Kimi Raikkonen is the most experienced Formula 1 driver of all time. Starting the 2020 Eifel Grand Prix moved him past Rubens Barrichello’s previous mark of 322 world championship starts, and his decision to call time on his F1 career – announced on the eve of the Dutch Grand Prix – came after his 341st start in the washout Belgian Grand Prix.
Over two decades at the pinnacles of the sport – featuring a two-year sojourn in which he took in the World Rally Championship and NASCAR outings - Raikkonen has recorded 21 GP wins and 18 pole positions. His tally of 46 fastest laps is only surpassed by Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton.
During his time with Sauber, McLaren, Ferrari (twice), Lotus and Alfa Romeo, he has put in many great drives. Time to pick out his best, with the help of Raikkonen and some of those that have worked with him.
10. 2006 European GP, Nurburgring
Car: McLaren MP4-21
On the face of it, this wasn’t a remarkable run. Raikkonen completed the first lap where he started, having jumped Rubens Barrichello’s Honda but lost out to Jenson Button. He overtook Button on lap four and finished fourth, behind the Fernando Alonso’s Renault versus Ferrari lead battle.
But Bridgestone had an advantage over the Michelins used by McLaren and Renault, as evinced by Michael Schumacher’s defeat of Alonso, and the Mercedes-powered MP4-21 wasn’t quite a match for the cars ahead.
“The engine was terrible that year,” recalls Mark Slade, Raikkonen’s race engineer at McLaren and later Lotus. “I remember him coming to the bus afterwards, sweat pouring off him and he said he’d driven 60 qualifying laps – you could see he had done.
“No one knew, but we knew that he had driven phenomenally well to achieve that with the car we had then.”
Team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya had been over a minute behind Raikkonen when the older-specification engine in the second McLaren blew with eight laps to go. Raikkonen’s best lap was also only beaten by Schumacher and it was more than a second quicker than Montoya’s.
9. 2005 Monaco GP, Monte Carlo
Car: McLaren MP4-20
Many of Raikkonen’s 2005 performances could have made this list. Thanks to grid penalties, there were several burns from the stern, including a charge from 13th to second in the French GP.
There were also dominant drives, some of which got the result they deserved, such as the Spanish GP victory (nearly half a minute clear of the field), and some that didn’t; like the German GP (hydraulics failure while leading).
But it’s his peerless performance at Monaco, Raikkonen’s only win on the legendary street track that tests a driver’s precision and concentration, that makes our top 10.
A stunning qualifying effort helped set up the success. In the first, low-fuel runs, Raikkonen was 0.5s quicker than second-placed Alonso and 1.2s faster than team-mate Montoya. That allowed McLaren to put more fuel in for the second run (with the grid set by combined times), with Raikkonen going second quickest for aggregate pole.
Despite a brief lock-up into Sainte Devote, Raikkonen held off Alonso at the start and began building a lead. He was six seconds ahead when Christijan Albers triggered a traffic jam and safety car. Alonso pitted but Raikkonen stayed out thanks to some radio confusion.
The restart came on lap 29 of 78 and Raikkonen unleashed devastating pace. Helped by traffic slowing those behind, he built an advantage of 34.8s before making his only pitstop on lap 42.
He resumed still in the lead and put more than half a minute on the field again before backing off in the closing stages to win by ‘only’ 13.9s. That was over the Williams of Nick Heidfeld, Alonso having burned through his harder Michelin tyres in his attempts to keep up meaning he fell to fourth.
“A perfect weekend, mega!” said Autosport of Raikkonen’s performance.
8. 2013 Australian GP, Melbourne
Car: Lotus E21
After returning to F1, Raikkonen scored 15 podiums, including two wins, with Lotus. The “leave me alone, I know what I’m doing” win at Abu Dhabi is more famous, but the man himself picks out the Melbourne victory: “For my own excitement, [I’d] probably [choose] the Australia win because not many people before the season expected us to win.”
The delicate Pirelli tyres were key to the victory, as was the gentle way the Lotus E21 (and Raikkonen) used the rubber. Red Bull’s new RB9 qualified 1-2, poleman Sebastian Vettel 1.3s faster than Raikkonen, but the high-downforce Red Bull ate its tyres and nobody could match Kimi’s pace over the longer runs.
Raikkonen jumped from seventh to fifth on lap one, then picked off Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes on the next tour, going around the outside into the Turn 13 right-hander. That put him behind Vettel and the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Alonso.
