“When men of few words speak, it is always worth listening and Kimi does not disappoint.”
Picture a pitch black stage. A drum roll begins, growing quickly to an explosive crescendo as a spotlight suddenly illuminates a microphone stand… a figure trudges into the limelight wearing a baseball cap with a straightened peak, a black t-shirt and khaki utility shorts. Ice blue eyes peer into the darkness for a few seconds before we hear a familiar monotone: “I hate awards ceremonies.”
And with that Kimi Matias Räikkönen turns on his heel and darts out the closest exit – clutching the highly coveted, prestigious YallaF1.com 2012 Driver of the Year Award – to a standing ovation from hundreds of F1 luminaries.
So there we have it, Raikkonen, the Iceman is our 2012 Driver of the Year. In a field of 23 nerds, the Finn was “The Dude” – in the Big Lubowski kind of way – and coming back to the sport in a manner that suggested that he had hardly been away.
Rewind to 2001 when a fresh faced Raikkonen was announced as a Sauber driver alongside Nick Heidfeld. At that point Raikkonen had only competed in 23 single-seater races, mostly in the minor Formula Ford arena, prior to that he did some karting. In other words he was virtually born a Formula One driver.
Hence it was no surprise that his WRC forays with Citroen ended more often than not with bent metal, and his NASCAR escapades were a mere flirtation.
Raikkonen is an out and out F1 driver. It’s as simple as that.
Nevertheless his comeback was looked upon with scepticism in some quarters – as sporting comebacks often are, but it took little time to silence the naysayers, as he topped the timing sessions in the first test he took part in, at Jerez early in the year.
The rest is (recent) history. Some will argue that the Lotus was a world championship winning car, but you could also venture that Raikkonen in a Red Bull RB8 would have been world champion. The debate would rage forever…
In terms of his comeback – it was simply stellar – perhaps the blistering raw speed of the past was not quite there, but then he made few mistakes all year and scored in 19 of the 20 races, was on the podium seven times, won in Abu Dhabi and finished third in the world championship.
Yes, the Lotus E20 was a good piece of kit, but it never really suited Raikkonen and his discomfort early on in the season was an issue. They reached a compromise but the Finn was never really in his element sat in the cockpit.
He was also paired with the golden boy Romain Grosjean, well known for his raw speed in GP2, and keen to make amends for his abortive introduction to Formula 1 with Renault in 2009. Granted the young Frenchman tended to have a slight edge in outright pace, but was simply no match for the craft and experience of Raikkonen. Grosjean is lucky to have kept his seat as he endured an incident packed season… perhaps over eager to match and beat his older, but far wiser teammate.
Perhaps the most telling quote was his response when asked why his comeback was way more successful than that of seven times world champion Michael Schumacher. Raikkonen replied oozing honesty and respect at the same time, “It’s just about whether you have a good car or not. It has made life much easier for me. He ([Schumacher] was not so lucky.”
Ultimately Raikkonen brought more to the party this year than anyone else. He tilted the monotony of an increasingly spin doctored sport where the likes of Timo Glock and Pedro de la Rosa, among many others, have to sing the praises of a hopeless car when all they really want to say is: “This is a piece of sh*t, but I gave it my best shot and ended 19th.”
Raikkonen would say that for sure, but then he would never demean himself to drive a piece of sh*t.
His unique dry humour was evident throughout the year in most of his interviews, and the videos he made – the contract signing and the Christmas wishes – were hilarious.
His banter (for lack of a better word) with his engineer during his course to victory in Abu Dhabi was the stuff of legend and his now famous: “Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing” is a slogan that will stand the test of time.
But what swung it for us in the end was his salute to James Hunt by wearing the British world champion’s helmet replica during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend – a gesture that said so much about Raikkonen – a true touch of class.
The Finn embodies that same intangible spirit that makes him one of the most loved drivers of this generation and his legacy will live on beyond his era, pretty much like Gilles Villeneuve who despite only winning six grands prix is still one of the most popular drivers of all time 30 years after his death at Zolder.
The doyen of Formula 1 writers Nigel Roebuck summed up the sentiment best when writing his column in the January 2013 edition of Motorsport: “As far as I’m concerned, it can only be good that in 2012 there still resides a free spirit ion Grand Prix racing.” Spot-on Mr Roebuck.
In other words, The Dude among the 23 nerds.