Way back in 2001, Jenson Button went to Benetton (less said about that, the better), Alonso was signed at Minardi, Montoya joined Williams and Mr Peter Sauber had, following a successful test session, signed up a relatively unknown chap by the name of Kimi Raikkonen from Finland…
2001 saw Raikkonen come into F1 as a full time race driver, finishing 10 out of 17 races, with some solid points-paying positions giving him 10th overall in the championship. It was a great debut season, he loved F1 and F1 loved him. Despite connections with Sauber and Ferrari, 2002 saw the Finn stun the F1 world yet again.
Following the departure of Mika Hakkinen for his ‘sabbatical’ at the end of 2001, McLaren snapped up Raikkonen from Sauber to partner David Coulthard – and as with Button in 2010, McLaren’s shock-signing was nothing short of spectacular. His first season with the legendary team put him right up at the sharp end of the grid, battling with Michael Schumaher and Montoya (Williams were good then).
At the first round of the championship Kimi was on the podium. Yes it was a season of unreliability for McLaren, with 10 non-finishes, but Kimi still managed an impressive 6th in the championship standings, just behind Coulthard.
Come 2003 there were fewer retirements, many more podiums, his first F1 victory and the ‘Iceman’ only missed out on the world championship by two points to the all-conquering Michael Schumacher/Ferrari combination. He’s in F1 to stay for many glorious years with McLaren – surely a world title would be his in a matter of a couple of seasons?
2004, 2005 and 2006provided good results, but with two championships going to Fernando Alonso and another to Schumacher, Kimi needed something extra to give him the title that he deserved. He may have been runner-up twice, but McLaren wasn’t good enough to make him number one in Formula 1.
Bring on 2007, the retirement of Schumacher and a seat at Ferrari – the fight was on. Come the first race of the year Kimi grabbed pole, the fastest lap, and the race win – the ultimate way to start a season at a new team – it all just seemed to ‘fit.’ But his old team McLaren were strong too, with double world champion Alonso settling in alongside Formula 1 newbie, Lewis Hamilton.
The final race in Brazil was a three-way title-showdown with both McLaren drivers able to clinch the title as well as Raikkonen. Fortunately for Kimi, the season-long troubles at Woking didn’t do them any good and he came away from Brazil with another race win and the drivers’ world championship – finally.
2008 and 2009 were less successful years: Hamilton took the title in ’08 and in ’09 Raikkonen appeared to lose interest in F1 and got out of the sport completely. In the space of only a few races he went from being the ‘Iceman’ to the ‘ice-cream-man’ when at Malaysia he was caught on camera chilling out in a shorts and enjoying a Magnum while the other drivers waited for the race to restart.
Rumours about him going to Mercedes GP for 2010 fell-through when they announced their signing of Schumacher and Kimi disappeared from F1 completely.
For 2010 and 2011 he had a play with rallying and NASCAR, neither of which worked out particularly well with the headlines mainly being about another crash or him just not turning up.
And that brings us to the present day, where in November 2011, after rumours earlier in the year, Raikkonen signed a two-year contract (including a stake in the team) at Renault, or Lotus as they will become known.
With this latest signing, F1 2012 will have every champion since 2000 lining up on the grid – can Kimi rekindle his old magic and deliver results for Lotus. They’re not a team unfamiliar with championship battles and with no silly exhaust system, and Kimi onboard, it could be a very exciting season for the ‘Iceman’ indeed.