The inaugural Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix in 2009 gave the world a good insight into the world of Kimi Raikkonen.
After having his contract cut a year early by Ferrari for reasons that only they and one of the most enigmatic of Formula 1 drivers will ever truly know, the pressure was truly off; the 2009 Ferrari was the Scuderia’s worst effort since 2005, Kimi had already bagged a world title in 2007 and given his relationship with the team was strained at best, they had paid him 20 million euros to not drive in 2010.
Little wonder then that given his situation, when asked his thoughts on F1’s then latest Middle Eastern instalment, he replied “the first few turns are quite good but the rest of it, it’s sh**.” He finished the race in 12th, duly packed his bags, and then shipped it to the World Rally Championship for a few seasons in a Citroen.
Despite not –in terms of results at least – being the most successful period in his career, in retrospect Kimi’s two years in the WRC may have actually been just that.
Whilst fifth place on Rally Turkey 2010 behind the wheel of Citroen C4 may not have set the world alight, it was the Kimi Raikkonen that the world saw on the stages of the WRC that made him appeal to Formula 1.
No more 'stock' answers
In a world that thrives on corporate answers, ‘stock’ answers and a lack of personalities, the Raikkonen who now dwelt in the service parks of the WRC was the complete antidote to the “for sure” answers and awkward sponsor events that are so intrinsic for Formula 1.
With clear Oakley sunglasses perched on newly grown shoulder length hair, Kimi was free to do what he wanted. If he didn’t want to do a media event, he wasn’t obliged. If he thought something wasn’t to his liking, he’d say (after beaching his C4 on Rally France 2010, he mused “it was a stupid place to go off”) and if he fancied a beer, he could.
His role in the WRC was also welcomed, as Citroen teammate, Sebastien Loeb will tell you with the following story.
Following Kimi’s failure to turn up on time for a mini bus transfer to the stages, Loeb grinned “well, it takes some of the pressure off of me” after the Finn arrived 30 minutes late. Dani Sordo, another one of the Citroen drivers also enjoyed having Kimi around: “[he] seemed quiet at first, but it turned out he’s funny and not like his public image at all.”
Despite his laconic personality thriving in the WRC and winning him yet more fans, the results still did not come. Something did not gel, and it seemed that Kimi – as he did with Ferrari – was losing interest in WRC due to lack of success. He’d tried his hand at something new, and whilst he believes “with zero experience [for that] I did pretty well”, he still couldn’t quite match his F1 triumphs.
Naturally then, for a man so motivated by winning as Raikkonen, it seemed Kimi needed Formula 1 as it was where his speed lies. For a sport so lacking in personalities, it seemed Formula 1 needed Kimi. The two just went together.
A new life at Lotus F1
So for 2012, he returned; the newly branded Lotus F1 team confirmed Kimi as one of their drivers alongside Romain Grosjean and the (now) 33-year old exceeded all expectations by finishing every race in 2012.
He also finished third in the championship after scoring five podiums and winning the ‘sh**’ Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where he famously delivered the “leave me alone, I know what I’m doing” line to his race engineer…
… And it’s that atmosphere at Lotus that has made its partnership with Raikkonen the success it is. The ethos of ‘leave him alone and in the race he shall deliver’ became apparent again in Australia last weekend when he delivered his second win for the team.
Speaking ahead of the 2013 season, Lotus owner, Genii’s Gerard Lopez commented in Gazzetto dello Sport that he wants ‘drivers and not robots’. In Kimi, he has exactly that. Lopez continued that at the Enstone based team, “Raikkonen feels utilised for what's most important [driving], while he is free for everything else. He has found balance.” Just let him get on with what he does best; driving.
Lopez’s comments seem true as following his popular win at the 2013 season opener, journalists around the paddock commented on how fit Kimi looks, and were in awe at what was possibly the longest ever answer he’d ever given at a press conference.
If the atmosphere at Lotus continues as it is and if its E21 car is as good as it looked throughout last weekend, then expect Kimi to make a serious go at claiming a second championship.
Don’t expect any drama though. It simply isn’t the Raikkonen way…