For day five of Badger’s advent calendar, we’re looking at Kimi’s first year in the World Rally Championship. Why? Because he finished in the points five times this year, that’s why! It’s not a tenuous link at all…
First, a crash course for those who don’t follow the WRC. Sebastien Loeb is the champion and has been every year since 2004 – that’s seven in a row. And… well, that’s about all the introduction you need. This is Loeb’s sport; everyone else just makes up the numbers.
Pace-wise that’s exactly what Kimi did this year. He was nothing special behind the wheel, though he did up media and fan interest in the championship, not a bad thing for a series so utterly dominated by one scruffy-haired Frenchman.
Not that this will be enough for the 2007 F1 champ – whether he admits it or not the results will be getting him down a little. In Sweden he had a troubled run to 29th; Mexico was a DNF. At Rally Jordan he was eighth, scoring his first WRC points. He followed that up well in Turkey, where he had a promising run to fifth overall, a few minutes shy of team-mate Sebastien Ogier but still taking a step in the right direction. However this would be his best result of the season.
Kimi didn’t contest Rally New Zealand (not an uncommon situation for a non-title contender in the WRC) and then picked up a point next time out in Portugal for a tenth place finish. The point was all well and good, though Kimi may have been a tad disappointed to have been beaten by Sheikh Khalid bin Faisal bin Sultan Al Qassimi who, despite his rallying experience, is no Loeb.
No points from the next two rallies, the second of which was his not-so-glorious homecoming in Finland. Finnish drivers have won a total of 14 WRC titles (easily more than any other nation) but their latest star finished down in 25th on his maiden home run; Tommi Makkinen he ain’t. Yet.
Germany was one of his top performances as he came home seventh, taking a stage win along the way, but he then he registered back-to-back DNFs in Japan (scene of perhaps his finest F1 win) and France. The latter rally saw Citroen stablemate Loeb claim a ridiculous seventh successive crown.
Then there was Rally Spain, which was a very short-lived nightmare. Kimi managed to roll his car out of the event on the shakedown, which isn’t too different to an F1 driver crashing on the parade lap or, if you want to be really harsh, tripping over a wheel gun on the grid and landing flat on your face whilst the theme music from Curb Your Enthusiasm plays.
He rounded out the season with eighth place and four championship points at Wales Rally GB. Nothing special, but at least me made it past the shakedown this time. Ahem.
So Kimi ended a fairly underwhelming debut year tenth in the drivers’ championship. It wasn’t so much that he never came near winning – no one expected that – it was the fact that silly little mistakes were still occuring right up to the end of the season, at a time when he should have been making genuine progress. People asked whether he was really learning…
He has no contract for 2011 just yet but with F1 ruled out the WRC is his only possible home next year – unless he truly loses it and decides to give Moto GP a go. Citroen want to keep him, but with Red Bull not keen to continue funding his seat Kimi may have to – whisper it – become a pay driver. It’d be worth it though, as remaining in the Citroen camp is, at this stage at least, what the inexperienced Raikkonen needs. If rumours are to be believed they want to pair him with 2003 world champ Petter Solberg next year, and the wise old Norwegian (who often reminds this writer of a talking tree from a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale) would be a good man to learn from.
If not Kimi could remain in the WRC – perhaps at the Monster Energy-backed Ford team alongside former skateboarder Ken Block (it’s an odd world, rallying); or he could drive a Mini, as they’ll be entering in 2011 (such an odd world).
Or he could leave. He could go and do what he wants because he is a multi-millionaire who has already proven to the world that, on his day, he is the fastest man on earth. It will all depend on his motivation. More than most, Kimi can’t fake it when the hunger has gone.