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  • Writer's pictureRhonan Colquhoun

Should Raikkonen have won at McLaren? A look back at his horrible reliability record

Having only competed in 23 car racing previously, Sauber signed Kimi Raikkonen for the 2001 Formula One Season and by the end of that year, the Finn was signed by McLaren to replace Mika Hakkinen. What followed was five campaigns in which horrible reliability cost Raikkonen two possible championships.

18th May 2020

Raikkonen's first year in F1 was solid. He achieved four point scoring finishes and further four finishes inside the top eight. He ended 10th in the championship with nine points. This prompted McLaren Team Principal Ron Dennis to sign him for the 2002 Season in replace of Two Time Champion and mentor Mika Hakkinen. The decision, to pick either Raikkonen or his team-mate Nick Heidfeld, who was linked with McLaren's engine supplier Mercedes, was swayed by the departing double champion.

2002 - A tough learning year with a sign of things to come

Raikkonen's debut with McLaren ended in a podium finish behind race winner Ferrari's Michael Schumacher and the Williams of Juan-Pablo Montoya in Australia. Three further podiums followed in Europe, France and in Japan however, he was on course for his first win in France but went wide with a few laps to go after oil was left on the circuit due to Allan McNish's expired Toyota engine handling the win to Schumacher. Raikkonen finishes in sixth and with team-mate David Coulthard, McLaren are third in the championship. His season was hampered by a large number of engine failures.

  • Malaysia: Raikkonen running third in the early part of the race but engine fails.

  • Brazil: Wheel rim cracks with three laps to go whilst running fourth.

  • San Marino: A broken exhaust fails whilst in fifth.

  • Spain: Rear wing fails whilst in fourth.

  • Austria: Engine fails after five laps whilst in fifth.

  • Belgium: Qualifies well but engine woes kill any chance of a good result.

  • Italy: Running third when engine expires halfway through race.

  • USA: Engine lets go near the end of the race and loses fifth place.

If it wasn't for these failures, Raikkonen could have ended up fourth instead of sixth.

2003 - Gives Schumacher a great run as consistency is key

A new points system is introduced to keep the competition closer together and this allowed Raikkonen to keep in touch of Schumacher until the final race. McLaren's quick out of the starting blocks as a third in Australia and first career win in Malaysia sees Raikkonen top the standings. Second places follow in Brazil and in San Marino as Schumacher and Ferrari start to hit their stride as the F2003-GA made it's debut.

After a mistake in qualifying in Spain, Raikkonen collided with the Jaguar of Antonio Pizzonia who was stuck on the grid as the lights went out. Despite engine problems, Raikkonen held onto second in Austria and then second again in a close Monaco GP. Starting from the pit-lane in Canada, Raikkonen finished sixth as Schumacher won and took the lead in the championship. Europe follows in retirement with Williams winning in Europe and France as Raikkonen manages fourth behind Schumacher. Third in Britain is followed by a first lap retirement in Germany with Raikkonen now third after being jumped by Montoya in the standings. Second in Hungary renews title hopes as the Finn comes to within two points of Schumacher.

Before the Italian GP, tyre suppliers to McLaren and to four other teams, Michelin, had to bring new tyres for the rest of the season. McLaren also announced that they would see out the season with the revised MP4-17D as the MP4-18 did not race due to several testing problems. Schumacher won in Italy as Raikkonen took pole in the US but lost out to Schumacher.

Coming into the final race in Japan, Schumacher held a nine point lead and only had to score one point to secure the championship. Raikkonen needed to win and hope of a dismal race for the German. Qualifying in eighth, Raikkonen fought back to finish second behind the Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello as Schumacher recovered to sixth and therefore taking a record sixth world championship.

  • Europe - The only mechanical failure of the year is costly indeed. After taking pole and controlling the first 25 laps of the race, his engine fails while Schumacher gains four valuable points.

Ends up second, just two points behind Schumacher but should have won if wasn't for retirement in Europe.

2004 - It's getting out of hand now

The first half of the 2004 Season was appalling for McLaren. In the first seven races, Raikkonen finished two races and only one of them in the points while Coulthard doesn't fare much better. It's engine problems in Australia and in Bahrain for the Finn. In comparison, Schumacher, leading the championship, had 60 points.

Disqualification of four cars promotes Raikkonen to fifth at Canada with a sixth place in USA is next. McLaren debut the MP4-19B at France which is an all-new car with a radically redesigned aerodynamic package. This is justified with seventh and then second place in Britain. Retirement in Germany is followed by an electrical issue in Hungary however he wins in Belgium after starting in tenth. A final retirement of the year is in Italy while the three remaining races of the year, two of which he's on the podium, are reliability free. He finishes the year seventh, with 45 points, one pole position and two fastest laps.

  • Malaysia: Suffers transmission failure whilst running in third.

  • Monaco: Pneumatic failure costs podium finish.

  • Europe: Engine failure whilst running second.

  • Germany: Rear-wing failure on lap nine whilst running in a safe second.

  • Italy: Engine failure whilst running net sixth.

Seventh in the championship but should have been at least fourth.

