Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Driver File: Kimi Raikkonen

Kimi Raikkonen came on to the F1 scene as a driver with only 23 races in a car period, but it did not take very long for F1 brass to figure out this man from Finland with the cool exterior had superior talent. In the first F1 tests for Sauber, he impressed. Team Principal, Peter Sauber said of Raikkonen, "there are several aspects why we very strongly believe that Raikkonen is the right man for us; first of all his very professional approach towards his work and his astonishing maturity considering his age. Even more impressive is his natural speed."

Interestingly enough, the FIA and other luminaries in the sport, did not see it the same way. The FIA were reluctant to issue Raikkonen a super license. A driver needs this license if he or she is to compete in Formula One. Former World Champion Keke Rosberg said, "The world will change if Raikkonen gets a super license. 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." Nevertheless, after much wrangling Raikkonen was granted his super license and was eligible to drive for the Sauber team in 2001. However, he still had his doubters; like FIA president Max Mosley: "I do not believe that they (F1 Commission) adopted a defensible position in giving an inexperienced driver like Raikkonen a license. It is quite wrong given that we have strict criteria for graduation into F1. When there is a major accident caused by the presence of very inexperienced drivers in F1, I'm the one who will have to explain it to the world's media and television cameras." Well, in Raikkonen's very first Grand Prix, he promptly finished 6th on the lead lap.

Raikkonen moved to McLaren in 2002 in which he continued to demonstrate the promise of a potentially dominant World Champion and almost taking the title in 2003 in competitive but not great equipment.

In 2005, McLaren had the equipment, had the speed, had Raikkonen, but they lacked the reliability of eventual champions, Renault and Fernando Alonso. In many eyes, this lack of reliability cost Kimi Raikkonen the 2005 World Championship. Some squarely placed blame on the fragility of the McLaren package while others, myself included, placed critical responsibility for some of the reliability issues on Raikkonen. There were times in which he drove outside the limits of the car. One case in point was the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. It was reported that the drivers were told to mind the driveshafts and use of curbs. Kimi proceeded to blitz the field at the beginning of the race; he brokedown inside of 10 laps due to a driveshaft failure. Also, one had to question some of the motivation to develop his skills in other areas such as testing and car development.

Late into the 2006, it was announced that Kimi Raikkonen had signed with Ferrari for 2007 to replace the retiring Michael Schumacher. It was generally seen as a match of the fastest car and fastest driver in F1. However, there were murmurs about the choice and how he would function in other capacities:

Former 3 time World Champion Niki Lauda stated, "...Raikkonen can drive fast, but he can't do anything else, so Ferrari must give him a complete car." It worked at McLaren, but they're not an emotional team like Ferrari. The Italians, by contrast, need the human component, and Michael was ideal for this. He could get the whole thing working. I can't see Kimi doing the same."

Ferrari's Chief Track Engineer, Luca Baldisseri said, "I don't know Raikkonen well: we only have information from the engineers who worked with him at Sauber. Well, when he gets inside the car he gets his job done very well, he's very quick, but Schumacher knew how to do other things too and created an incredible relationship with the team. He contributed to produce winning cars, while now it will be up to us to give the driver a car capable of winning."

As 2007 progressed, it seemed that some of these concerns were perhaps valid. After 10 races, the much feared combination of Raikkonen and Ferrari could only yield 4th place and 52 points, 18 points behind then leader Lewis Hamilton and 7 points behind teammate, Felipe Massa. Then the last 6 races Raikkonen tore through the deficit, capitalizing on the mistakes, dysfunction and misfortune of Alonso, Hamilton and Massa and captured the elusive World Championship that stymied him twice before.

In 2008, Raikkonen seems rather average given his level of equipment, but is still in prime position to strike and defend his championship. However, with continued rumors he actually may retire and continued emergence of teammate Felipe Massa, the full dream potential of the Raikkonen/Ferrari partnership is not all that fulfilling. You can probably say given the expectations, it is disappointing.

Next Driver File: The Phenom, Lewis Hamilton

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