Nov 27, 2018 – A familiar face returned to the Sauber garage. After 17 long years, Kimi Raikkonen had come full circle. Most of us are aware of Kimi’s most recent exploits at Alfa Romeo (formerly known as Sauber), but it’s his debut that is quite an interesting tale. Let us take a trip down memory lane – at the start of the millennium.
In September 2000, Peter Sauber invited Kimi Raikkonen for a test run. Raikkonen’s carting escapades had greatly impressed the Sauber supremo. Kimi’s principle of “talk less, drive more” resonated with Sauber’s needs. Sauber was quick to catch on that Kimi was something special and had to be protected by all means necessary.
When Raikkonen turned up at Mugello Circuit – heads were turned and questions were asked. Kimi was 20 years old (not even old enough to drive road cars) with a career that spanned a paltry 23 races.
Giving Formula 1 testing opportunities to inexperienced drivers lacking the necessary super license points was unheard of at the time. Had these stringent practices persisted, Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc wouldn’t be in Formula One until much later!
Despite the criticism, Sauber decided to go ahead with a 3-day test. Former Sauber driver Pedro Diniz helped in setting up the car for Raikkonen. Day 1 saw Diniz and Raikkonen sharing duties, with the latter 2.4 seconds slower. Not a bad effort, considering Kimi had no expertise in the highest class of single-seater racing.
However, day 2 was when Raikkonen truly shined. Kimi went a full 5 tenths quicker than Diniz’s best time during the first few laps. What truly stood out was Raikkonen’s controlled aggression- being fast, but efficient – amazed his race engineer.
Kimi’s ability to suggest upgrades, seek minor improvements where necessary and eke out the maximum potential of the car didn’t go unnoticed.
Raikkonen excelled in the longer and shorter runs. No matter what the stint, the young Finn had an answer that exceeded expectations. Some compared Kimi to the likes of the late great Ayrton Senna.
Speaking to the official F1 website – Former Chief Designer Sergio Rinland said, “This test wasn’t long after Senna died, it was still very fresh in my memory and in my heart. When I saw this kid, I thought, this is the next one. He had a look in his eyes. There was a depth that is difficult to explain, but his test reminds me when Senna did the first Formula 3 test at Thruxton circuit”
Rinland was present at the circuit testing his Formula Ford car. According to him, Kimi Raikkonen drove a few laps and with some setup adjustments: shattered the lap record. However, the Finn noticed that the car had a lot of understeers and hence asked for more front wing.
There’s Kimi’s driving and then there’s Kimi’s demeanor – which has a separate fanbase altogether. Raikkonen’s proficiency in straight-talking and no-nonsense approach to racing left the team bemused.
When out on the racetrack or while lingering in the paddock, racing was the only thing on his mind. When Kimi wasn’t testing, he would use the opportunity to witness F1 legend Michael Schumacher in action. The hunger and desire to learn never stopped.
Speaking to F1, Raikkonen’s former race engineer Jacky Eeckelaert had his say – “He wouldn’t tell the story of his life after each run. He would speak about braking, early entry, entry, mid-corner, exit of each corner in a very succinct way. He would focus on the corners where he thought he could gain time. It’s a nice way to work. In the evenings, we would debrief. I asked him what he would like done to the car to make it more comfortable. He looked with his blue eyes and said ‘I don’t know Jacky. I listen to you. I’ll just drive the car’.”
These events were enough to convince Peter Sauber and Raikkonen was announced for the following season. Little did we know we were witnessing the start of something legendary.
Over the years the world saw the transformation from boy to (ice)man. Raikkonen would achieve superstardom and a fan following that is second to none.
Kimi went on to win 21 races and a world championship with Scuderia Ferrari. He remains the last champion for Ferrari to date.
Now driving for Alfa Romeo, Kimi returned to where it all began- Older and wiser but still a hardcore racer. Although past his golden years, Kimi Raikkonen will go down in history as a man with no haters who just wanted to be left alone.
I conclude this piece by saying- “bwoah, thank you Kimi”.