Many runners quickly started graining their front Pirellis. Raikkonen’s first tyre change was around the same time as most others, indicating he could be on the same three-stop strategy as everyone else, but so much milder was his tyre degradation that Lotus planned only one more pit visit.
Alonso decided to make his second stop on lap 20 of 58, a move that helped him jump Vettel and Massa when they followed suit. But Raikkonen cruised serenely on, well clear in the lead. He finally made his second tyre change on lap 34, dropping briefly to fifth, but he was easily in range to move back ahead as others made their third stops.
After Alonso made his final stop he was just over 7s behind the Lotus. He closed to within 4.4s with 14 laps to go, but he then started suffering with tyre degradation again. And Raikkonen banged in some quick laps – one of which was the fastest of the race – on older rubber to score an emphatic 12.5s win.
“He referred to his victory as easy, but often a driver executing his strategy to perfection can make it feel that way and he deserves huge credit for his performance,” reckoned Autosport.
“You know that you can count on Kimi to extract the best from the car,” said team principal Eric Boullier. “His mental abilities are amazing because he can manage the race and the tyres effectively as well as being quick. He only spun the rear wheels twice during the whole race!”
7. 2018 United States GP, Austin
Car: Ferrari SF71H
Raikkonen’s second Ferrari career was not as successful or impressive as his first, as he played second fiddle to first Alonso and then Vettel. There weren’t many chances to take his 21st F1 victory, but when it “finally” came Raikkonen beat Max Verstappen and Hamilton.
Team-mate Vettel’s grid penalty put Raikkonen on the front row, but Ferrari had elected to run the Finn on ultrasofts in Q2, as opposed to the harder supersofts of the other frontrunners. That meant Raikkonen didn’t have the ideal tyre strategy, but would have a grip advantage at the start. And he used it to grab the lead from Hamilton.
Title contender Vettel spun after contact with Daniel Ricciardo, removing the likelihood of team orders and leaving Raikkonen to fight for the victory.
He kept Hamilton at bay before the Mercedes pitted during a virtual safety car, called after Ricciardo’s Red Bull-Renault engine expired. On fresh soft tyres Hamilton quickly closed in and was back with the Ferrari on lap 18 of 56.
“This was the next critical moment for Raikkonen,” reported Autosport. “Keeping Hamilton behind would accelerate the thermal degradation of his rival’s tyres, and stop him using his pace to build a bigger lead. Hamilton came close to passing, but Raikkonen stood firm all the way to the end of lap 21.”
That’s when Raikkonen pitted, emerging fifth. And he had the pace on new soft rubber to stay within the necessary window to retake the lead as those ahead made their stops.
A new threat now emerged. Verstappen had started 18th, but had charged forward and run long on his soft tyres. He stopped a lap after Raikkonen and his speed on supersofts meant he also jumped Hamilton when the Mercedes made its second stop.
It meant the three cars were now in reverse order in terms of pace, Hamilton catching both as Verstappen edged towards Raikkonen. With six laps to go, just 2.2s covered the trio.
On lap 54 Hamilton launched an attack on Verstappen. The Red Bull held him off, but the fight helped Raikkonen’s cause. He crossed the line 1.3s ahead to take his first F1 win in more than five years.
“This might well be his last GP win, and certainly among his hardest-earned, but it’s a reminder that on his day he’s still capable of delivering the drive of a champion,” concluded our report.
6. 2012 Hungarian GP, Hungaroring
Car: Lotus E20
Raikkonen didn’t quite string a lap together in qualifying at the Hungaroring and wound up fifth, with Lotus team-mate Romain Grosjean second. But, not for the first time in 2012 (the Bahrain GP, for example), his race pace and tyre preservation brought him into contention.
Things didn’t start well. Raikkonen’s KERS battery went flat and he duly lost a spot to Alonso’s Ferrari on the opening lap. The KERS issue was only partially resolved and Raikkonen could make no progress until Alonso pitted on lap 17 of 69, by which time he was 15s behind leader Hamilton’s McLaren.
Raikkonen pitted last of the frontrunners and he easily leapfrogged Alonso, while team-mate Grosjean harassed Hamilton.
When Button made his second stop from third place, Vettel’s Red Bull and Raikkonen unleased their pace and closed on the leading duo. Red Bull, concerned about the Raikkonen threat, called Vettel in on lap 38 to avoid being undercut. But even on new medium rubber, the reigning world champion could not match the Lotus, despite its KERS issue.
“It was just extraordinary how much pace Kimi was able to unleash at that point,” said Lotus’s Alan Permane. “He just went crazy and for a moment I thought we might even have been on to jump past Hamilton.”
