Back to the Future

img512/5710/gal2006no2.jpgFrom 13 years of karting experience and only 23 races to his name, a future champion is brought into the big and faster paced world of F1. In 2001, Kimi joined the Sauber Petronas team alongside Nick Heidfeld. He scored 10th in the driver’s championship, with 4 race finishes in points and qualified 10 times in the top 10. Here are some quotes from Kimi and prominent figures in what was the making of his remarkable career:

Kimi on beginning his F1 debut at Sauber

“I don’t just want to drive slowly and learn the tracks. All the time I want to be at 100% and driving as quickly as I possibly can. Sure, I have only done 23 races, but before that I spent 13 years in karts. Everybody has their own comments, but it’s okay by me. I will try and score some points, but that’s the aim of everybody else out there, so it will be hard.”

Luca Di Montezemolo during the 2001 season

"Raikkonen is not a Ferrari driver. He is a Sauber driver. Sauber may be clients of ours, but we have nothing to do with their drivers. Kimi is a young, talented driver and is a potential world champion, but you cannot judge a driver from one season in Formula 1. Ferrari will never put a young driver in such an important car. It is also not the right moment for us because we have Michael Schumacher."

On September 14th 2001, Kimi was announced as McLaren’s driver

Kimi – "I really want to thank Peter (Sauber) for helping me to take the opportunity to drive for West McLaren Mercedes next year. Until then, I will do everything I can to help Sauber retain fourth place in the constructors’ championship."


It’s been well known that Ferrari’s response to McLaren’s signing of the young Finn was bitter. An F1Racing magazine photographer saw Jean and Kimi crossing paths in the Monza paddock and over heard Jean Todt saying to Kimi that not joining Ferrari was the biggest mistake of his life. The next day, Kimi had a spectacular crash in free practise at the Monza circuit. It seems ironic that this crash took place straight after the McLaren announcment, as Kimi had a crash at the same circuit, in free practise, 5 years later as a Ferrari driver and who’s championship hopes were fading. It seems strange but I like to see it as fate turning Kimi into a stronger man and a very special racing driver, who sticks by his decisions, never looks back and never gives up.

Kimi speaking on his McLaren debut

"I just hope that I will win at least one race and get as many podiums as possible. It is hard to say what is going to happen before the season starts so I will just have to get used to the car and the team and then we will see."

And Kimi very nearly did win a race during his first McLaren season. It was at Magny Cours, France, where Kimi was leading the race from Michael Schumacher but that changed due to an oil spill on the track from a sick Toyota. Kimi was unaware of it and ran too deep into the hairpin, allowing Schumacher to steal the race away from him with just a few laps remaining.

Obviously, the kid was very upset. But what wasn’t known was that despite Schumacher stealing the Finn’s maiden victory, Kimi would be Schumacher’s successor in a few years, his heir for the throne at Ferrari.


But Kimi’s special day did come sooner or later. Here is a video of Kimi’s maiden F1 Victory at the 2003 Malaysian Grand Prix. There’s no jumping or shouting from Kimi but the way he doesn’t put down his trophy says how much it meant to him. It’s in Italian commentary and features the last lap, parc ferme, podium and press conference in short. Thanks to Tania_S for getting the video material!

     

Download this video here

img50/2231/betterlistentoyourbossin5.jpgRon Dennis was proud of his new Iceman. Seeing him cry as Kimi drew closer to winning his first F1 race for McLaren was touching. He was also extremely emotional and tearful when Kimi won what is called his best race ever at Japan in 2005, it was also his last victory for the team.

He was given the choice of racing freely at McLaren or submitting to a Number 2 position at Ferrari. He was given the benefit of the doubt at McLaren and some reassurance of belief:

 

Ron Dennis revealed Kimi snubbed Ferrari for McLaren

"Kimi had options with other teams and one of them was to stay at Sauber for one more year and then move on to a team where he would be a number two driver. The thought of that was very unattractive to him because he did not want to be a number two in a team. Whereas at McLaren, we have a policy of not having number one and number two drivers and that is set to continue. Kimi liked that."

Dennis: Raikkonen so cool

"Kimi is so incredibly cool that I think that aspect of his personality surpasses even Mika. He is not fazed by anything. And he knows what a car is doing although the depth of the team and the data and experience we have can help make that easier.

Kimi can crash all he likes, says Dennis

"We know exactly what Kimi’s experience is and we do anticipate damage to cars because he is trying so hard. With the level of experience he has that is the price you pay for pushing to the limit. But I think it is an acceptable price to pay for the potential he presents."

img139/1573/205247743551510resizeau9.jpgWhat played into his change of team wasn’t just the poor reliability of his McLaren’s but also the attitude between the boss and the employee. If Kimi could crash all he liked, then he should have been able to drink all he liked and have fun all he liked and be as normal as other people. Being runner up twice to the driver’s championships in 2003 and 2005 was a sign that he was giving more than he should be taking.

After 5 bitter sweet years at McLaren, Kimi decided to take the Prancing Horse in his bid to become champion. Was going to McLaren a mistake then? Not at all. Kimi gained invaluable lessons and had turned from a hungry little racer to a masterful driver. Had he gone straight to Ferrari and be Schumacher’s pet, Kimi would have not realised his full potential – he would have been restrained. At McLaren, Kimi was able to try his hardest. Sometimes there were some falls but he was resilient enough to make it on his own. This was the perfect training for his next big step, heading to Ferrari. He had to prove to the biggest team in the sport, and the biggest fan group known as the Tifosi, that he will be a worthy champion and he did it. Not only was Kimi able to race freely with teammate Felipe Massa instead of Michael Schumacher, he was also allowed to be himself outside the team.

Nothing seemed to change Kimi’s performance though, if anything changed he perhaps gained more confidence and became wiser than most of his rivals. He had bigger mountains to climb than he did at McLaren but in the end his debut Ferrari season was brilliant and he got what he had finally been looking for – Champion of the World!

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