What next for Kimi Raikkonen?

Kimi Raikkonen before his F1 exit. Photo by Darren Heath

Kimi Raikkonen before his F1 exit. Photo by Darren Heath

To listen to the deluded blitherings of his legion of fans (and the regional media who rely on him for a living), in very short order Kimi Matias Raikkonen is going to return to Formula 1 as well as winning the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Indy 500, all the while partaking of selected outings in NASCAR. Who knows? Perhaps he’ll also cure the common cold, return the Elgin Marbles whence they rightly belong and lead the first manned expedition to Mars. On a unicycle.

Let’s get one thing straight: to have seen Kimi Raikkonen properly on it in a fast F1 car was almost worth the price of a race admission ticket alone. The trouble is that this era began in 2001 and ended at some point during the 2008 season, after which Kimi’s form plummeted along with the global economy. And as an asset, he has spectacularly underperformed ever since.

When I say “asset” I mean that in every sense of the word. Everyone knows he doesn’t “do” PR – well, when you’re winning or performing exceptionally, sometimes you don’t have to. But if you’re not delivering the results on track, in terms of sponsor exposure, then it’s time to smile for the cameras and start delivering value elsewhere. When Red Bull cushioned Kimi’s move to the World Rally Championship after Ferrari sent him packing in 2009, they soon found that they got very little of the above.

Kimi Raikkonen, Australia 2009. Photo by Darren Heath

Kimi Raikkonen, Australia 2009. Photo by Darren Heath

On paper, the prospect of Kimi – the ultimate reflexive driver – in a World Rally car seemed to be a perfect match. But only if you make the same mistake as many people with a circuit racing background, which is to assume that rallying is merely a fast-twitch sport in which you drive a quick car brutally down unfamiliar roads while the bloke in the passenger seat barks vague instructions about the road ahead. Easy left? Yes, I can see that for myself, thankyouverymuch.

As Robert Kubica also learned, considerably more to his cost, rallying is a more precise and demanding sport than most circuit racers imagine. No one could ever doubt Kimi’s commitment at the wheel – when the mood takes him – but he is temperamentally unsuited to the sport of rallying. Preparation is vital: accurate pace notes are the key to speed, and my spies within the WRC report that Kimi’s chief weakness was his lack of application to the process of getting them right.

Consider also the working day. Rallies demand stamina and focus. Drivers typically leave the service area at 7am and are at the wheel pretty much all day. Take day two of next weekend’s Rally France: after checking in at the first time control (7am) it’s an 89.36km drive just to get to the start of the first stage, with a similarly big commute of 128.45km from the end of the last stage to parc ferme, checking in after 6.30pm. In all, the day comprises 148.39km of competitive stages and 397.09km of liaison sections. Planning and punctuality reigns. Every minute is accounted for, every twist and turn of those 148,390 metres of stage has to be rigorously planned in the pace notes: which blind corners can be taken flat; which corners can be cut; and which corners can’t be cut.

Kimi Raikkonen, Rally Germany 2011. Photo courtesy of WRC.com

Kimi Raikkonen, Rally Germany 2011. Photo courtesy of WRC.com

This is why Kimi’s rivals regularly outpace him by between one and two seconds per kilometre; they’re not necessarily gifted with better car control, but they have better discipline and focus, and they’re better prepared. Yes, Kimi has been driving a second-string Citroen, but so is Petter Solberg – and he is a regular contender for the podium, whereas Kimi’s usual habitat is the back half of the top 10. This is not a turn-up-and-drive sport.

Kimi has dipped his toes in the NASCAR pool but made it known that he was not interested in driving there full time. NASCAR, unfortunately, has little patience for entrants who aren’t fully committed. More importantly, neither do potential sponsors. Kimi also recently made it known that he was no longer prepared to fund his WRC effort out of his own pocket, and that he would only continue in the sport if he was paid to drive. The response from WRC teams and the sport in general has been, “Bye, then…” In a final act of wilful career sabotage he announced that travelling to the Australian round of the WRC was too big a journey, and then failed to turn up. As a result, he has now been excluded from the championship.

