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How unflappable rookie Raikkonen took F1 by storm

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Early January. The solar has already set at Ferrari’s check observe. Darkness is descending in a short time, however Kimi Raikkonen nonetheless desires to get his first style of the 2001 Sauber. The crew put in sufficient gasoline for 10 laps, though with visibility disappearing quickly there isn’t a method he’ll be capable to full all of them.

The Petronas-badged Ferrari engine is fired up, and the younger Finn exits the pits, disappearing into the darkness for his first expertise with the brand new automobile. The wail of the screaming V10 is heard coming below the bridge close to the pits as Raikkonen flies previous, flat-out, earlier than once more disappearing into the darkness of the primary nook. He can’t be seen till the braking zone, when the flames from the exhaust briefly mild up the darkness.

After a handful of laps, he’s inside tenths of the time set by Nick Heidfeld earlier within the day, then he radios to the pits to say he can not see sufficient to proceed driving. There may be incredulity at his efficiency.

The benefit with which he’s so immediately on the restrict leaves smiles throughout the faces of all of the Sauber individuals current. However the final touch to Raikkonen’s night time run solely turned evident when he returned to the pits. He had been so fearless, so fast and so dedicated carrying a dark-tinted visor on his helmet.

The style of that first check has continued all through his debut season, when strong performances have singled him out as an enormous future star. When it first turned obvious that he was being courted by the Sauber boss late final 12 months, he was not even anticipated to get a superlicence. Now Raikkonen has develop into the person of the second.

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At virtually each observe this 12 months, however particularly those at which groups don’t check, he’s invariably among the many high 5 throughout the first few laps on Friday. That reveals a person capable of get himself and his automobile on the restrict in a short time – one thing that Michael Schumacher does with aplomb. Sure, Juan Pablo Montoya has grabbed extra headlines, however the younger, slim, blond Finn has received extra tongues wagging.

Raikkonen instantly received on with the enterprise of impressing in his rookie 12 months

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

Regardless of the plaudits, Raikkonen stays one thing of an enigma. If individuals thought that they had a troublesome time engaging phrases out of Mika Hakkinen throughout his early F1 profession, then they’ve but to fulfill the brand new boy at Sauber. He’s famend for his one-word solutions, his lack of charisma in press conferences and his reluctance to combine it with the opposite drivers.

However he doesn’t care. So far as he’s involved, he was placed on earth to drive racing automobiles in a short time. When requested what he thinks about life within the paddock, assembly followers, signing autographs and talking to all of the F1 journalists, his reply is swift and to the purpose.

“It’s a bit boring,” he says. “I don’t just like the paddock. I simply wish to get on with my work.”

“Generally I feel issues have occurred too shortly, however on the finish of the day I used to be in the best place on the proper time with the best individuals behind me” Kimi Raikkonen

Raikkonen actually does like nothing greater than being within the automobile. He’s the last word environment friendly racing driver – all velocity, no discuss. He’s as glad testing as he’s getting outcomes, and he has been fully unfazed by all the eye round him. He has been talked about no finish of occasions because the eventual successor to Michael Schumacher at Ferrari, however he has let not one of the feedback go to his head.

PLUS: Why the time is right for Raikkonen to hang up his F1 helmet

He even admits that he does sit again typically and really feel amazed at how he has gone from Method Renault front-runner to one in all F1’s largest stars in simply 12 months.

“Generally I feel issues have occurred too shortly, however on the finish of the day I used to be in the best place on the proper time with the best individuals behind me,” he says. “I’d by no means have thought final 12 months that I’d be in F1 now.”

Regardless of Raikkonen’s cool exterior, issues haven’t been really easy for him this 12 months. He might not wish to clarify how powerful the adaption to F1 has been, however he doesn’t fake that his achievements have been a stroll within the park.

“It has been laborious, particularly as a result of I didn’t actually have any expectations this 12 months,” he says. “There may be not likely one factor that has stunned me, as a result of all the things has been laborious. There may be not one issues I’ve discovered particularly, as a result of I’ve needed to study all the things. However it’s fairly a bit like I anticipated.

The Finnish youngster wasn't caught up in the excitement around his performances

The Finnish teenager wasn’t caught up within the pleasure round his performances

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

“For positive, for the primary three or 4 races it was troublesome in qualifying, and I didn’t actually get the very best out of the automobile. That was actually essentially the most troublesome factor. However the season has been higher than I hoped for. I feel the crew has been stunned. It’s good.”

Circumstances have definitely helped Raikkonen in his soar to F1 with Sauber. Not solely has the crew loved one thing of a renaissance this 12 months, however the household environment and the dearth of driver politics have made it a lot simpler for him to make his mark.

His set-up is much like that of his team-mate, Heidfeld. The telemetry traces present Raikkonen typically has a bonus within the fast corners, however that Heidfeld is extra constant within the gradual stuff.

“It has helped being right here with Nick, as a result of it’s higher than having to do all of it on my own,” he admits. “it has been simpler being right here, with a household crew, than go to an even bigger crew. Right here the individuals are nicer, and that helps.”

However the actual check for Raikkonen will come subsequent 12 months. Jacques Villeneuve mentioned just lately that it was very simple for a brand new driver to take care of efficiency within the first 12 months of F1, when all the novelty offers a racer a lot of power and carries them by means of. The issue comes within the second 12 months, when it’s a lot more durable to enhance – however expectations are a lot larger. Ask Raikkonen if he’s fearful concerning the Jenson Button syndrome and he’s at his most candid.

“No, not likely. I feel for him [Jenson] it’s harder as a result of he was with one the highest groups, and now he isn’t. It’s harder as a result of if the automobile shouldn’t be proper then it’s good to do extra with the automobile.

