As Kimi Räikkönen calls time on his 20-year career, we look at the 2007 World Champion’s greatest on-track moments.
A World Champion with 21 victories and 103 podium places from 341 race starts, it was hard to select just ten moments from one of the greatest Formula One careers. Nevertheless, I have given it a try.
1.Australia 2001 – The debut
During the 2001 season opener at Australia, Räikkönen was one of the four racers who were making their debuts.
Heading into his debut season, Räikkönen didn’t have enough Super License points to get a Formula One seat. His team boss at Sauber personally guaranteed the FIA that Räikkönen would perform. Räikkönen managed to qualify a brilliant 13th, the highest amongst all the rookies debuting that race.
In a chaotic race that saw the experienced Mika Häkkinen, Ralf Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve retire, Räikkönen held his own. He avoided all the madness around him and put in a strong performance to finish seventh. A penalty to Oliver Panis saw Räikkönen get promoted to sixth and score a well-earned championship point on debut.
Räikkönen’s performance was highly spoken off by his team boss, Peter Sauber, the press personnel and other drivers in the paddock.
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2. Malaysia 2003 – First win
A stunning debut season saw Räikkönen outscore the likes of Eddie Irvine, Olivier Panis, Jean Alesi and Heinz-Harald Frentzen. His impressive debut season saw McLaren sign him up following a recommendation from departing McLaren driver, Mika Häkkinen.
Räikkönen’s debut season was a tough one given how dominant Ferrari and Michael Schumacher were that season. The following season, though, McLaren developed a more competitive car that saw Räikkönen score his maiden podium in the opening race of the season.
The following race, in Malaysia, Renault’s Fernando Alonso scored his maiden pole position and the McLaren of Räikkönen qualified a lowly seventh. After his teammate David Coulthard and Michael Schumacher had issues in the opening laps, the young Finn put in a measured and masterful drive that saw him pass the experienced Rubens Barrichello and Fernando Alonso for a maiden career victory.
Räikkönen’s dominant performance saw him take the win by a margin of 39 seconds which also put him on top of the championship table.
3. Spa 2004 – Keeping calm amidst the chaos
The 2004 season was another one dominated by Ferrari and Michael Schumacher. Such was their dominance, that out of the eighteen races that season, Ferrari won an incredible fifteen.
Out of the three that were won by the rest, one was a mesmerising drive by Räikkönen in a tenth-to-first finish in Belgium.
The Finn had a woesome qualifying, starting tenth on the grid, almost three seconds behind Jarno Trulli’s Renault on pole. On race day, though, there was absolute carnage which Räikkönen avoided carefully and built his charge on.
The opening laps saw Mark Webber go into the back of Rubens Barrichello’s Ferrari and Nick Heidfeld come together with Olivier Panis. Webber was involved in the action once again as he took out Takuma Sato’s BAR and himself, while Jordan’s Giorgio Pantano and Minardi’s Gianmaria Bruni also retired in the opening lap.
Räikkönen himself was involved in a collision with Sauber’s Felipe Massa, but both managed to carry on. Renault’s Fernando Alonso retired on Lap 11, while the other BAR of Jenson Button came together with Zsolt Baumgartner and both retired on Laps 28 and 29 respectively.
Räikkönen, meanwhile, was showcasing solid pace as he made use of the chaos around him, and by the time his car pitted on Lap 29, he had built a good enough gap to rejoin second behind Schumacher, who hadn’t stopped yet. By the time the German pitted, Räikkönen led and made sure he held on to the lead, keeping Schumacher at bay to score his and his team’s only win of the season.
4. Japan 2005 – The greatest ever?
Räikkönen’s win at Suzuka is the stuff of legends. His win from 17th on the grid is probably Formula One’s greatest charge through the field drive.
Heading into the Japanese Grand Prix, Räikkönen had seven victories to his name in a strong-but-unreliable McLaren. But even an optimist wouldn’t have expected the Finn to take the victory at Suzuka that day after qualifying 17th.
