F1: The team that wanted Kimi a second time round
As Ferrari's last Formula One Champion to date, Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen holds a special place in the hearts of the Tifosi as the "Iceman" gears up ahead of his final race weekend.
It's nearly every drivers' dream to race for Ferrari. To don the iconic red overalls. To sign autographs for the Tifosi. To hear the Italian national anthem on the top step of the podium. For some drivers, getting the chance to step foot inside a Ferrari Formula One car is a dream come true. So to have raced for the Scuderia on two seperate stints during your racing career, you must be pretty special?
That 'special' driver is none other that Kimi Raikkonen. The "Iceman" made his debut in the sport back in 2001 - but it was under very controversial circumstances. At the time, Raikkonen had only competed in 23 open-wheel races when he raced in Formula Renault. By winning seven of them, eye-brows were most-definitely raised an he attracted the attention of Sauber F1 Team Principal Peter Sauber.
FRESH FACED: At only 21 years old, Raikkonen showed impressive speed - enough to grant himself a seat at the high-level of open-whell racing
Raikkonen's lack of experience was the main concern amoung other drivers as well as then FIA President Max Mosely. Despite the opposition, Raikkonen was given a test by Sauber which turned into a full-time race seat for the 2001 Season.
Like the team is now, Sauber were closely affiliated with Ferrari as the Swiss team ran engines provided by the Scuderia.
By the end of the season, there were growing rumours that the Finn would move up the grid and partner none other than Michael Schumacher at Ferrari and in effective replace Rubens Barrichello. However, with the help of Double Formula One Champion Mika Hakkinen, McLaren Team Principal Ron Dennis jumped in and signed the Finn for the following season. The combination of Raikkonen and Ferrari would have to wait for now...
It's halfway through the 2006 Season and Raikkonen is nowhere in the championship. Renault's Fernando Alonso is attempting to defend his title but a resurgent Schumacher is making a comeback after a dismal 2005 Season for himself and the Scuderia.
Raikkonen's spell at McLaren was a like a seesaw. The Finn suffered some of the worst reliability issues a driver has ever faced. In 2002, he suffered 10 retirements in 17 races. He was able to challenge when the car lasted the full race distance with title challenges in 2003 and in 2005 - ending two points behind Schumacher in '03' and 21 points behind Alonso in '05'. Raikkonen's time at McLaren did yield nine wins and 27 podiums but it could have so much more - the other two seasons (2004 and 2006) were absolute right-offs. Overall, 26 serious technical failures in 103 starts, made for a very easy decision for Raikkonen.
Raikkonen is left with a choice when McLaren announced back at the start of the season that Alonso would be joining the team in 2007. But at the Italian GP, the home of Ferrari and the Tifosi, Schumacher announces his retirement. The void at the Scuderia would be filled by Raikkonen - who'd agreed a three-year deal in early September 2006.
Raikkonen's first stint at Ferrari started well with Pole Position and Victory at the 2007 Season-opener in Melbourne, Australia - finishing ahead of 2006 Champion Alonso and newly signed GP2 Champion Lewis Hamilton. Two Third place finishes followed in Malaysia and in Bahrain where Alonso and Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa won. A retirement in Spain and then only scoring 10 points in the next three races - compared to the 28 points scored by Championship Leader Hamilton - put Raikkonen well on the back-foot.
RACING IN RED: Raikkonen's trademark of being consistent was evident to see in 2007 with 12 podiums out of the 17 races and three further finishes inside the top eight
Bouncing back, the Finn won the French and British GP's and outscored his title rivals however at the Nurburgring for the European GP, a mechanical problem forced a second retirement of the season. The best of Raikkonen was yet to come, and while the McLaren team-mates imploded with Alonso and Hamilton squabbling on and off track.
Five consecutive podium finishes on the run up the Chinese GP allowed Raikkonen to jump into third in the standings but with half of the race gone, it looked like the title was going to be secured by Hamilton. The young Brit was in control in the difficult conditions but when entering the pits, the McLaren driver got beached in the gravel. Going onto win, Raikkonen was now an outside bet heading into the final race of the season in Brazil - seven points adrift of Hamilton.
Out of the two teams, Ferrari came to Brazil in better form with the Interlagos circuit suiting the Scuderia. Home-hero Massa took Pole Position with Hamilton joining him on the front-row while Raikkonen and Alonso made up row two. Flustered at the start, Hamilton lost the positions to Raikkonen and Alonso and dropped to eighth - however on Lap 6, the tide in the title fight would soon swing Raikkonen's way. Hamilton encountered a mechanical issue which lasted for 30 seconds - dropping the Brit to the back of the field.
With Alonso unable to challenge the Ferrari's, he had to settle for third while Hamilton clawed his way back to seventh but two points was not enough to secure the title. Massa and Raikkonen swapped positions - giving the Finn the race lead and therefore the championship. Despite being 17 points back with two races to go, Raikkonen had done the unimaginable.
THIRD TIME OF ASKING: After coming so close in 2003 and in 2005, Raikkonen finally clinched the championship he desperately deserved
The following season, 2008, would start welll for the Reigning Champion as after the first four races, Raikkonen would lead the championship by nine points over Hamilton as he took a clean-sweep in Spain. However, Spain would be Raikkonen second and last win of the season as a dissapointing Monaco and being taken out of the Canadian GP after Hamilton misjudged his braking point in the pit-lane.
