Kimi Raikkonen: A World Championship and 19 years later, its time to hang up the gloves

Kimi Raikkonen announced this week that he will be leaving Formula 1 at the end of the season. Whilst this has maybe been expected for the last few years, and with the rumour mill in full swing, this could be the first piece of the puzzle for the 2022 driver line up. However, no matter when you first knew of his driving style, attitude, or outlook on F1, he has been a popular driver throughout his career.

The Early Speed

First coming to the grid as a young 21-year-old, he debuted for Sauber in 2001 at the Australian Grand Prix and immediately put in a strong performance, scoring a point and a P6 finish. He proved many critics wrong after driving in Formula Renault the year before – three racing levels below Formula 1 at the time.

Having impressed early on he was very quickly signed to McLaren for 2002, replacing the retiring 2-time world champion, Mika Hakkinen. This was a successful partnership, competing head on with Michael Schumacher and coming close to titles in both 2003 and 2005. He gained a reputation for being one of the fastest drivers on the grid and to this day is still applauded for his race craft and speed.

One of his greatest wins came in 2005 at Suzuka where, having started down in 17th, he had to fight his way from the back of the grid to win the race, having to get past an extremely quick Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher. Putting in fastest lap after fastest lap, he took the lead from Giancarlo Fisichella with an absolutely fantastic move on the outside of turn 1 with just 1 lap to go. This cemented his place as one of the best drivers on the grid.

The Iceman’s Championship

For the second time in his career, at the end of 2006 he was set to replace a world retiring world champion. Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher decided it was time for him to exit the sport seemingly for good at the time. Kimi Raikkonen had already attracted the attention of Ferrari, having been one of their main rivals for the last 5 years. This opening meant Ferrari signed him for their 2007 season, little did they know this would be a successful title battle.

With tensions boiling over at McLaren with teammates Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, Raikkonen was able to make up a huge points deficit which ended in a title fight between the Iceman, the Champion, and the Rookie at the final round in Brazil. It was a thrilling end to the season which meant that Raikkonen came out on top by just one point. A surprise champion but definitely deserved after his first few years in F1.

Raikkonen beat Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso to the championship by just one point in 2007 – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Media

The Comeback Kid

Raikkonen did have a contract with Ferrari until the end of 2010, however with Alonso becoming a free agent at the end of 2009, the Italian team paid him off in order to get Alonso in the car. Having been evenly matched to Felipe Massa for most of his time at Ferrari, putting Alonso in the car began to make some question Kimi’s performances because Alonso was comfortably outperforming Massa. As a result, Kimi spent 2 years out of Formula 1 and focused on Rallying and Nascar.

In 2012 however, Lotus were looking to get Raikkonen back on the grid and so he returned much to everyone’s delight. It was a great couple of seasons for the team and driver, with Kimi having the edge over teammate Romain Grosjean due to his experience. He took two wins with the team – first at Abu Dhabi then at Melbourne – and the car seemed to be working well for the Finn.

With confidence dwindling for Alonso at Ferrari, Raikkonen made his way back to the Red team in 2014 to partner the Spaniard in his final season there. He would eventually become teammates with Sebastian Vettel in 2015 after Alonso finally decided to leave for McLaren. He became the apparent number two driver as Vettel consistently outperformed the Finn until, at the end of 2018, Ferrari decided to swap their 2007 champion with their rising star Charles Leclerc.

Having come full circle, Raikkonen has spent the last few years with the team he made his debut with, now Alfa Romeo. He has had some great drives for the team and clearly enjoyed still being in Formula 1 despite not being at the sharp end of the grid. He famously made a cameo in the second season of Drive to Survive saying: “its more like a hobby for me”.

Raikkonen has been with Alfa Romeo since 2019 – Courtesy of Sauber Group Media

With 341 Grand Prix starts, he is the most experienced driver of all time. He has 21 race wins, 103 podiums, 48 fastest laps, a world title and 19 years at the pinnacle of Motorsport; he will definitely be missed among fans and the F1 paddock. He has provided many memories over the years and it will be exciting to see what he does next if he decides to race in other series. For now, we look forward to seeing a relaxed Kimi race the rest of the season before he gives up his hobby to focus on other things.