Raikkonen’s tyres finally started to wilt and he pitted on lap 45. Such had been his speed that he exited to find himself alongside Grosjean, who had stopped six laps earlier, into the first corner.
Raikkonen had the inside and eased his team-mate wide. Second was his and with 23 laps to go he was 4.4s behind Hamilton.
Just six laps later the gap was under a second, but Raikkonen could not find a way by the McLaren and had to settle for second.
“If this had been a track where overtaking was possible, I think the result might have been very different,” admitted Hamilton.
5. 2003 United States GP, Indianapolis
Car: McLaren MP4-17D
Raikkonen and McLaren did a fine job with the updated MP4-17D in 2003, taking the title fight with Michael Schumacher to the Suzuka finale. Kimi’s first F1 win came in Malaysia and he could have won the European GP at the Nurburgring had it not been for engine failure. But his drive against the odds at Indianapolis was perhaps his best of the year.
Raikkonen led from pole in the dry, chased by Ralf Schumacher’s Williams, before light rain arrived. That initially helped the Michelin runners, including Kimi’s McLaren and his pursuer. Ralf stopped earlier and his impressive in-lap and out-lap got him ahead, but then he crashed as the rain intensified.
Raikkonen, like Michael Schumacher, had to come in again for wet tyres almost immediately. Raikkonen was soon back to third, but on the wetter track the Bridgestone rubber was far superior, giving Schumacher’s Ferrari the advantage. He overtook the McLaren on lap 28 of 73.
Thanks to engine failure for Button’s BAR, Raikkonen was fourth after his final stop and change to dry tyres. He moved into third when Heidfeld pitted, and overcame the other Sauber of Heinz-Harald Frentzen with 18 laps to go.
Schuey was long gone, having done the damage when the track was at its wettest, but Raikkonen was half a minute clear of the next Michelin runner. And he managed what fellow Michelin-shod rivals Ralf Schumacher and Montoya had not – take the championship fight to the final race.
“When you’re in a wet-dry-wet race and you want to know when you should change tyres, just ask him,” says Slade. “He was perfect, just absolutely brilliant.
“One of the best races he ever did was Indianapolis in 2003 when we were on the Michelin wets and the Michelin wets were rubbish. Every stop we made was perfectly timed. He just drove his heart out. He didn’t win the race, but it was an absolutely phenomenal drive.”
Autosport agreed, scoring Kimi 10/10: “Raikkonen did a perfect job, flattering his equipment to retain a whisper of a title chance.”
4. 2009 Belgian GP, Spa
Car: Ferrari F60
“We definitely were not the fastest but we managed to win,” is Raikkonen’s summary of his 2009 Belgian GP performance, one he picks out as a career highlight.
The 2009 F60 was not one of Ferrari’s finest. Fifth quickest on average across the season, it was also tricky, as the poor form of Luca Badoer and later Giancarlo Fisichella showed when they stepped in to replace Massa, injured at the Hungaroring.
Without Massa, Raikkonen stepped up, scoring four consecutive podiums in the second half of the season, with victory in the Belgian GP the highlight.
Raikkonen often shone at Spa – he’d dominated for Ferrari two years before – and gave himself the best chance with a feisty attack on lap one. He made a good start and then headed for the runoff area at La Source as things got busy on the inside. He emerged third, then used the boost of his Ferrari’s KERS to power by Robert Kubica’s BMW Sauber on the drag to Les Combes. The Ferrari ran wide when it got there, but Raikkonen did just enough to hold on to second.
The after-effects of that defence contributed to clashes behind, bringing out the safety car. And that gave Raikkonen an opportunity against the KERS-less Force India of surprise poleman and leader Fisichella.
At the restart, as they went through Eau Rouge and Raidillon, Raikkonen closed inexorably. “With perfect judgement, balls of steel and zero imagination, he stayed flat, judged that he would just be shy of the rear [of the Force India] by the time the track straightened and he could flick left to pass,” said Autosport’s report. “It was a briefly terrifying but thrilling moment.”
Raikkonen made it by and, though Fisichella kept the pressure on for the rest of the race, held the edge throughout to win by 0.9s.
“I knew he was faster,” said the 2007 world champion, “but I also knew that as long as I made no mistake he couldn’t pass.”
Raikkonen had technically left the track twice and benefited from a safety car he had helped cause, but winning a race in the F60 during one of F1’s most competitive seasons is enough to earn this drive a high spot on the list.
“As great a victory as he’s ever delivered,” concluded Autosport.