An eventful start saw Räikkönen make up two places in the opening lap as Takuma Sato and Rubens Barrichello had run wide. By the end of Lap 1, Räikkönen’s teammate Juan Pablo Montoya had retired after a crash with Jacques Villeneuve.
Räikkönen, meanwhile, reeled in every car in front of him, one by one, passing the likes of Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso, to fight for the podium places towards the end of the race. With three laps to go, he made a bold and brave pass outside Turn 1 to go past race leader Giancarlo Fisichella to secure a remarkable comeback drive that saw him charge through the field from P17 to P1.
5.Brazil 2007 – The Iceman takes his crown
Heading into the final race of the 2007 season, three drivers were still in the race to win the Drivers’ title. McLaren’s double World Champion Fernando Alonso and his rookie teammate Lewis Hamilton were the favourites to take the crown, while Kimi Räikkönen kept his hopes alive with a win in the penultimate race in China to stay in the hunt.
Räikkönen arrived in Brazil seven points behind championship leader Lewis Hamilton and three points behind second-place Fernando Alonso. With the Constructors’ Championship already having been secured following McLaren’s Spygate scandal, Ferrari were looking up to the Finn to help them secure the double.
Räikkönen’s teammate Felipe Massa started on pole, while Räikkönen himself started from the second row in third place behind championship leader Lewis Hamilton, who separated the two Ferraris.
Räikkönen had the better start of the line and went past the Brit in the opening corners and even Fernando Alonso managed to pass his teammate by the third corner. Hamilton’s scrap with Alonso saw the Brit fall down to eighth place, while up front Massa led from Räikkönen, who was followed by Alonso.
As Räikkönen was closing in on Massa at the front of the pack, Hamilton was having an equally terrible race and was more than a minute behind the Finn by the time he made his second pit stop. Leading from Massa and Robert Kubica with Alonso in fourth, Räikkönen was in line to take the World Championship, with Hamilton languishing in ninth place.
Räikkönen managed to build a comfortable lead at the front and even though Hamilton managed to climb back to seventh place, Räikkönen’s sublime drive saw him take the World Championship title from both the McLaren drivers by a single point. Räikkönen, who had never led the championship throughout the season barring the first race, pipped both Alonso and Hamilton right at the end to take the Drivers’ Championship title home.
Till date, the Finn remains the last Ferrari World Champion.
6. Spa 2009 – The King of Spa
2009 saw Ferrari produce an uncompetitive F60, which was on its day the third or fourth best car on the grid behind the Brawn, Red Bull and McLaren.
Even though he didn’t have the best machinery under him, Räikkönen managed to score Ferrari’s only victory that season, on a track where he was a master.
Räikkönen had a tough qualifying, managing only sixth place on the grid. However, madness in the opening lap saw four cars retiring and the Safety Car being deployed. As soon as the Safety Car came in, Räikkönen didn’t waste any time passing pole sitter Giancarlo Fisichella to take the lead of the race.
The Force India of Fisichella did put pressure on Räikkönen’s Ferrari and had gotten within one second of him, but Räikkönen managed to hold on to his lead. He saw off a late charge of Fisichella and Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel to score his first and what would be the only victory of the season.
Räikkönen’s win at Spa was his fourth win in Belgium in the last five years.
7. Abu Dhabi 2012 – Left alone to victory
Following two years away from the sport after Ferrari paid him off to vacate his seat and get Fernando Alonso in his place, Räikkönen returned to the sport in 2012 with Lotus.
Räikkönen had a strong comeback season, having scored six podium finishes by the time the season reached Abu Dhabi. He was a strong third in the Championship standings, behind Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, and showed the world that even though he had been away from the sport for two years, none of his speed and skill were amiss.
At the Yas Marina Circuit, where track position is crucial given how notoriously difficult it is to overtake, Räikkönen qualified fourth behind Hamilton’s McLaren, Webber’s Red Bull and Pastor Maldonado’s Williams.
