While many drivers spend years working their way through single seater championships, such as Formula 3, GP3 and GP2, Kimi Räikkonen (The Iceman) took a much more direct route. He got his debut with Sauber in 2001 with just 23 single seater races under his belt. His signing was met with concern, with many questioning whether he was ready after so few races. Peter Sauber said at the time: “We are taking a risk, but it is a controlled risk. When I see how cool Kimi is approaching Formula One racing, I do not think there is a danger. We know that it will take Kimi time to find his feet in Formula One, once the racing starts, but our expectations of his long-term potential are very high.” And he was right.
Like most drivers, Räikkonen started karting at an early age. In 1999, when fellow Finn Mika Hakkinen was winning his second world championship, Räikkonen was winning the Formula Renault UK Winter series. In 2000 he continued in Formula Renault UK and became champion for Manor Motorsport. In September of that year Räikkonen was granted a test with Sauber at Mugello, completing 29 laps on day one. Further tests in Jerez and Barcelona ensured Räikkonen had completed enough laps to be granted a superlicence, despite his lack of experience. At the 2001 Australian Grand Prix, Räikkonen made his Formula One debut, scoring a point. The story goes that he was asleep 20 minutes before the start of the race and had to be woken up. He finished the year in tenth place with nine points. Räikkonen was quickly signed up by McLaren, to replace the departing Hakkinen, and it was in 2002 he started his five year relationship with the team.
Lining up against experienced team-mate David Coulthard, Räikkonen impressed from the get-go with McLaren. Achieving his first podium at the Australian Grand Prix, he finished the year in sixth place with 24 points. This included podiums at the European, French and Japanese Grand Prix. In 2003 he went head-to-head with Michael Schumacher for the championship. Nine podiums and his first Formula One victory put him in a good position, but ultimately poor reliability cost him and he ended the year two points shy of Schumacher’s points tally. 2004 produced a mixed bag of results and he ended the year in seventh place. In 2005 Räikkonen was back in contention for the world championship but again reliability problems cost him. Seven wins and five further podiums were his reward, when the car made it to the end of the race, but he still finished 21 points behind Fernando Alonso. 2006 proved to be Räikkonen’s last year with McLaren. It was a season with no wins for the team, but he took six podiums. He departed for Ferrari in 2007 where he became champion.
Räikkonen left McLaren with nine wins – joint fifth in McLaren’s all time wins list, ironically with his favourite driver James Hunt. He also left the team with 26 podiums. Räikkonen has established himself in Formula One as quite a character. The story of him being asleep 20 minutes before his first race gives an insight into him. Reports of his karting career describe his steering wheel breaking in the middle of a race, but him continuing. In 2006, when Schumacher was receiving a presentation from football legend Pele on the grid in Brazil, Räikkonen reported to Martin Brundle at ITV that he missed it because he was “having a shit”. Räikkonen has always been one for saying it as it is. If he retires from a race because of a mechanical problem, his explanation will usually never be more than “the car was broken”. He has won an allegiance of fans for telling it as it is. Winning his first title in 2007, and challenging since his return with Lotus, Peter Sauber has been proven right by taking a risk on Räikkonen!