So, bridges duly burned in F1, NASCAR and the WRC. What of these other mystical targets, Le Mans and the Indy 500? Kimi recently tested Peugeot’s 908 Le Mans car, and since the team is looking to replace the accident-prone Pedro Lamy and not-quite-quick-enough Marc Gene for next year, this is his most likely destination. But it will not be a big-money deal, and Le Mans is a harder gig than many people think. The Indy 500? It’s hard enough to get the sponsorship even if you’ve previously won the race (just ask Dan Wheldon). Turning up as a rookie and expecting to win is just asking for trouble (just ask Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, et al).

Kimi has been a good earner for his management team, David and Steve Robertson, but now the udders of this particular cash cow are running dry. When you’re reduced to whispering in the ear of compliant pressmen that your charge is – hush hush! – making a visit to the Williams F1 factory, the game is nearly up. No doubt Team Willy would love to have Kimi (the Kimi of half a decade ago, that is), but they can’t afford him and he doesn’t work for free – and don’t forget that his last employer in F1 was so underwhelmed by him that they bought him out of his contract.

The Robertsons will no doubt be enduring many a sleepless night over the coming weeks as they try to find Kimi a paying berth. Nor poppy nor mandragora nor all the drowsy syrups of the world shall medicine them to that sweet sleep they owe yesterday, that’s for sure. To the motorsport industry at large, Kimi is now the unemployable in pursuit of the unlikely.

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  • Comments (20)
    • Matt
    • September 22nd, 2011

    You are asking for trouble with this subject matter! Can’t agree more though. Totally wasted talent.

    Nor poppy nor mandragora nor all the drowsy syrups of the world shall medicine them to that sweet sleep they owe yesterday

    That one of your musical quotes?

    • Scumacher
    • September 22nd, 2011

    Sorry but this is a load of uninformed s**t.

    Try your hand at knitting.

    • PopsTwitTar
    • September 22nd, 2011

    good article. Does anyone think Kimi actually cares if he races anymore? He liked being in front-running cars that gave him a chance to win. If he can’t do that, he seems perfectly comfortable hanging out and living life. His managers might not like that, but I don’t think Kimi cares. We may demand every racer be as committed as we think *we* would be if blessed with the same talent and opportunity, but if that’s Kimi, it doesn’t make him any less a driver.

    • Jnr
    • September 22nd, 2011

    Sorry but this is a load of uninformed s**t.

    Because you don’t agree with what it says? Article is a fair representation of the facts IMHO.

    • Peter G
    • September 22nd, 2011

    In all honesty, who cares about KR? He has had his day. His attitude sucks, and in todays world, you have to give value to the team and sponsors. KR gave nothing .

    • antoine
    • September 22nd, 2011

    Great post as ever.

    Drivers typically leave the service area at 7am and are at the wheel pretty much all day.

    Is it true that the Kimster eats breakfast at the wheel on his way to the first stage of the day?

    • Kevlar
    • September 22nd, 2011

    Scumacher :
    Sorry but this is a load of uninformed s**t.
    Try your hand at knitting.

    +1 from me. What do you know Codling of the rally sport?

  1. Nice post, interesting. I was able to observe Kimi in the WRC last year and he seemed quite relaxed and happy plus very popular with rally fans, while this year he was sort of on a different planet, daydreaming and all that. He didn’t look particularly happy in Lisbon for the superspecial. Surely, rallying is a different ballpark, and don’t call him ‘Shirley’. On top of everything, his team was excluded from the standings – tough one to swallow but he didn’t do what the FIA rules state. I think in 2009 he said rally stages were much more fun for him because of driving into the unknown and every new corner holding a surprise.

    Personally, I thought he was OK in 2008 in F1, he had some bad luck and had to present Massa with a win in France, while his red chariot was losing bits and pieces around the track. Maybe the second half of the season was not so good. He still managed to win a race in 2009 but his Finnish spirit(s) was not in line Ferrari’s predictable latin mind games. Alonsó is better suited for that. Whatever the weather, Kimster won his title and he’s a total legend in his own write/speak.

