Kimi Raikkonen’s announcement of retirement at the end of the 2021 season after 19 years in F1 came in perhaps the most Raikkonen fashion possible; no big fanfare, no large spectacle, just a few words, via an Instagram post late at night. Ahead of the heavily rumoured announcement date at the Italian Grand Prix, Alfa Romeo’s home Grand Prix. The announcement was seemingly unplanned with the team not posting until 20 minutes after the Finn.
Raikkonen has been one of the most iconic faces of Formula 1 ever since his debut back in 2001 with Sauber, despite also being a man of very few words. Across the years the Finn has become known not only for his performance on track but also his big personality with his blunt and monotone responses to media duties and long-winded questions which have left him branded ‘The Iceman’.
As well as his often-chaotic antics, the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix where after being forced to retire due to a mechanical issue Raikkonen strolled off into the harbour, still in his racing suit, to his yacht, not returning to the paddock, and the 2018 FIA Gala; in which Williams driver George Russell recalled his first encounter with Raikkonen: “The first time I ever spoke to Kimi, the conversation ended with him twisting my nipples” are particular moments that come to mind.
However, although Raikkonen’s personality has often taken the forefront, especially in the latter stages of his career, he will also be remembered as one of the most impressive drivers of the 2000’s era. He became a title contender just two years into his career and eventual world champion, winning the 2007 World Championship by a single point over Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, which made him Ferrari’s most recent world champion. He also boasts 103 podium finishes, one of only five drivers to surpass the 100 mark, is the winner of 21 Grand Prix’s, and is the only driver to have won races in the V10, V8 and the V6 turbo hybrid engine eras. The record for most race starts is also Raikkonen’s, which he claimed last year at the Eifel Grand Prix.
If you watched F1 in the 2000’s, ‘Raikkonen’ is a name you would have been shocked to not have seen at the front and is a name that has become synonymous with the sport. Raikkonen’s long stretching career also includes a two-year break from F1 in which he turned his talents to the World Rally Championship and NASCAR before returning to F1 with Lotus and then Ferrari, eventually returning to the team he debuted with Sauber, now known as Alfa Romeo.
Despite Raikkonen being a driver many in the paddock didn’t know closely due to his introverted nature, (Daniel Ricciardo jokingly said in a press conference that after 10 years he still did not know where he stood with Kimi) his impact is still clear. Drivers such as Hamilton and Ricciardo note Raikkonen’s generational talent and skill but also how this was never at the compromise of fairness or safety on track. Younger drivers such as Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris have talked about how they watched the Finn when they were growing up karting, which demonstrates the long-lasting impact he has had on multiple generations within the sport.
After a positive Covid-19 test result in Zandvoort at the Dutch Grand Prix, Raikkonen is set to return to F1 at the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi in late September.
His departure in Abu Dhabi in December is sure to be emotional, but mostly for fans given his ‘Iceman’ nature. Raikkonen’s departure also leaves an empty seat at Alfa Romeo, to be taken by fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas who will be departing Mercedes at the end of the season. Whilst the second seat currently occupied by Antonio Giovinazzi remains encircled by rumours, names such as Alex Albon, former Red Bull driver, and Nyck de Vries, Mercedes EQ Formula E driver and current Formula E world champion, are said to be in contention.
Raikkonen’s retirement marks the end of a Formula 1 era and as Hamilton and many others have said “he will be missed”.
Image: ph-stop via Flickr