Kimi Raikkonen will rejoin Ferrari on a two-year deal from 2014. This marks the only time in Ferrari’s history that it has re-signed a previous Ferrari World Champion for more than a one-off race. Raikkonen therefore has a unique second bite at the Ferrari apple – a chance to take an already successful history with the famous Italian team and make it even more successful.
Raikkonen joined Ferrari in 2007 from McLaren, replacing the retiring Michael Schumacher. Raikkonen’s team-mate at Ferrari throughout his first stint with the team was Felipe Massa, the same man Raikkonen is now replacing on his return to Maranello. In his very first race for Ferrari, the 2007 Australian Grand Prix, Raikkonen took pole position, set the fastest lap and won the race. It was a stunning statement of intent, particularly considering that he was attempting to fill the biggest shoes of all in F1, those of Michael Schumacher.
The rest of the 2007 season was not so dominant for Raikkonen. He would not win another race until the French Grand Prix, which was the eighth round of the season, and by then it looked like the title would go to one of the McLaren drivers (double World Champion Fernando Alonso or super-quick rookie Lewis Hamilton) or Raikkonen’s own team-mate, Felipe Massa. But the win in France was just the beginning of a charge back to the front for Raikkonen in the second half of the season.
Raikkonen won again at the British Grand Prix, but retired at the next round at the Nurburgring. He then had a string of podium finishes – second at the Hungarian and Turkish Grands Prix and third at Ferrari’s home race at Monza. The next race was at Spa, where Raikkonen had already won twice before during his time at McLaren. He made it three wins in at Spa in 2007, which brought him to within 13 points of championship-leader Lewis Hamilton with three rounds left in the season.
Although Raikkonen had been inching closer to the top of the standings throughout the second half of the 2007 season, his title hopes suffered a major blow at the Japanese Grand Prix, where Hamilton won and Raikkonen came third. He was now 17 points behind with two races remaining in the season. In 2007, 10 points were awarded for a race win, 8 for second place and 6 for third. That meant Raikkonen had to win at least one of the remaining races and could finish no lower than second at the other race in order to even have a chance at the title.
Raikkonen made sure he did everything he could to secure the title. He won in China while Hamilton beached his McLaren in the gravel at the pit entry, his tyres too worn to allow him to take the sharp left-hander at the start of the pit lane. So Raikkonen went to the final race in Brazil 7 points behind Hamilton and three points behind Alonso. Raikkonen was in with a chance, but he was certainly an outsider.
For the final race of the season in Brazil, Raikkonen qualified third, behind Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton. He surged past Hamilton at the start and ran second to team-mate Massa until the second round of pitstops. Raikkonen managed to pass Massa in the second round of stops, although Ferrari would surely have engineered a position change otherwise anyway, as Raikkonen was the only Ferrari driver in with a chance of the title.
From that point on, all Raikkonen could do was win the race and hope Hamilton and Alonso did not score sufficient points to beat him to the title. Hamilton had handed Raikkonen a clear advantage early in the race when he slowed significantly after encountering a problem in his car. He was able to reset the onboard computer in his McLaren which allowed him to get back up to racing speed, but he was 18th by then and a long way out of the points. Alonso ran third throughout the race after passing Hamilton on the opening lap.
For Hamilton to win the title, he needed to finish fifth with Alonso no higher than third. As it happened, Alonso finished third, but Hamilton could do no better than seventh, despite fighting through the field superbly. That made Raikkonen World Champion by a single point from Hamilton and Alonso, who finished equal on points.
For Raikkonen, winning the World Championship in 2007 was the high-point of his Ferrari career, although he would remain with the Scuderia for another two seasons. In 2008, he seemed to be lacking motivation and was outpaced by Felipe Massa. Raikkonen won just two races in 2008, in Malaysia and Spain, compared to six for Massa, and the Finn went on to finish a distant third in the Drivers’ Championship, while Massa lost out on the title by a single point.
2009 saw the unlikely triumph of Brawn GP and the rise to prominence of Red Bull Racing, while Ferrari had a tough season. The Ferrari F60 was off the front-running pace, so much so that it delivered just one victory all season. The win went to Kimi Raikkonen at Spa, his fourth and to-date last Belgian Grand Prix victory, and came at a time when Ferrari were still reeling from Felipe Massa’s horrific accident in Hungary just two races before.
Raikkonen stood on the podium in Ferrari colours for the final time at the next round at Monza, when he finished third in the Italian Grand Prix. At the end of the season, Raikkonen was a distant sixth in the championship with 48 points, marginally more than half the tally of 2009 World Champion Jenson Button.
At the end of 2009, Ferrari and Raikkonen parted ways. Ferrari wanted to sign Fernando Alonso and were not willing to split with Felipe Massa, and as a result they chose to buy Raikkonen out of the rest of his contract. Raikkonen reportedly looked for other drives in Formula One before turning his attention to other racing series. He spent 2010 and 2011 competing without much success in the World Rally Championship. In 2011, he also tried his hand at NASCAR, making appearances in the Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series.
Throughout his time away from F1, rumours of a return persisted. In advance of the 2010 season, he was linked with possible drives for McLaren, Mercedes Toyota, although none of those came to fruition. Rumours surfaced of a return to Formula One with Renault in 2011, but those also proved false. Ultimately he would return with Lotus (previously Renault) in 2012, the team with which he won the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and finished the season third in the standings, behind Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.
Raikkonen has remained with Lotus for 2013, and is currently fourth in the Drivers’ Championship, 88 points behind championship leader Vettel and realistically out of the title race. He won the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, but has not stood on the top step of the podium since.
In 2014, the Raikkonen-Ferrari story will resume, after it was confirmed today that Raikkonen re-signed by the famous Italian team. He will have a chance of becoming the fourth driver in history to win multiple championships for Ferrari, after Alberto Ascari, Niki Lauda and Michael Schumacher. He will also provide followers of Formula One with the opportunity to watch what could become a great Ferrari rivalry, when he lines up on the grid in the same car as Fernando Alonso next season.