Mercedes claim sixth consecutive Constructors’ Championship at Japanese Grand Prix

Mercedes have claimed a sixth successive Constructors’ Championship at the Japanese Grand Prix, with Valtteri Bottas taking the race win and Lewis Hamilton finishing in third.

The pair had started in third and fourth respectively, but Bottas capitalised on a mistake from Sebastian Vettel at the start to take the lead going into turn one. Hamilton inherited third when Charles Leclerc pitted on lap four for a new front-wing, following a coming-together with Max Verstappen on the first lap.

“We never thought this would be possible,” Toto Wolff said, “and I’m incredibly happy for everybody who has been a part of this journey. It’s not always been easy, the entire team put in a lot of hard work and we had our fair share of painful moments, but we were always able to pick ourselves up.”

2019 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Wolff also spoke of this year’s championship being particularly emotional in the wake of Niki Lauda’s passing in May.

“This sixth Championship is a very special one – and we dedicate it to Niki,” he said. “He has been such an important part from the beginning, and we all miss him dearly. I think about him every day and still find it hard to believe that he’s not here anymore.

“I keep thinking to myself, ‘What would Niki say, what would he think?’ Today, he probably would have said, ‘Congratulations for the sixth one, but you have a challenge on your hands for next year’. It was his way of making sure that we’re never complacent.”

2019 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Mercedes become the first team to claim six successive championships since Ferrari did so between 1999 and 2004, and things are set to get even more rosy for them in the coming races. Bottas’ win and Hamilton’s third-place means that they alone remain in contention for the Drivers’ Championship, with Vettel, Leclerc and Verstappen’s mathematical hopes being put to bed.

As such, Mercedes will become the first team in F1’s history to claim six successive Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships, regardless of which of their line-up claims the title.

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]

Japanese Grand Prix Preview: As a typhoon looms, is Hamilton storming towards the 2019 title?

Just when things looked to be in peril for Mercedes in the second half of the season, stepping up to stop Ferrari was, erm… Ferrari.

An evident storm is brewing within the Italian giant as the rivalry intensifies between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, and imminent typhoon Hagibis will either threaten to ignite that combustible tension or will give them the necessary push to overcome their Russian demons.

Indeed, the title is now all but wrapped up by the imperious Lewis Hamilton who leads the championship by 73 points with just 128 still up for grabs.

His tour towards his inevitable sixth world title brings us to the 5.8-kilometre Suzuka circuit. It’s easy to get tied up in knots here, with it being the only figure-of-eight circuit on the calendar, and having the awe-inspiring yet terrifying first sector, featuring high-speed esses that require skill, talent and bravery in equal measure.

2018 Japanese Grand Prix, Saturday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Such sections tend to become more difficult in treacherous conditions, and we are expecting no shortage of those this weekend. The typhoon is expected to affect practice, qualifying, and the race, although it is difficult to predict with any certainty.

Form generally gets tossed out the window in conditions like the ones anticipated in Suzuka – cast your minds back to Hockenheim – and the favourites for the weekend would be tough to predict in normal situations. Suzuka requires a pinpoint balance of power and downforce, and Ferrari – save for their spectacular in Sochi last time out – have seemed to excel at both since the teams returned from the summer break, but Mercedes will fancy their chances through the technical first sector.

Indeed this is a big weekend for Ferrari. Vettel had a complete nightmare last year in Japan, when a crazy, kamikaze move on Verstappen cost him any chance of a podium finish, and Charles Leclerc’s race was ultimately ruined after an incident at the start of the second lap with Kevin Magnussen.

Ferrari were in trouble before the race even began in Russia last time out. They had planned for Leclerc, starting on pole, to allow Sebastian Vettel, starting third, to slipstream his way past to ensure they had a one-two off the start. This was all well and good, but there’s one aspect Ferrari failed to factor in – pride.

