Kimi Räikkönen: Ferrari’s Last World Champion | F1 career | Retirement | F1 Records | Debut
Born in Espoo, Finland on 17 October 1979, Kimi-Matias Räikkönen has enjoyed a decorated career in motorsport. The Finn won numerous accolades in karting from the age of 10 before moving on to car racing.
In 1999, he competed in the European Formula Super A championship and Formula Ford EuroCup, and was the front-runner in Formula Renault UK winter series in ‘99 and 2000, while also delivering his military duties for Finland.
FORAY INTO FORMULA ONE
The Finnish driver ditched junior Formula altogether, and with just 23 car races in his arsenal, he got his break in Formula One when Sauber saw his impressive results and decided to sign him alongside Nick Heidfeld in 2001.
There were some who were concerned about this move, suggesting that the young lad was too inexperienced for F1. He was nevertheless granted his Super License.
Rookie Kimi Räikkönen, along with his teammate, helped Sauber to fourth place in the constructors’ championship.
A man of few words and a hater of press conferences, Kimi’s cool and calm demeanour both on and off the track made him widely known as the ‘Iceman’. He drove fearlessly and could get his car to the limit very quickly.
Sometimes I think things have happened too quickly, but at the end of the day I was in the right place at the right time with the right people behind me.
- Kimi Räikkönen
RISE OF THE ROOKIE
Due to serious reliability issues with Mclaren MP4-19, and faster pace of Ferraris, he had to make do with podiums and pole positions.
2003 saw Kimi’s rise in the sport. He was quick and consistent. His first win came in Malaysia and despite 3 DNFs in the season, he finished P2 in the world championship, the final points deficit between himself and Michael Schumacher being just two points.
The introduction of MP4-19B in the second part of the 2004 season saw Kimi winning at Spa-Francorchamps which was the highlight of the year.
2005 started slow for the Iceman but he soon found his groove and won 7 races. His incredible upsurge at Suzuka (Japan) goes down as one of the greatest wins in the history of F1.
The Finn started P17, made up place after place, and overtook the race leader at the final lap to take the lead of the race. His Monaco win was also one to remember.
Once again he came a close second to the eventual champion, Fernando Alonso.
The 2006 season was a disappointing one as the MP4-21 couldn’t clinch a single victory. Kimi had six retirements in the season with the best place finish of second and he ended up P5 in the WDC.
FIRST WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP AND FERRARI DAYS
After Schumacher’s retirement, Ferrari signed the Iceman up for 2007. This was when his life upturned. He was the fastest man on the grid. Kimi Räikkönen won his debut race for Scuderia Ferrari, beating the McLaren boys Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. Except for a few fallouts, he was super consistent throughout the season.
At the title-deciding finale at Interlagos, covering a 7 point gap to Hamilton seemed impossible. However, thanks to a gearbox failure dropping Lewis to P7 and Kimi’s legendary driving, he won the race and went on to win his first world championship by beating the other two title contenders Alonso and Hamilton by just one point.
In 2008, he equalled Schumacher’s record of most fastest laps in a season (10). The season started off well for Kimi Räikkönen but then things fell apart.
Due to some bad luck and errors, including exhaust failure in Magny Cours, crashing in Monaco and being crashed into by Lewis in Montreal, a wrong pit stop strategy at Silverstone, and engine blowout in Valencia, he dropped down third in the standings, behind his Brazilian teammate Felipe Massa.
Kimi won the Belgian GP of 2009, the only win for Ferrari in the season in an uncompetitive Ferrari F60, following Massa’s skull accident at Hungaroring. Kimi Räikkönen abandoned both Ferrari and F1 racing in 2009.
A NEW BEGINNING
After trying his hand at the World Rally Championship and NASCAR in 2010-11, Kimi returned to F1 after a two-year hiatus in 2012, a stunning season that saw 7 different drivers winning the first 7 races.
In his second season driving for Lotus, he won the Australian GP starting P7 and had a string of good performances.
Ferrari took notice of this and four years after delivering what remains Ferrari’s last Drivers’ Championship, Kimi was re-hired for the 2014 season, something they hadn't done with any driver since Gerhard Berger in 1993.
STRUGGLES IN THE MID-FIELD
The performance of Ferrari had plunged. With zero podium finishes and ending up 12th in the championship rankings, 2014 was Kimi’s most disappointing season so far. His teammate Alonso helped prop up the team to 4th in constructors with a podium.
Teamed up with Sebastian Vettel after Alonso’s retirement, 2015 fared better for the Finn with 2 podium finishes. Kimi’s 4th along with Vettel’s 3rd place finish ranked Ferrari second in the Constructors’ Championship, lagging far behind Mercedes. The stint with Ferrari was difficult for Kimi as Vettel had the upper hand.
It was 2018 when the Iceman tasted victory again, after 5 years, leading the USA GP with Hamilton and Max Verstappen on his tail.
He displayed the form of his younger days and despite having 4 retirements, he won 12 of the 21 podiums that season. But even that was not enough as Ferrari brought in their protégé, Charles Leclerc, to replace him.
BACK TO THE BACKMARKERS
After starting 151 GPs with Ferrari, second-most all-time after Michael Schumacher, Kimi Räikkönen went back to Sauber, now known as Alfa Romeo, for the 2019 season. They could not deliver a car worthy of the world champion.
Even in a struggling car, Kimi Räikkönen managed to finish within points in the first half of the season. He still pulled off some stellar drives over the course of three years. However, it was the beginning of the end.
There was no point in him scoring scanty points battling for the 12th position or lower. So after completing 19 seasons in F1, the Finn veteran announced his retirement from 2021.
Having 21 wins and 103 podiums to his name, he was the oldest driver on the grid in 2021. Kimi Räikkönen has the most Grand Prix starts in F1 history (349), making him the most experienced driver in F1. He also holds the corresponding record of the farthest distance driven.
Even with a single world championship in his bag, he is one of the true legends in the sport. He is immensely revered and loved by everyone, so much so that even at the age of 42, fans were not ready for his retirement. The internet was filled with the hashtag #KiitosKimi (Finnish; Thank you Kimi) to pay tribute to the legend.