    • Stuart C
    • September 22nd, 2011


    You’d probably think I was rubbish at that as well!




    Allegedly so, plus his physio stuffs energy bars in the dashboard recesses in an attempt to keep him awake.


    Well, in the past 12 months I’ve been to Rally Jordan to do stage reports and news for the WRC website, done live text commentary for that site on another five events, and stood in for the IRC series press officer at Rally Scotland and the Mecsek Rallye. Will that do?

  2. Matt, I believe that’s from Othello. Wonderfully apt here though. A lack of preparation yesterday has led to the unecessary stresses of today for Kimi’s management and for Kimi himself. With hindsight, the signs were there in 2009, but I for one did not see (did not want to see?) them.

    Le Mans is definitely a harder gig than many people think. I’ve been following the Le Mans Series and the ILMC for the past 18 months (it’ll be called the WEC by the time Kimi joins Peugeot, if indeed he does). It would appear that the necessary traits to succeed their are smooth consistent driving (to save fuel, avoid damage and to enable predictions), the ability to fight even when there appears to be nothing to gain (because even qualifying at the back of the pack doesn’t always preclude victory – ask Pescarolo about Sebring) and a lot of preparation. Derring-do without forethought tends to lead to Lamy-esque crashing and not doing the preparation work simply leads to being slow and being shouted at by Martin Haven for having “an F1 attitude”.

    It’s definitely possible to transfer from F1 to sportscars well because I’ve just watched Giancarlo Fisichella take the Le Mans Series GTE-Pro championship with team-mate Gianmaria Bruni, in his second year in the championship. Both of them have even managed to escape the “F1 attitude” accusations. But it was a lot of effort and sportscars is compatible with Giancarlo’s traits as a driver in a way that it doesn’t sound like it would with Kimi’s.

    Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Kimi’s top-line motorsports future looks dark even if Peugeot takes him.

  3. You REALLY should blog more often, Stuart. Very good article – missed your excellent writing.

    • Colin
    • September 22nd, 2011

    Nicely written piece Stuart, if your WRC source is whom I think it to be (ex-Haymarket) then you are very well informed indeed. Kimi has a hell of a lot of fans worldwide so any article on him will provoke reaction.

    IIRC Kimi came into F1 from Formula Renault (?) which was considered quite a priority ‘Fast Track’ at the time. Considering his lack of rally experience Kimi’s entry into top-flight WRC was a much bigger short-cut. He is obviously a hugely talented wheelman and he’s come a long way in the relatively few rallies he has done but the fundamental flaws remain. For a man who doesn’t like listening to anybody else, he is nowhere with his pace notes and his knowledge of the stages is miles behind that of his competitors’. I don’t see him putting in the hard graft to improve.

    I really hope the enigma of ‘Being Kimi Raikkonen’ does move. A return to circuit racing means he can tick the box that says WRC, and fondly remember his days of battling the likes of Frederico Villagra and Dennis Kuipers. A great driver, always, a Loeb beater, never.

    • Stuart C
    • September 22nd, 2011


    Ah Colin, I can never reveal my sources…

    I often say that photographers know better than most who is quick and neat and who isn’t, since you are the ones aiming unwieldy camera equipment in their direction. As rallying’s pre-eminent snapper you have had more opportunities to study the Kimster’s performances up close, so I hope that a couple of the commenters above will take heed of your thoughts!

    • Steven Roy
    • September 22nd, 2011

    For me Kimi belongs in F1. Certainly it would be great if life was more like the 70s and drivers could switch from one branch of the sport to others with similar success but each aspect is too specialist now and there is so much technology and procedure to learn that successful switching is rare. Even the likes of Hakkinen and Coulthard have struggled to make a real impact in the DTM.

    I would love to see Kimi back in a competitive F1 car. He has the ability to challenge the best. Going to Ferrari was a huge mistake from the start. They build understeering that made Massa look good against him. As soon as Alonso turned up it was a certainty that he would make Massa look second rate because his car set up advantage was gone.

    You have to wonder why drivers and their management sign contracts with teams who are never going to give them a car to their liking. If I could predict his problems and what would happen why could his management not see it. Maybe they could only see the $$$$$$$.