Vettel, who is no stranger to team order controversy, was never going to allow Leclerc back past as the team had planned. Leclerc is an upstart who has walked into Vettel’s team and all but overthrown him. He needed to make a statement to his team, his team mate, and the world, saying that he is a four-time world champion, and that this is his team.

GP RUSSIA F1/2019 – DOMENICA 29/09/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Ferrari gave Leclerc the undercut to pass Vettel in the pitstops, only for the German to suffer an engine failure. He stopped the car off track, brought out the virtual safety car, gave Mercedes a free pit stop for both their drivers, and, ultimately, a one-two.

It is fair to say, then, that Ferrari have a point to prove, but so do Mercedes. They must prove themselves able to throw down with Ferrari after a post-summer break that has seen their form undulate. They want to change that, and issue an emphatic message to their counterparts.

Elsewhere, Toro Rosso will give an F1 debut to reigning Super Formula and Super GT champion Naoki Yamamoto. The Japanese home hero will take Pierre Gasly’s seat in the first practice session, before Gasly returns to the cockpit for the rest of the weekend.

It’s set to be a tough weekend with Typhoon Hagibis looming, and there’s a storm brewing between Mercedes and Ferrari as we head towards beautiful Suzuka.

 

[Featured image – Charles Coates/Getty Images)

2018 Japanese GP Review: Risking It All

Early in the morning for most Europeans, Formula One returned to the legendary Suzuka circuit for round seventeen of the 2018 season.

Lewis Hamilton started on pole once again, the 80th time he has done so in his career. Title rival Sebastian Vettel started from a lowly ninth place after a gamble on the intermediate tyres at the start of Q3 meant they lost precious time on track when it was dry. When the rain then started to fall near the end of Q3, Vettel couldn’t improve and made several mistakes in the slippery conditions. Bottas started behind Hamilton in P2, with a very surprised but happy Verstappen in third. On the other side of the Red Bull garage there was drama as Ricciardo once again had issues with the engine, keeping the car inside the garage in Q2 and resigning him to a 15th place start.

The race started under clear blue skies, and immediately Vettel began to make up for his poor qualifying by charging to sixth place after just two turns, and fifth place by the end of the first lap. Verstappen had a good start, but at the end of the first lap he locked up his brakes entering the final chicane, pushing the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen off the track as he rejoined. The incident was investigated, and Verstappen was given a five-second penalty for “leaving the track and returning unsafely”.

2018 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

After a brief Virtual Safety Car, deployed because of debris on the track after a collision between Kevin Magnussen and Charles Leclerc, Vettel moved up to fourth place and turned his attention to getting past Verstappen for third. He made an overtaking attempt going into Spoon Corner but, in trying to go through on the inside of Verstappen, the two made contact, with Vettel spinning and dropping down to 19th.

Verstappen survived relatively unscathed, and came into the pits on lap twenty-two to serve his five-second penalty and change onto the soft tyres. Valtteri Bottas made his pit stop the lap afterwards, and switched onto the medium tyres.

By lap 34, Vettel had fought his way back into the top ten, and overtook Grosjean going into Spoon – this time cleanly – to take seventh place.

After another Virtual Safety Car, this time for the stranded car of Charles Leclerc, Verstappen made an effort to get past Valtteri Bottas for P2. Despite Bottas making an error going into the last chicane and struggling with a blister on his rear tyres, he managed to hold on.

After fifty-three laps it was a dominant victory for Lewis Hamilton, once again extending his championship lead as Vettel disappointed with an eventual sixth place. Bottas and Verstappen completed the podium, with Ricciardo, Räikkönen, Vettel, Perez, Grosjean, Ocon and Sainz rounding out the top ten. Driver of the Day could only go to Daniel Ricciardo, who finished in fourth after starting from fifteenth.

2018 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – Paul Ripke

In the drivers’ championship, Hamilton now leads Vettel by 67 points with only four races to go. Next up is the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in two weeks time. If Hamilton outscores Vettel by eight points or more in that race, Hamilton will win the championship.