Forty-one – he'll have them on October 17 – is more the age of longevity records than of pure performance. Kimi Räikkönen will be the perfect illustration on Sunday afternoon at the Eifel Grand Prix. Right at the start, not even at the finish. Indeed, the Finn will only have to appear on the grid for the eleventh round of 2020 at the wheel of his Alfa Romeo, at 2.10 p.m., to validate his 324th participation in a Formula 1 event and become the most capped driver of the history of the World Championship. Which doesn't affect him more than running over a mechanic in the pitlane in Sakhir. "All records are made to be broken, he just commented on Thursday. For me, it doesn't make a difference at the moment, but maybe in the future I will see it differently. "
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"Iceman" will erase Rubens Barrichello from the shelves, who at 39 had the privilege of saying goodbye in the paddock in front of his audience, at the 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix. The 2007 world champion took two more years to relegate the Paulist to the forgotten, for several reasons. He made his Grand Prix debut at Sauber in 2001 at the age of 21, while "Rubinho" was 20 when he started with Jordan in 1993. But although he took advantage of the inflation in numbers of Grands Prix registered each year on the calendar, he stayed outside the paddock during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Ferrari had thanked him, and was willing to continue paying him on condition of not seeing him in a competing garage.
"This is the first time that I see a double world champion paying", he had launched ironically, after the officialization of Fernando Alonso in his place at Ferrari, from 2010. The Spaniard did indeed arrive with a major bank sponsor in his luggage, and he had no other choice than to slip away in the WRC, without leaving an unforgettable memory.
This is perhaps the only time the Nordic has not had control of his destiny in the paddock, over the course of sustained service requests that have ensured him a career among the longest of the modern era. With only 22 races on his CV since karting, he made a sensational entry into Formula 1 in 2001 at Sauber, with a sixth place finish for his first Grand Prix which will blow his probationary superlicence of four races, in exchange for a final pass.
Not naturally to worry about for a penny, he nevertheless passed close to the no show: he had to be taken out of his nap half an hour before departure. "He has a crazy will, he is ready to break down the walls to achieve his ends", was surprised his Swiss boss, Peter Sauber.
Mika Häkkinen (McLaren) and Kimi Räikkönen (Sauber) at the 2001 United States Grand Prix
Credit: Getty Images
An instinctive driver, very fast and already ripe for his young age, he is the perfect successor to Mika Häkkinen. His contract bought, the native of Espoo does not take long to make his place at McLaren, in Woking. Where he crushes David Coulthard, which was easy, and desecrates Juan Pablo Montoya, which was less so. He misses the title by two points in 2003, more broadly in 2005, and Ron Dennis continues to appreciate his botched interviews with booming rhymes, which does not risk causing waves of media. His lack of mood too, even after the worst setbacks. As in Monaco in 2006, when he returned straight to sip a drink shirtless, after having abandoned his machine, the engine broken. Not at his stand, it is useless to wait for him, but on his yacht, the "No name", so designated because he really does not bother with anything.
It's not yet time for the title, which will come the following year with Ferrari, but it's still time for intrigue. The one that rarely leads him to pole position for a driver of his standing. Today it has 18 – and we can believe it will stop there – including five dating from 2005, when the McLaren started to be faster on Saturday than reliable on Sunday. More curiously, we discover him fond of better laps in the race (46), for glory in fact. He is even still on the podium of the specialty, behind Michael Schumacher (77) and Lewis Hamilton (51), and ahead of Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel. And ironically, he hasn't even collected a point since the bonus was introduced in 2019.
The lack of consistency of his McLaren at the finish (7 withdrawals in 2004, 6 in 2006) is perhaps what tires him in the end, tips the scales for Ferrari in 2007. And offers him a return of affection of lucky lady. Because with 17 points behind McLaren's duo, Hamilton – Alonso, two races (so 20 points) from the end, no one would have bet on him in Sao Paulo. And yet!
But at the Scuderia, the wheel turns quickly and circumstances first led him to put himself at the service of Felipe Massa in 2008. Without getting more upset than when he showed the red light that Lewis Hamilton should have seen (McLaren ) to avoid hitting him at the exit of the pitlane in Montreal. Then the stalemate from which he did not know how to get out Ferrari in 2009, coupled with the accident of his teammate, precipitated his disgrace under the hype around Alonso. He is much more interested in technique.
Finished "Iceman"? It would be bad to know him. The story is an eternal restart and he resurfaced in "Black in Gold" in 2012 when expected at Williams, after two years of forced fun in the WRC. And Lotus fans thank him for restoring the brand's image at the same time as his: his victory in Abu Dhabi comes 25 years after that of Ayrton Senna in Detroit. Above all, he becomes iconic – if he wasn't already – by throwing during this race on the radio to his engineer, Mark Slade: "Just leave me alone. I know what I'm doing". This phrase of annoyance can be heard regularly from the mouths of many pilots. Except that it expresses an unparalleled spirit of independence and that her team understands that this is a cult phrase that can pay off big on t-shirts.
Nervousness in Baku
Victorious again at the start of the 2013 season in Melbourne, the 2007 world champion is once again bankable for all except Gérard Lopez, who is wrong to stop paying him. Doubly even, because claiming the urgency of a back operation, he leaves the team before the end of the championship, anticipating the decline of Lotus. Because he has a Ferrari contract in his pocket.
Once again a totem for the Reds who present him more as the last house world champion than the next, he suffers however as much from the comparison during his year with Fernando Alonso, in 2014, as during the four following ones with Sebastian Vettel. According to the sawtooth results of the Scuderia, he remembers to everyone's fond memories with a record that only his longevity in the category allows him since he puts 168 Grands Prix back to pole position, between Magny -Course 2008 and Monaco 2017.
Trapped by strategies tailored for Sebastian Vettel, his teammate and almost the only friend in the paddock, he does not fail to express his discontent to his team, as in Monaco in 2017. Or even break his image of impassive – he prevents himself sometimes laughing at an FIA press conference – getting annoyed when he misses his steering wheel and gloves in Baku.
The choice to continue
Also champion of the split in the rank of Grands Prix contested (114) between two victories – Melbourne 2013 and Austin 2018 – he keeps the sense of celebration at the FIA gala, where he celebrates his third place at the World Cup with dignity, country of vodka, in Saint-Petersburg … What can you forget that he was the loser in his exchange of tubs with the young Charles Leclerc.
He had started at Sauber but going back there is not a sign of decline from his point of view. Especially since the team is renamed Alfa Romeo, after the name of the first team to win the Grand Prix, in 1950. Which, let's face it, immediately makes it better.
In this ultimately personal pleasure that he has to pilot and to present himself barricaded behind his dark glasses to better escape journalists "who always ask the same questions", he surprises again by finally sharing some emotions – including his happiness as a father – through social networks. Sure that the future still holds some satisfaction and a form of freedom for him. Although put on waivers by Antonio Giovinazzi in qualifying (5-6 against him) and in the race (2 points each) this year, his boss, Fred Vasseur, has indeed given him the choice to continue in 2021, while the Italian will be thanked by Ferrari. "He didn't sign", assured the French boss, Friday at the Nürburging. If he said "yes", he would drive in 2021 with Mick Schumacher, Michael's son. Another mark of the passage of time.
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