Today is a significant day for all Kimi fans. It would also be the turning point of which future Formula One drivers can make an impact sooner, rather than later.
On December 7th 2000 – it was the day Kimi was granted his superlicense into Formula One. Seven years later to the day, he will be receiving his first ever world championship trophy in Monaco tonight. Kimi’s entrance into the world of Formula One was a controversy – many voiced their concerns on inexperienced newcomers, including drivers such as Barrichello who is currently the most experienced F1 driver, and FIA president Max Mosely.
Kimi, only 21 at the time, felt that his inexperience should not have been such an issue:
“I may only have done 23 car races,” he said, “but I don’t believe the number is a key issue. I don’t think Sauber would want a driver who’s not ready for F1. I could do a season in something else, but I cannot see that changing my way of driving.”
“Everybody should be given an equal opportunity,” said Raikkonen. “I’m not sure how they judge who can have a super-licence and I’m not expecting to be treated differently to anyone else. I only hope to be given a chance to show that I can hack it in F1.”
Keke Rosberg, former F1 World Champion, felt that giving the green light to Kimi would change the F1 driver market forever:
“The world will change if Raikkonen gets a superlicence. It will turn the whole driver market on its head. In my day it would never have happened because there was massive power and a lack of road-holding. You just could not have done it.”
Peter Sauber was the man who took his faith in Kimi as will power to make sure this young but mature talent get’s in:
"We would like Kimi Raikkonen to drive our second car next to Nick Heidfeld," said Sauber. "When we get the confirmation of the super-licence by the FIA, the public and media will be informed accordingly."
“There are several aspects why we very strongly believe that Raikkonen is the right man for us," he added. "First of all he has a very professional approach towards his work and an astonishing maturity considering his age. Even more impressive is his natural speed. He seems to crank out fast lap times effortlessly. In comparison with other drivers, we never got the impression that he reached his limits. We still have to find out how fast he can go!”
Steve Roberston, Kimi’s manager since his British Renault Championship days, said retaining the superlicense would be a big vindication of Kimi’s talent and potential:
“He’s done a perfect job in Jerez these last three days and I think that was very important in helping to make up the FIA’s mind on the matter. He’s been fast and consistent, even in the wet, and he didn’t cause a single stoppage all the way through the test – which is more than you can say for a lot of the guys out there.
“To be honest, knowing how much was at stake, I’m really amazed at how calm he has been,” he added. “He will not be out of his depth in Formula 1 next year.”
“I believe that Kimi is a special case and that he is ready for F1 right now,” he said, “but that doesn’t make F3 or F3000 any less relevant for the majority of drivers. As I said, I personally believe Kimi is a special case and that’s why we feel so confident that he can make the jump successfully.”
And he did. Within one year, after successfully proving to Sauber and to the rest of the F1 circus that he had potential that could reach the stars, Kimi joined the stars at McLaren replacing two time World Champion Mika Hakkinen.
Mika wasn’t the only World Champion who believed that Kimi was going places – Michael Schumacher saw him first test for Sauber in September 2000 and recognised the potential of who would be his successor at Ferrari:
"I saw him drive at Mugello," Schumacher said. "I observed him and I evaluated his lap times and I could see that he can be a champion. He’ll make mistakes, but then again all of us do."
So, today is that same day when he was given the opportunity of a lifetime and Kimi will receive the trophy he has always dreamed of. As he holds up the physical representation of his success, he will prove that he was well worth the risk.
The FIA Gala this evening will be aired on the Eurosport channel at 23:30 CET. Don’t worry if you don’t have the channel, KRS will share it with you in a downloadable video because none of us want to miss Kimi’s big moment!