“He’s a man of few words,” Jenson Button once said of Kimi Raikkonen, “but he’s all about racing.” Never the most loquacious out of the car, the mercurially-talented 2007 world champion has always preferred to let his driving do the talking, be that in a rally car, on a snowmobile, or, most successfully, in Formula One machinery.
Widely regarded as one of the finest drivers of his generation, Raikkonen’s path to the top of F1 racing began in his hometown of Espoo in southern Finland when, as a sports-mad 11 year-old, he took up karting. The young racer swiftly stamped his authority on the local opposition before making his mark in international events. Surprisingly, he never won a karting title, but his early racing days singled him out as a future star.
In 2000 – ten years after he had first got behind the wheel of a kart – Raikkonen made the switch to single-seaters. Choosing the UK Formula Renault series as his springboard, the previously title-less driver took the championship with seven wins, 316 points and six pole positions. Indeed, the Finn was so dominant that year, several Formula One teams, convinced of his raw talent, began to court him.
Sauber were the first to make a concrete offer and after a successful three-day test, Raikkonen surprisingly landed a race drive with the Swiss squad for 2001. Given that he had only 23 single-seater race starts to his name, many questioned team boss Peter Sauber’s decision, but from the outset Raikkonen’s pace and consistency blew such criticisms out of the water. He ended his first Formula One season with nine championship points – and the admiration of much of the paddock, including, most notably, Ron Dennis..