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The career of Kimi Raikkonen in Formula 1

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) during Qualifying at the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. Credits: Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen Media Hub

Kimi Raikkonen is one of the most successful Formula 1 drivers of all time and with the recent announcement of the Finn retiring at the end of the 2021 season, it is only necessary to take a look at the illustrious career of the Iceman.

341 Grands Prix starts, 103 podiums, 21 race wins, and most importantly, one World Championship in 2007, are just some of the achievements Raikkonen achieved in his 19 years at the pinnacle of motorsport.

2001: Debut for Sauber

Raikkonen was first introduced to Formula 1 by Sauber-Petronas, who signed the inexperienced Finn, having started only 23 car races. Despite skepticism from many at the time, including FIA President at the time, Max Mosley.

He would prove to be a formidable young driver, as Raikkonen managed to score his first points in Formula 1 at his debut race in Australia, finishing sixth at the end of the race after the disqualification of the fourth-place finisher. This would eventually lead to McLaren signing the Finn, replacing the outgoing Mika Hakkinen.

2002: Switch to McLaren Mercedes

McLaren Mercedes snatched up Raikkonen for the 2002 season, having noticed his excellent speed and control over the car, despite his inexperience. Despite being partnered alongside a more experienced driver, David Coulthard, Raikkonen secured his maiden podium at the opening race at Melbourne, with third place.

While many hoped for Raikkonen to challenge the reigning Ferraris for the championship, the duo of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello were once more dominant, with the McLaren MP4/17 feeble compared to the Ferrari F2002.

Raikkonen alone had 6 DNF’s that season, a testament to McLaren’s reliability, something will hinder Raikkonen multiple times in the future from winning races and even securing World Championships.

After podiums at the Nurburgring and Adelaide, the latter only happening after Raikkonen had missed out on the race lead after slipping on oil left by Alan McNish’s Toyota, Raikkonen started second behind Schumacher at Spa-Francorchamps, ultimately retiring after his engine gave up. The last podium of the season came at Suzuka, with Raikkonen finishing the season at sixth.

2003: Challenging Schumacher

The 2003 season began poorly for McLaren, with the new MP4/18 proving to be unfit for racing due to its lack of stability. Eventually, McLaren competed with a modified MP4/17, and Raikkonen went on to perform wonders, securing third at Melbourne and a maiden win at Sepang, a race where the Iceman started seventh on the grid, thus taking the lead of the championship.

Another victory followed at a rain-soaked Brazil, but it would not remain his for long, as it was quickly awarded to Giancarlo Fisichella the next race, after it was revealed Raikkonen had been accidentally awarded the win due to a timekeeping error.

Schumacher and Ferrari started to close in on Raikkonen and McLaren, with the German taking the championship lead by Barcelona. At the Nurburgring, he had an engine problem, throwing away his pole position advantage and gifting the lead to Schumacher.

After P2 at Indianapolis, Raikkonen was still in contention for the championship, only nine points behind Schumacher. However, it would be the latter who was crowned champion as Raikkonen was unable to pass the Ferrari of Barrichello, allowing Schumacher to win the title with an eighth-place finish, being crowned champion by a margin of two points.

2004 proved to be disappointing, as the Maranello outfit dominated with Schumacher, while the McLarens were slow and unreliable. A couple of podiums and a win at Spa were the only highlights of the season for the Woking outfit and Raikkonen.

2005: Challenging Alonso

Raikkonen once again returned to the front of the grid in 2005, with the McLaren MP4/20, despite a difficult start to the season, only scoring seven points in three races. While the Finn secured pole at Imola, a gearbox failure gifted the win to Fernando Alonso in the Renault R25, a slower but reliable car.

After wins in Barcelona and Monaco in triumphant fashion, it seemed as if Raikkonen would finally walk away with the championship. However, a right front tire blowout at the Nurburgring, followed by team orders to stay out, meant Raikkonen ended the race, slammed against the wall with a broken suspension.

Despite winning in Canada, it was clear Alonso was gaining a gap, which was not helped at Silverstone and Magny-Cours, after technical issues during testing meant Raikkonen had to start from the back. Despite the podiums on both occasions, it was not enough.

At Hockenheim, a hydraulic failure once again gifted the win to Alonso, and Raikkonen attempted to make up for lost points with wins at Hungary, Turkey and Belgium. However, at Interlagos, during the Brazillian GP, Alonso was crowned World Champion with Raikkonen securing fifth place at the race.

While the Finn won at Suzuka from seventeenth, it would prove to be futile as Renault claimed the constructor’s title at Shanghai after Alonso won the race, with Raikkonen only able to muster second place, once again unable to win a title.

After an uncompetitive season in 2006, which saw Raikkonen not secure a single win in the season, a first since 2002, the Finn made the switch to Ferrari, replacing the outbound Schumacher.

2007: World Champion

2007 would prove to be the season to race for Raikkonen, as it was the year the Finn finally won a World Championship, after a hard-fought battle amidst major controversy, in the form of the Spygate scandal.

While he won the opening round at Melbourne, Raikkonen struggled with the Bridgestone tires, thus struggling behind championship leader Lewis Hamilton of McLaren and teammate Felipe Massa by the first seven races.

Soon, however, Raikkonen started to win, taking wins at Magny Cours and Silverstone, before suffering from bad luck in the form of hydraulics failure at the Nurburgring. Despite this, the Finn secured podiums at Budapest, Istanbul and Monza, and a victory at Spa-Francorchamps, before a strategic error by Ferrari lost him the win in Japan.

Trailing seventeen points behind Hamilton with two races to go, Raikkonen secured a well-needed win in Shanghai and won the Brazillian GP in a championship-deciding finale, with Raikkonen passing pole-sitter Massa at the pits, finally securing a World Championship, aged 28, by a slim margin of 1 point.

Raikkonen faced disappointing seasons in 2008 and 2009, where he played supporting driver to Massa, before announcing his exit from Ferrari and Formula 1 at the Italian Grand Prix in 2009, despite initially extending his contract with Ferrari until 2010.

2012: Return to Formula 1

After unsuccessful spells in NASCAR and rallying, Raikkonen returned to Formula 1, joining Lotus Renault alongside GP2 champion Romain Grosjean for the 2012 season.

At his first race with the team at Melbourne, he finished fifth in the race, despite a gearbox change leading to him starting tenth on the grid, in addition to setting the fastest lap in the race.

At Bahrain, he secured his podium since his return to F1, finishing second behind Sebastian Vettel. Another podium followed at the Spanish Grand Prix and while Monaco was disappointing, with a ninth-place finish, he finished second at the European Grand Prix, with two more podiums at Germany and Hungary.

Toward the end of the season, Raikkonen was in title contention with Alonso and Vettel, and despite his victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, he was only able to secure third place in the driver’s championship.

Despite winning at Monaco the next season, Raikkonen had a lackluster 2013 season, finishing fifth in the standings. Raikkonen left Lotus for monetary reasons, returning to the team that had once helped him win his championship.

2014: Return to Maranello

Raikkonen signed with Ferrari for the 2014 season, choosing the number #7 as his car number. He had a disastrous first season during his return stint, finishing a lowly twelfth in the standings.

The 2015 season saw an improvement from Raikkonen, with a new teammate, in the form of four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel. With podiums at Bahrain, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi, he finished fourth in the stands, behind the Mercedes cars and Vettel.

2016 would be less successful for the Iceman, who finished sixth in the standings despite securing three podiums that season, with two second-place finishes at Bahrain and Spain respectively.

After seven podium finishes that season, Raikkonen would continue the longest winless streak in F1 history, finishing fourth once again. His final season with Ferrari would be his best in his second stint, as he would finish third in the standings, with a win at the United States Grand Prix.

2019: Full Circle with Sauber

Raikkonen decided to end things with the team he began his career with, Sauber. Now renamed Alfa Romeo Racing, the Finn joined the Swiss-based team on a two-year contract, scoring 43 points in his first season, including a fourth-place finish at Brazil, leading to Sauber’s best points tally since 2013.

The 2020 season saw Raikkonen struggle at the back of the field due to the underwhelming Alfa Romeo C39, which like every Ferrari-powered car that season, was slower than most of the grid. Despite this, Raikkonen managed to out-qualify his teammate, Antonio Giovinazzi, and finish ahead of him during most Grands Prix.

The Eifel Grand Prix that year also saw Raikkonen break Barrichello’s record for the most Grands Prix starts of all time, a record he holds to this day. He also won the FIA Action of the Year award for his Portuguese Grand Prix theatrics, where he overtook 10 cars in the opening lap.

The 2021 season has been a struggle so far for the Iceman, having been constantly outperformed by Giovinazzi. It marks the final season Raikkonen will race in Formula 1, the end of an illustrious 20 year career.

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