2005 - Another title goes awry

Pre-Season testing showed that although the MP4-20 was quick, it was also unreliable. The start to the season was less than perfect which was not helped with the McLaren not being able to generate heat into it's Michelin tyres through one-lap pace. In the first three races, the highest either Raikkonen or new team-mate Montoya could manage, was sixth. Raikkonen stalled on the grid in Australia although he fought back to eighth. A certain podium and points finish was out the window in Malaysia but a podium in Bahrain was welcomed.

After retiring in San Marino, Renault's Fernando Alonso led the championship after four races on 36 points while Raikkonen languishes with only seven. Raikkonen's luck finally changed as a dominant win in Spain and then a brilliant strategy call gave the Finn the win round Monaco. After these two wins, he lies 22 points behind Alonso. One of the most tensest final races in recent F1 memory came in Europe when Raikkonen crashed on the final lap as a flat-spot on his tyre caused serious vibrations. This was enough to break the suspension and send the Finn spinning out of the race handing the win to Alonso.

A mistake during the race for Alonso saw the Spaniard retire with Raikkonen taking top honours. Only the Bridgestone tyre runners race in the US as safety concerns lead to the Michelin teams pulling out. Second in France and third in Britain are brilliant drives despite incurring ten place grid penalties at each race are due to engine failures. He retires in Germany with wins in Hungary and in Turkey with a fourth in Italy after another ten place grid penalty. Raikkonen raises the possibility of leaving McLaren if reliability issues are not solved when his contract expired at the end of 2006.

After his win in Belgium, Raikkonen laid 25 points behind Alonso with the Spaniard only needing six points in Brazil. Montoya took his second win of the year with Raikkonen behind but Alonso rounded-out the podium to clinch the title. A stunning drive in Japan sees him overtake Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella on the last lap to claim victory as he finishes second in the final race of the year in China. He finishes the year second with 122 points, 21 points behind Alonso. Seven wins, 12 podiums, five pole positions and ten fastest laps strongly suggests that if the car was reliable, the title could have been his.

  • Malaysia: Faulty tyre valve robs him of a podium and points finish.

  • San Marino: Qualifies on Pole and has a commanding lead until driveshaft fails.

  • Germany: Has a good lead whilst leading until hydraulics fail.

Alonso wins the championship by 21 points although Raikkonen had the pace, but not the reliability to beat him.

2006 - Final straw at McLaren

It was clear from the start of the season that although the reliability issues had been more or less solved, the care was hampered by an under-powered Mercedes engine. Starts 22nd after suspension failure in qualifying but fights back to finish third in Bahrain but retires in Malaysia at the end of the first lap after left-rear suspension damage. Finishes in second in Australia while a bad choice of strategy and mistake by Raikkonen saw the Finn getting caught in traffic eventually finishing fifth. Ron Dennis blamed Raikkonen's race performance for the poor result.

After finishing in fifth at Spain, Raikkonen admitted that he had no chance of this year's championship. Whilst running in second, his car catches fire after a wiring loom explodes. He finishes third in both Britain and in Canada while a first-lap accident in the US sees Raikkonen and six other drivers retiring. Fifth in France is followed by third in Germany. Retires in Hungary after starting on pole after a collision Vitantonio Liuzzi. After first-lap incident is with Scott Speed in Turkey but loses grip and crashes half-way through the race.

He qualified on pole in Italy to only be passed by Schumacher for the lead during the pit-stops. He finishes second as after the race, Schumacher announces his retirement with Ferrari confirming Raikkonen joining from 2007. Throttle problems lead to retirement in China while he finishes the remaining race in Japan and Brazil in fifth. He ends the year fifth with 65 points, six podiums, three poles, three fastest laps but no victories.

  • Bahrain: Rear suspension failure in qualifying although had pace to win.

  • Monaco: Engine failure costs likely win.

  • China: Throttle problems costs probable win.

Could have ended up in third instead of fifth.

2007 - The move to Ferrari and the battle with his former team

Moving to Ferrari, Raikkonen has a steady year before wining the last two races of the year to claw back a 17 point deficit to clinch the championship - stealing it from the McLaren duo of Alonso and rookie Lewis Hamilton. To date, he's the last driver to do so for the Scuderia.

Kimi at McLaren: A wasted opportunity?

It's his 2003 campaign which stands out for me where despite only taking one win to Schumacher's six, he kept the title alive to the very last race. His season is very much helped by the new points system but he hammered team-mate and 13 time race winner Coulthard. In the 16 races that season, three in which he did not finish, he finished on the podium ten times (more than anyone than season) and finished the remaining races inside the top six.

This relationship has to go down as one of the most painful driver/team relationships in F1 history. It's interesting to note that during the same period, 2002 to 2006, Ferrari and Schumacher only had three race ending failures.

Raikkonen's time at McLaren did yield nine wins and 27 podiums but it could have so much more.

In the end, if it wasn't for the reliability woes, Raikkonen could have been a double world champion in 2003 and in 2005 at his time with McLaren. He would have also potentially bagged nine more wins and gained in the region of 119 more points. Although, this is what a tough sport like Formula One is like. It's a combination of both human and machine and sure, maybe once in a while, the car may break down, but 26 serious technical failures in 103 starts, is just ridiculous.

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