talking you'll ever need to do.

Kimi will do well there.