Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Return of the Iceman

When Kimi Raikkonen won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last weekend, I was ecstatic. True, I have been a loyal Ferrari fan for 11 years, and it is my fervent desire to see Fernando Alonso drive the Prancing Horse
home to a title. But Raikkonen is my favourite driver, and the joy of seeing the good old Iceman lead
the field in an amazing display of racing prowess, after quite a few seasons, was a joy I cannot put into
words. It did not matter that his colours were the black and gold of Lotus.

Some pairs of eyes have a cold intensity, their inner fire not easy to miss. Very few Formula One fans
who have seen Kimi Raikkonen would be unaware of this. When I started watching the sport in 2002,
Michael Schumacher had the sport in a grip of total dominance, poised to win a fifth world title behind
the wheel of arguably the best Ferrari ever to hit the track. Raikkonen, a 22 year-old already famous for
his prodigious talent, was driving a McLaren.

Reliability issues mercilessly dogged the man expected to continue Mika Hakkinen’s legacy, his car
breaking down more often than not, the sight of Kimi jumping over barriers and walking alone to
the pits a very common one. The season ended with Schumacher as champion, his record-equalling
championship sealed in France with many races to go.

Then came 2003, a season I will never forget. Three drivers took it upon themselves to give Michael
a run for his money: his brother Ralf, the Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi. The Ferrari was
equally matched by the BMW-Williams and the Mclarens, and Schumacher was never too clear of his

The fiercest challenge was mounted at the end, Raikkonen-in spite of just one win to Schumacher’s
six, a hair’s breadth away on points. The Finn was prevented at the end by a superb drive from Rubens
Barrichello at Suzuka, helping Schumacher to a sixth title by a lead of just two points.

But Raikkonen had proved his point. He was a force to be reckoned with, and along with Fernando
Alonso, was seen as one of the drivers who would lead the sport in a short time.

Schumacher won his last title in 2004, losing it to Alonso in 2005 and 2006, the latter season an
intensely close-fought one, before he took a bow. And something amazing happened. Raikkonen signed
up for Ferrari.

2007 bettered 2006 in terms of bitter rivalry. Lewis Hamilton exploded onto the scene, joining McLaren
with Fernando Alonso for a teammate. Unlike most teams, the two drivers were put at par, with an
equal chance to take a shot at the title. Ferrari started a lukewarm season, the Silver Arrows leading the
pack as it was established that the Prancing horse was certainly not the best car on track.

Hamilton and Alonso dominated the season, Kimi plowing his way some distance behind. The two
McLaren drivers bred an intense rivalry, which turned bitter when the team put its weight behind
Hamilton. The suspense and drama was incredible, and the title went down to the last race. With
Hamilton on 107 points, Alonso on 103 and Raikkonen on 100, the Iceman needed a win to score the 10
points that would offer at least a slim chance of competition.

The race ended as dreams do, the most improbable result translating to reality. Kimi won, and Hamilton
and Alonso ended down the grid scoring 2 and 6 points, their scores tied on 109. The Iceman beat the
principal contenders by one point, and how.

He did see a decline after that, his motivation put under the scanner. Sensing it was time for a break,
Kimi left open-wheel racing and moved to the World Rally Championship. His return to F1 in 2012
sparked interest, the hopes of fans and experts rising after Michael Schumacher’s lackluster return.

Kimi won’t be World Champion this year, but he is third in the standings with two races to go, his name
frequently among the points even though he has just the one win. Typical of the man. He symbolizes the
raw racing spirit of an earlier time, that survives in just a few others like Alonso, or rookie Sergio Perez.

It was amazing beyond words to see Kimi on the top rung of the podium. Here’s to a real title challenge
next year.

Welcome back, Iceman.


  1. Badhiya likha hai.

    But for someone who doesn't know much about racing, I found myself wishing for a bit more detail on what makes for "sublime driving skill" or "raw racing spirit of an earlier time". but its a testimony to the involvement with which you've written it that it makes me feel you can provide good answers to those questions ...

  2. As in all sports, technique differentiates the copybook masters from the creative ones, the mavericks. Raikkonen's style is extremely aggressive, bumping on the edges of the track, shooting straight through chicanes (s-curves), sharp overtakes. It is best understood by watching them driving. Drivers like Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel have awesome technique, but guys like Kimi, Alonso, Schumacher, Senna, Barrichello (and now Perez) come up with random, unexpected new moves that are thrilling to watch. For example, I have never seen anyone outclass the field the way Schumacher would in the 5-6 laps before a pit stop when low fuel levels made his ferrari a lot lighter.

  3. Footnote: At Sau Paulo 2012, it was still Kimi who gave us the most hilarious moment of the race, when he actually got lost on track! One F1 memory I will always treasure.