Raikkonen's defense of his 2007 title would take a hammering blow with a series of four races on the trot - Europe, Belgium, Italy and Singapore - marked non-scoring races for the Finn. Raikkonen battled with Hamilton at Belgium but the tricky conditions caught the Ferrari driver out. Three third place finishes to round off the season, securing third in the standings and helping team-mate Massa's title challenge would be the best for the Finn. There was one award that Raikkonen fully deserved. He may not have had the consistent pace in 2008 to defend his title but he secured 10 fastest laps out of the 18 race calendar.
The 2009 F1 Season would mark a season of change. Due to new regulations - simplifying the cars - other teams came to the fold with the likes of newly-formed Brawn GP and Red Bull Racing taking the reigns while Ferrari and McLaren struggled to adapt. The Ferrari F60 made it's debut at the season opener in Australia but it wasn't until the fourth round of the season in Bahrain when Ferrari scored their first points - courtesy of Kimi.
A retirement in Spain was followed by a third place finish in Monaco in Ferrari's best result of the season with Massa taking fourth. Eighth in the British GP was followed by yet another retirement in Germany - however four consecutive races on the podium were to follow.
KING OF SPA: The second-half of the 2009 Season turned around for Raikkonen who took his and Ferrari's only win in Belgium
After the season break, fortunes would turn around for Raikkonen but the same could not be said for Massa - who suffered a life-threatening accident in Hungary. The Brazilian sat out the rest of the season and was replaced by a number of drivers.
Raikkonen kept the Scuderia's hopes alive by finishing second in Hungary before a third in Valenica and the team's one and only win of the season in Belgium. The Finn held off Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella to win. A final podium of the year followed in Italy while two more point scoring races, in Japan and Brazil, ended Raikkonen's 2009 Season in sixth.
Raikkonen future at Ferrari, and the sport, was a constant theme throughout the whole of the season and the Scuderia had been eyeing up another talented driver. That driver was Raikkonen's 2005 rival Alonso. The Spaniard had jumped back to Renault after a destructive year at McLaren in 2007 and had spent the whole of 2008 and 2009 in a mid-field car with controversial lurking over the team.
Raikkonen however still had a contract with Ferrari lasting until the end of the 2010 Season but Ferrari wanted Alonso, and maybe somewhat more importantly, wanted Santander as a sponsor. It was speculated that Ferrari paid Raikkonen a reputed £20 million not to see out the final year of his contract in 2010.
With money in his pocket, Raikkonen left the sport, despite having talks with other F1 teams, most notably a return to McLaren. The Finnish driver walked and would spend the next two years trying his hand at Rallying then raing trucks in the US.
The lure of F1 and the desire to see if he could still challenge led to a return in 2012 driving for the newly-branded Lotus F1 Team. Raikkonen would win the 2012 Abu Dhabi GP and the season-opener in Australia in 2013. With an outrageous contract with the team, Raikkonen almost bankrupted the famous F1 name with the amount of points scored. Then when Ferrari had decided it wanted change, with Massa unable to consistenly match Alonso, the 'Iceman' was a solid option.
The new turbo-hybrid era would mark Raikkonen's worst year in the sport to that date - with the Finn unable to stand on the podium and finishing 12th in the standings. Once again, Ferrari had been slow to adapt to the new regulations and lagged behind Mercedes and their customers teams.
GETTING TO GRIPS: Raikkonen struggled at the start of the new Hybrid era with the "Iceman" unable to stand on the podium all season
Of the 19 races, Raikkonen finished outside the points in five of them and retired in one of them - the British GP where he suffered a spectacular first-lap smash. A fourth in Belgium would be the highlight of his season as Alonso would go onto take three podium finishes.
For 2015, Raikkonen would be paired with good friend Sebastian Vettel who'd jumped ship from Red Bull with Alonso moving to McLaren. Five retirements in 19 races but of the races he finished, all 14 were in the points and a return to the podium on three occassions. A return to top-flight fighting meant a top five finish in the standings and Ferrari came runners-up to Mercedes.
Ferrari toook a bakward step in 2016 but on occassion, could be in the mix with Mercedes and Red Bull. Raikkonen finished the last of the drivers from the three teams in sixth with four podium finishes. However, the following season would be the year that Ferrari would start to pull together a title challenge.
In the season that they were partnered together, it was clear that the Scuderia would back Vettel if the team was in a position to challenge for a title - and that's what they did in 2017 and in 2018. Raikkonenn played a supporting role each year pucking up podiums, a shock pole position in Italy in 2018 and many more fastest laps. However, mounting speculation throughout these years as to who might replace the 'Iceman' never seemed to get Kimi to slow down and stop to think.
PATIENCE PAYS OFF: On the 11th anniversary of his title win, Raikkonen's long wait to stand back on the top step of the podium - after 113 races - was ended
With a deal in place for Raikkonen to move bak to Sauber, now know as Alfa Romeo, with Charles Leclerc repacing him in an effective swap, Raikkonen pulled off one-last gasp for the Scuderia and for himself at the 2018 US GP.
With Vettel's title challenge all but in the mud, Raikkonen took full advantage of his team-mate's grid drop to line-up alongside Hamilton on the front-row. Mercedes struggled with pace as Hamilton could only managed third with Max Verstappen rising from 18th to claim second. The Finn came across the line and in Raikkonen style said: "F**king finally!"
Despite his raw speed and natural talent, Raikkonen retires from the sport with only one World Championship to his name. As the most-experienced driver to have competed in the sport, the 'Iceman' leaves behind a remarkable legacy - driving in different periods of regulations and racing against some of the true greats of the 2000's. There will never be another driver like Raikkonen. What the Finn does next either try his hand at another racing series or putts his feet-up, the F1 community will also follow and support him.