  4. @Steven Roy

    I think it’s because Kimi could’ve become the leader of Ferrari, in the same way Schumacher did and Alonso does now. That is, if he wanted it. But he was never really interested in that. He wanted to turn up and drive to win. That kind of approach can still win you a title, but it does not lead to titleS.

    • Cameron
    • September 23rd, 2011

    Kimi is to busy driving tractors in Texas to be a real F1 champion again. Not to mention he is a rude arrogant a**hole and the sport is better off without him.

    • zenmeister
    • September 23rd, 2011

    It’s a pretty cheap trick to write such an article about someone who you know won’t bite back, in fact he won’t even see it so you’re on safe ground.

    Ignoring the other misleading comments, here are a few facts about Kimi’s stay at Ferrari. He won the same number of races for them as he did for McLaren, including that WDC. In the second half of 2009, after Massa’s accident, Ferrari began to listen to him and adapted the car more to his needs, even though they had stopped development of it. The result as that he scored more points than anyone else except Hamilton in the second half of the season and took a great win at Spa.

    The biggest think I don’t understand is why Ferrari spent so much on Kimi and then didn’t even try to get the best out of him. I remember reading a comment from Jon Noble right at the beginning of his time there. The engineers were used to Schumacher and thought they might have to simplify the information they wanted from Kimi. To their surprise Kimi was able to exactly the same information, if not more.

    Thereafter he would tell them what he wanted from the car but if they chose not to listen, which inexplicably happened far too often, he would shrug his shoulders and do his best with what they gave him. That is a fault, I admit. He should have banged the table and laid down the law much more. It would have helped them both.

    • akimifan
    • September 23rd, 2011

    I admit that I have been a huge Kimi fan and I’ll also admit that I think that his attitude suits a top team in F1 and probably little else.

    Kimi shows typical “high achiever” traits; you know like the kids who ace exams without studying. These types get used to their brilliance and learn that they do not need to apply themselves to get results, but as soon as things don’t work for them they give up because they can’t work out why they’re getting a different result.

    People who have to strive are used to hard work and application, and when faced with a new challenge apply the same principles of hard work to get results. I suspect that Kimi is expecting the results to come his way as naturally as they did in the past and when they don’t there are many variables for him to blame, instead of overcoming them.

    • Chaz
    • September 24th, 2011

    Enjoyable piece. I personally never thought Kimi deserved all the hype he got. He’s to much of a pouty drama so and so. I have more respect for drivers who fight their corner and take the rough with the smooth to the very end, something Kimi arguable did do initially but not in the end. He should enjoy his millions and no more need be said of him. Many already find themselves saying Kimi who?… and so be it for a legacy…

    • Siperoth
    • October 5th, 2011

    Kimi’s form didn’t end in 2008, it just never started at Ferrari. Or maybe actually it did, in 2009 after Massa got a spring in the head when all the attention focused on his car.
    Kimi was mediocre in 2007 too despite winning the championship. He won it but the performances he gave while driving the Mclaren weren’t really there.
    The reason wasn’t really that he lost his ability, it simply was that he never fit in the Ferrari environment. That’s why Massa that has less skill was able to match him.After Schumi Ferrari depended on the driver too much on bossing them around and showing them the light. Kimi wasn’t that guy, he just wanted a fast car to drive. So the Ferrari system was rarely able to give him a fitting to his style car simply because they need the driver to force them to make that. So Massa that was better talker and socializer usually managed to make the mechanics give him a better car.
    On the other hand Mclaren isn’t like that. They hear the basic input of the driver but other than that they don’t need him to meddle too much, they just put all the data into their computers and come up with what they will do next. That way was perfect for Kimi because Mclaren was perfect at giving him a decently set-up car with out too much fanfare from his side.
    With out the driver putting his nose too much in it Ferrari had to try and prepare his car in a similar to Mclaren way but in the end that ain’t their style so they couldn’t do as good of a job as Mclaren can and the car was never feeling one with him like those Mclaren cars used to do. And because of that when Kimi was driving a Ferrari there was always something that seemed to be missing.

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