As the lights went out, Räikkönen made a stunning start to pass both Webber and Maldonado before the second corner. Hamilton held off Räikkönen, maintaining his lead, but couldn’t hold on to it for long as his McLaren gave out, handing the lead to the Finn.
Räikkönen maintained his lead, and even though Alonso and a late-charging Sebastian Vettel got close to him, the Finn showed extreme composure and skill to take home his first victory since Spa 2009.
His radio message to his team, while being informed about the car behind him, has gone into Formula One folklore as one of the most iconic team messages ever. While being informed about Alonso’s gap to him in second place, Räikkönen snapped back at his engineer, saying, “Just leave me alone, I know what to do.”
8. Australia 2013 – The Perfect Start
After finishing his comeback season strongly in third position in the Drivers’ Championship, Räikkönen went into the 2013 season high on confidence.
At Albert Park, Räikkönen qualified seventh behind the Red Bulls, the Ferraris and the Mercedes. He had a strong start and made up a couple of places by the second lap as he passed both the Mercedes and Red Bull’s Mar Webber to fourth place.
As the rest of the field went hard and followed a three-stop strategy, Räikkönen perfected his tyre management that evening and drove a sublime race, implementing a two-stop strategy to take a comfortable win, a good 12 seconds ahead of second-place Fernando Alonso and a further 10 seconds ahead of pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel.
What was most impressive was while everyone opted for a three-stop strategy, not only did Räikkönen make his two-stop strategy work, but he also took home the fastest lap, showcasing his tyre management skills and knowing when to make the final push.
9. USA 2018 – Back on top
When Räikkönen arrived in Texas for the 2018 United States Grand Prix, it had been five years and 113 races since he had last stood on the top step of the podium, since his win in Australia in 2013.
In Texas, though, Räikkönen showed the world that on his day, there was no one on the grid who could come close to him.
Räikkönen qualified third behind his teammate Sebastian Vettel and pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton. Vettel, though, received a five-place grid penalty that saw Räikkönen move up to the front row.
Räikkönen, starting on the softer compound tyres, got the better start off the line and passed Hamilton into the lead heading into the first corner.
Over the next couple of hours, Räikkönen drove a pristine race that saw him fend off any challenge Mercedes or Red Bull threw at him. He once again opted for a different strategy than the rest of the grid and showcased his tyre management skills as he made a one-stopper work to take his 21st and final victory (so far), breaking a 113-race drought.
The Iceman was back on the top step of the podium once again and showed the world that when he got going, there wasn’t any who could stop him.
10. Portugal 2020 – Watch and learn
When Kimi Räikkönen came to the Portuguese Grand Prix in 2020, he was the most experienced driver on the grid, but that experience wasn’t helping him get on the podium as the C39 was only the seventh best car on the grid.
In his second season with Alfa Romeo, Räikkönen was enjoying his racing, with no pressure to win or score podiums. He had rejoined the team he made his debut with to get back to doing what he loved best – racing – after five stressful seasons with Ferrari.
The 2020 season was a unique one, with a delayed start to the season due to the COVID pandemic. Once the season got underway, though, there was a flurry of races in different conditions.
Heading into the Portuguese Grand Prix, Formula One was returning to Portimão after 24 years, with the last Grand Prix held there in 1996.
The season was dominated by Mercedes, with Red Bull throwing the occasional challenge. On a cold track, Räikkönen, who had qualified 16th, put in an overtaking masterclass to make up an incredible ten positions in the opening lap. Passing the much quicker Racing Points, McLarens, AlphaTauris, Alpines and Ferraris, Räikkönen put in all of his experience, skill and knowledge to master the low grip surface to breeze past his opponents.
The 41-year-old showed the rest of the grid how it is done, and even though he did not end up with a victory or even a podium place, Räikkönen’s mastery put his car somewhere it didn’t belong, which was all down to his talent and exceptional skill.