Last season Formula One witnessed the arrival of rookies with a talent level rarely seen before. George Russell, Lando Norris, and Alex Albon joined F1 and immediately seemed to fit in the ranks, following Charles Leclerc’s footsteps, who did the same one year earlier. The F1 community seemed heartened by the ability of these young drivers. But to have fresh blood coming in, other drivers must bow out. Older drivers.
And so we waved goodbye to Fernando Alonso, 36, who ended his career in 2018 alongside the promising Stoffel Vandoorne, 26, who limped out with no seat available. We won’t see 30-year-old Nico Hulkenberg this year after he suffered the same fate in 2019. But Kimi Raikkonen remains for 2020, and when he finishes this season at the age of 41, it’s a fair question to ask why is he still here when others aren’t? Should his final year at Ferrari have been his last in F1?
Back in 2001, it was Raikkonen who was the aforementioned fresh blood in the sport. An inexperienced driver with bags of promise needing to prove himself in the midfield before a top drive emerged. Fast forward nineteen years, and it’s safe to say that the Finnish driver has passed his peak. He mounted championship challenges in 2003 and 2005 before ascending to the hallowed title of F1 champion in 2007. That season was to be the tip of his bell curve, and it’s been a slide down the order since then.
In 2018, five years into a second stint at Ferrari, the Scuderia decided it was time to move Kimi on following the emergence of Leclerc. Three races before the end of this tenure, Raikkonen won what will be the last victory of his career. It took 97 attempts since rejoining in 2014 for him to reach the top step of the podium. In the same years, Sebastian Vettel managed 13 wins with identical machinery. Though his second spell at Ferrari wasn’t exactly prosperous, this win was an opportunity for Kimi to end a long career on a high. However, no, Raikkonen was to join midfield team, Alfa Romeo, for 2019 instead.
The Alfa Romeo name replaced Sauber ahead of the season, and Sauber was where Raikkonen began his F1 journey. Romantically it looks like a perfect bookend to a career for Kimi to retire at the Swiss team. Switching back to reality though, Kimi departed the biggest brand in F1 where podium finishes and victories were possible, to an outfit that has been in the doldrums for a decade. Sauber has been the sandbox for emerging talent to prove their worth (or not, in many cases), not a retirement community. Why stick around after so long racing at the front? It’s certainly not for glory.
Raikkonen’s presence in Formula One could be preventing the next Lewis Hamilton from having his chance. With only twenty seats in the sport, any reserve or junior driver could trundle around outside the points like Kimi did last year. The difference would be that the laps they’d complete would be worthwhile to get racing experience under their belt. Instead, this year Raikkonen will again add a few thousand kilometers to the 80,000 that he’s already raced.
It saddens me that the days I watched Raikkonen winning races and championships in the ’00s already seem mythical. It’s like they’re now tales told by old gray-haired men in dark pubs who whisper of Kimi, the Flying Finn who stuck it to Schumacher back in the day. Meanwhile, the hip new crowd only knows of Raikkonen, the inferior number 2 driver to Sebastian Vettel. The quiet one who stupidly stuck around when the new upstart from Monaco kicked him out of his Ferrari. Oh, how the once-mighty Iceman has fallen.
Or has he? Why is Kimi racing? I’ll get to that shortly, but as I said it before, it’s not for glory. That’s perhaps the fundamental point here. The Russell’s and Leclerc’s and Verstappen’s are dreaming big; they’re here because they want to win the title — it’s all about glory. Raikkonen instead proved he was better than most years ago.
There have been 774 F1 drivers in history, with thousands more who tried and failed to reach the sport, and out of all of them, just 33 men have won the title in 70 years. Raikkonen could’ve finished last in every race since 2008 and have more glory than you and I could ever know. No, actually, I don’t think Kimi has fallen at all. Instead, he’s been telling us for years what he’s doing — it’s just about the racing, nothing more. In his own words, “It’s more like a hobby for me.”
When we mortals play amateur baseball or soccer after work, or an online Madden or NBA video game, we don’t have to win to enjoy the time we spent playing. Raikkonen does the same. But with the fastest cars on the planet, across twenty countries, with all expenses paid, plus a salary in the millions. Would you switch that off if you didn’t have to? Unlike Vandoorne and Hulkenberg, Raikkonen continues to enjoy enough reputation that his retirement can be on his terms, not enforced. And whenever that may be, it seems likely that he’ll still be Ferrari’s latest world champion. Forza Kimi.
Originally published at https://www.fortloc.com.