“I’m not fearful about it. For positive I’ve sufficient power to maintain pushing, and subsequent 12 months I’ll be stronger as a result of I’ll have some expertise. I do know from this 12 months what I must do, and it will likely be simpler as a result of I’ll know what is occurring.”

Raikkonen was heavily linked with a move to Ferrari, although it seemed he would have to bide his time a while longer at Sauber

Raikkonen was closely linked with a transfer to Ferrari, though it appeared he must bide his time some time longer at Sauber

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

Hypothesis hyperlinks Raikkonen with Ferrari in the long run – though it’s virtually sure he’ll keep at Sauber till the top of 2003, when his present contract ends. However ask Raikkonen about Ferrari and he claims there isn’t a attraction apart from the very fact that it’s the best crew for the time being. He doesn’t care the place he will get to drive sooner or later, so long as it’s with a profitable crew.

“It’s good to listen to Ferrari tales, however I don’t actually comply with that,” he says. “I’d be glad in one of many high groups, and I don’t actually thoughts which it’s. I suppose it doesn’t matter whether it is McLaren, Williams or Ferrari. It’s the place you have got the very best likelihood to win.

Rinland remembers vividly the Finn’s first check within the Sauber at Mugello in Italy final September. His lap occasions weren’t that spectacular, however it was clear from the way in which he received right down to work with the automobile that he was one thing particular

“You by no means know if Ferrari are going to go down the order, or who’s going to return up and who will win. Possibly it simply gained’t be these three groups sooner or later, as a result of we have now seen how Williams have moved down after which come again up once more.”

Raikkonen’s long-term future is open, and the struggle for his providers when his Sauber contract ends will probably be fascinating. Anybody who has seen him drive at shut quarters is aware of all about his talents.

Prime 10: Kimi Raikkonen’s greatest F1 races ranked 

Sauber’s former chief designer, Sergio Rinland, left the crew initially of the 12 months, and he doesn’t thoughts admitting that his largest loss within the transfer shouldn’t be having the ability to work with younger Raikkonen.

Rinland remembers vividly the Finn’s first check within the Sauber at Mugello in Italy final September. His lap occasions weren’t that spectacular, however it was clear from the way in which he received right down to work with the automobile that he was one thing particular.

“It was simply wonderful,” remembers Rinland. “You may see it in his eyes that he was the person. He in all probability didn’t do a really fast lap time, however in sectors of the observe you may see the distinction between a great driver and somebody who was making an attempt very laborious. The telemetry confirmed that in some sectors he was proper on it.”

Willingness to push from the off impressed engineer Rinland

Willingness to push from the off impressed engineer Rinland

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

Rinland remembers going out to the again of the Mugello circuit throughout the check to face on the banking and observe Raikkonen in motion. Michael Schumacher joined him and was immediately impressed by the fashion and velocity of the younger Finn.

Schumacher hardly ever compliments different drivers, however there was no doubting his emotions then. The world champion mentioned: “I noticed him, and I evaluated his lap occasions, and I may see he might be a champion.”

Is that this younger abilities Ferrari’s subsequent champion? Possibly. Is he a future champion? Virtually definitely.

Raikkonen got his chance in a top car sooner than expected, when he replaced Hakkinen at McLaren for 2002

Raikkonen received his likelihood in a high automobile ahead of anticipated, when he changed Hakkinen at McLaren for 2002

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

What occurred subsequent?

Only one month later, Raikkonen’s future was determined – and in that second, he could not have been additional away from Ferrari.

With double world champion Hakkinen dropping motivation and on target to retire – his so-called ‘sabbatical’ would develop into a everlasting one, barring a comeback check at Barcelona in 2007 – McLaren was out there for a alternative.

Heidfeld, who had gained the Worldwide F3000 title as a McLaren-supported driver in 1999, was extensively anticipated to be the person who took the seat, whereas McLaren tester Alex Wurz was additionally within the body.

PLUS: How Raikkonen’s rapid rise stalled his team-mate’s F1 career climb 

However the man McLaren boss Ron Dennis needed was Raikkonen. Dennis negotiated the Finn’s exit from his deal at Hinwil – the severance bundle permitting the crew to construct a state-of-the-art windtunnel – and he duly lined up alongside David Coulthard for the 2002 season, coming near a maiden win at Magny-Cours till slipping large on oil to permit Schumacher by means of.

The breakthrough win duly got here at Malaysia the next 12 months as Raikkonen virtually gained the 2003 title with a year-old automobile, however his two-point deficit to Schumacher could be the closest he’d get to title success at McLaren. The crew produced F1’s quickest automobile in 2005, however poor reliability handed the title to the extra constant Fernando Alonso.

And so it was to Ferrari that Raikkonen ultimately headed for 2007, fulfilling the prophesy in 2001 that he would take up Schumacher’s mantle. The seven-time world champion was successfully compelled apart to create space for the Finn, who gained the title on the first time of asking in one in all F1’s most legendary comebacks towards the McLarens of Alonso and Lewis Hamilton.

Archive: The ups and downs of Raikkonen’s 2007 F1 title triumph 

Compelled out after two disappointing seasons in 2008 and 2009 to make room for Alonso, Raikkonen took a two-year sabbatical within the World Rally Championship earlier than making a profitable return with Lotus in 2012. That parlayed right into a exceptional Ferrari return for 2014.

Just one extra win would come, within the 2018 US GP, earlier than he was changed for 2019 by Charles Leclerc to see out the rest of his profession within the midfield – again the place all of it started on the Alfa Romeo-branded Sauber crew.

Now 41, Raikkonen is F1's elder statesman

Now 41, Raikkonen is F1’s elder statesman

Photograph by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

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