Kimi Raikkonen, the King of Spa
Some of our best moments from the media interactions with Kimi Raikkonen, the King of Spa!
- In Saturday’s qualifying session, Raikkonen qualified in a respectable 8th place – being beaten by only the two Renault drivers from the mid-field. His race was compromised after a tangle with Max Verstappen at La Source, metres after the start
- Not only is he a World Champion, he is still Ferrari’s last champion. Incredibly, the only two Formula 1 world champions for Ferrari in the last 40 years have been Michael Schumacher – and Kimi Raikkonen.
- Raikkonen genuinely seems to be enjoying himself at Sauber, while also bringing home strong results. He is currently ninth in the drivers championship, and has consistently scored points in eight races this season
Spa-Francorchamps, the venue of the Belgian Grand Prix, is a devastating beast to tame. The track has gained notoriety for its dangerous corners, whimsical weather, and sheer unpredictability. From the current grid, Kimi Raikkonen has been the most successful at Spa, with four dazzling victories (2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009). In fact, he came tantalisingly close in 2008 as well, battling for the lead of the race with Lewis Hamilton and finally spinning under wet conditions only a few laps from the end. These numerous supreme performances have earned the Finnish driver the moniker ‘The King of Spa.’
While the fans and members of the paddock love using this title, the king himself couldn’t care less. While speaking to the media at the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix, Raikkonen declared in his characteristically irreverent style that the title “means nothing to him.” He added, “Yes, it’s my favourite track, but more important is that we work hard to get the best out of the car and continue our good run from the last races before the break.”
Health scare at Spa
Raikkonen had a health scare in the run up to the race thanks to a left leg injury sustained over summer while playing sport (he downplayed the injury saying, “better the braking leg than the throttle leg!”). Rumours of him sitting out the race gained momentum when Alfa Romeo’s reserve driver Marcus Ericsson flew in for the race. The Finn also had some words of wisdom for the media, declaring with a deadpan expression, “Sport is more dangerous than drinking. Drinking is safer, you don’t get injured, just a hangover.” Much to the relief of fans, Raikkonen recovered enough to participate in all sessions.
Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo: A new era
Twelve months ago, Raikkonen announced a move to Alfa Romeo (previously Sauber) for the 2019 season. This disbelief in the paddock was palpable – the Finn had spent eight seasons as a Ferrari driver, fighting at the sharp end of the grid. Why would he not retire with dignity, rather than forcing himself into a mud-slinging show in the ultra competitive midfield? Did he still have the drive to survive alongside younger, hungrier talent? Raikkonen addressed the incredulity regarding his move by retorting, “why not?” And why not, truly so. The Alfa Romeo of 2019 has been a far cry from the erstwhile Sauber. In its new avatar, the outfit is stronger, faster, better funded and more equipped than ever before. They needed an experienced driver to build up the team, and Raikkonen wanted to continue racing – on his own terms. To quote him – “People don’t understand I’m actually very happy where I’m going. I had my time with Ferrari, I won the championship with them… For me, as a driver, I want different challenges. I want different things and I’m actually very happy to go there (to Alfa Romeo).”
In typical Kimi style, he also shared that he had not actually read his Alfa Romeo contract and if the team complained or whined about anything – “then I’m not here anymore!” 2019 has proven that the arrangement is as good in reality as it seems on paper. Alfa Romeo Racing boss Frederic Vasseur said that the relationship with Raikkonen “is working perfectly.” Raikkonen genuinely seems to be enjoying himself at Sauber, while also bringing home strong results. He is currently eighth in the drivers championship, and has consistently scored points in eight races this season – the highest for any driver outside the top three teams.
Why F1 needs Raikkonen
Some unusual news was doing the rounds at Spa on Saturday – Raikkonen had gotten into an altercation with a drunk fan in the paddock, who accosted the Finn and began shouting while waving his hands. It seemed like something that could only happen to Raikkonen – he is after all the most unusual driver on the grid.
At a time when F1 is firmly focussed on younger drivers (most barely out of their teenage years), Raikkonen ia among the last of the old guard. Not only is he a World Champion, he is still Ferrari’s last champion and race winner. Incredibly, the only two world champions for Ferrari in the last 40 years have been Michael Schumacher – and Kimi Raikkonen.
Raikkonen admittedly doesn’t love the media, but the media loves him – his press sessions are among the most crowded on the grid. He can be brusque and brutal, wickedly hilarious, or absolutely deadpan – but never predictable or boring. In an era when most drivers are a product of careful media training and act as marketing soldiers for their teams, Raikkonen is a delightful outlier. The sport needs strong personalities to connect with its fans – else it risks being reduced to a technical show of speed and fine driving.
Ever since Raikkonen moved from Ferrari to Alfa Romeo, discussions around his retirement from the sport have dissipated. Since he is no longer occupying prime racing real estate (and holding up the careers of younger drivers) he no longer needs to keep proving himself. Moreover, freedom from the number two driver tag has let him further come into his own. Expect him to stick around as long as he is having fun – and step away without a second thought the moment he is not.
In Saturday’s qualifying session, Raikkonen qualified in a respectable 8th place – being beaten by only the two Renault drivers from the mid-field. In the race, an opening lap tangle with Verstappen at La Source cost Raikkonen his race. Since Raikkonen is confirmed to race in 2020, he’s got at least one more shot to being the King of Spa.
This post was first published on Firstpost and in the build up to the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix