Just two years ago, Finn Kimi Raikkonen was the reigning (2007) World Champion in the world’s most prominent television sport, and the number one driver of the world’s most famous racing marque, the Ferrari F1 machine. Forbes rated him the 26th highest paid celebrity in the world, the fifth highest paid sportsperson (behind Woods, Beckham, Jordan and Mickelson) and the highest paid driver in the world with a weekly pay cheque of US$1,000,000. Late last year he lost his job in the cutthroat game of musical chairs played by the top half dozen drivers in the world and decided to sit out 2010 by driving rally cars. This weekend he starts his new job in a town made famous by none other than Father Christmas – could there be a belated Christmas Gift in the offing?
Motor racing afficianados will know that Raikkonen almost certainly could have secured a drive in Formula One, but that he’d lost the game of musical chairs and would have had to settle for a car that might not have been competitive.
Ferrari, after almost a decade with superman Michael Schumacher as its number one driver, did not tolerate failure, at least not twice, and opted for two-time champion Fernando Alonso for 2010, and Raikkonen lost the plum drive amongst the eight seats on the grid that might have possibly given him a chance at winning.
Sometimes the least palatable immediate outcome is the best for the long term, and rather than face mediocre performances in a less-then-competitive machine, and see his brand values plummet, Raikkonen, feeling certain that his F1 star would rise again if he sat out the 2010 season, decided to do something else.
During 2009 he drove in four rally events, and he quickly showed that the raw skills that gave him a regular F1 drive at just 21 years of age, plus 16 pole positions, 35 fastest laps and 18 F1 race wins before the age of 30, were directly transferable to this new sport. Despite being inexperienced, he was frightfully fast.
So he signed for a one year deal with the most successful rally team on the planet – the Citroen WRC team (albeit the Junior team) – and he’ll also race in the Le Mans 24 Hours race.
His pairing with the Citroen factory WRC team is a stroke of genius. He gets a car almost identical to that of the WRC Sebastien Loeb drives, he gets to learn new tricks and sharpen his skills against the best in the world, and the expectations that he should keep winning aren’t as great as they would be in any other form of motorsport.
Raikkonen’s first day on the job is today, and he’ll be piloting his mobile office (aka Citroën Racing Technologies C4 WRC) in the Arctic Lapland Rally in the company of co-driver Kaj Lindström.
Coming just two weeks before Rally Sweden, round one of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship, the Lapland event will provide a valuable getting-acquainted opportunity for the Raikkonen with both his navigator and his car. “I got to know the C4 a little bit during a test session close to the Citroën Racing workshops,” reported the Finn. “This rally is a very good opportunity for me to work with the team in competitive conditions and continue my learning curve with the car. I took part in this rally last year with Kaj and as the route is largely the same I think that could help us a bit.”
The Arctic Lapland Rally is staged in and around Rovaniemi, best-known as the home of Father Christmas. As its name suggests, the Arctic Lapland Rally takes place around the Arctic Circle in the heart of chilly Lapland. At this time of year the sun rises at 10:00 only to set before 15:00, while temperatures can dip below -20°C! “This experience will be as useful to the team as it will be to the individual crews,” concluded Benoît Nogier, Citroën Racing Technologies team manager. “Kimi will drive a C4 WRC in identical specification to the one that he will race over the season. Similarly, the crew of technicians in Rovaniemi will remain on his car for the remainder of the year.”
The Arctic Lapland Rally will run over two legs. The first one will be held today between 12:00 and 20:53 Finnish time while the second one takes place the following day between 08:00 and 18:43. The route takes in 12 challenging special stages, totalling 214 competitive kilometers.