From 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:
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.
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
Ron 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:
What 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!