3. 2007 Japanese GP, Fuji
Car: Ferrari F2007
“Brilliant Lewis on brink of title,” shouted Autosport magazine’s cover after the 2007 Japanese GP, but Raikkonen’s drive to third would turn out to be very important to the outcome of the championship.
Raikkonen’s fine victory in the subsequent Chinese GP, taking advantage of a McLaren strategy error and Hamilton’s mistake, is probably more famous. But the race at Fuji was just as important – and arguably more impressive.
Raikkonen qualified third, but he and team-mate Massa were immediately put on the back foot thanks to a miscommunication between race director Charlie Whiting and the team. With the race starting behind the safety car in appalling conditions, Ferrari put both its cars on intermediate tyres instead of extreme wets, a direct violation of Whiting’s email – which Ferrari’s Stefano Domenicali somehow didn’t receive until after the race began.
Both Massa and Raikkonen were forced to come in to correct the situation, falling to the rear of the field. And both were brought in again, still behind the safety car, for fuel top-ups.
The field was finally released on lap 20 of 67, with Raikkonen 16th, and he soon started gaining places. While the championship-challenging McLarens led and Massa began an afternoon of incident – a drivethrough penalty for overtaking under safety car conditions and several offs – Raikkonen held his nerve.
“Raikkonen was scything through the midfield, a red flash that pounced from the gloom to snatch one place after another, sitting there blind at 190mph, listening for where the guy in front was braking, waiting, then launching down his inside,” reported Autosport’s Mark Hughes. “He knew he’d need to be stopping again, so he was taking no prisoners.”
Many others made mistakes – even Hamilton and Robert Kubica clashed, while Fernando Alonso lost control of his McLaren and crashed out – and Raikkonen just kept moving forward.
Alonso’s accident brought out the safety car and, while the debris was being cleared, Sebastian Vettel’s Toro Rosso clattered into Mark Webber’s Red Bull. Raikkonen was therefore seventh at the restart, most cars having now made their final stops.
The Ferrari was soon engaged in a battle with David Coulthard’s Red Bull. On lap 57 he swept around the outside of Turn 5 to grab the inside for the following hairpin.
He then closed on Heikki Kovalainen’s Renault and the duo put on a superb battle in the closing laps, Raikkonen eventually having to settle for third.
That was enough to keep him in title contention on a day Massa was knocked out of the championship fight, something that would prove vital against the McLarens in China and the Brazilian GP finale.
“A largely unsung virtuoso performance that humbled his struggling team-mate,” reckoned Autosport’s Adam Cooper at season’s end.
2. 2004 Belgian GP, Spa
Car: McLaren MP4-19B
Typical Spa weather provided a topsy-turvy grid and Raikkonen had to start from row five. There was also predictable chaos at La Source on the first lap, during which Raikkonen’s McLaren was hit, but he dodged the worst of it and emerged fifth.
That meant he ran behind the Renaults of Jarno Trulli and Alonso, team-mate Coulthard, and Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari during the safety car period called to clear up the mess. Raikkonen’s McLaren had picked up some diffuser damage, but some changes to the electronic differential settings helped compensate.
Schumacher’s Bridgestones took longer to get into their working temperature than Raikkonen’s Michelins and the Finn attacked. He got better traction out of La Source at the restart, went to the inside for the daunting Eau Rouge and made Schumacher back off. Fourth place was now his.
A brief downshift problem intermittently worried him, but he pressed on. On lap six of 44 he slipstreamed Coulthard on the run to Les Combes and took third, despite some resistance from the other McLaren.
Still he was fighting the gearbox problem. “I was changing the switches on the steering wheel, trying to get some sort of idea of how I could push again,” explained Raikkonen. “We have different positions on engine braking, and one of them was working but it was an extreme one, almost locking the rear wheels.
“I was using it at the hairpin and the chicane, because otherwise I couldn’t stop the car. Then I would change the position for the other corners.”
Trulli stopped at the end of lap nine, after which he struggled on his second set of tyres, while Alonso spun twice thanks to oil spraying onto his rear tyres. After just 12 laps, Raikkonen was in the lead.
Coulthard suffered a tyre failure, leaving Schumacher as Raikkonen’s main threat. Kimi looked in control until Button crashed after a tyre blew and the safety car was called for a second time.
With their final stops completed, Raikkonen and Schumacher were together when the race resumed for the final 10 laps. But the Ferrari couldn’t break down the McLaren’s defences, not even after a final safety car period, which ended with three laps to go.
Indeed, at the restart Raikkonen unleashed the fastest lap of the race, nearly 0.4s quicker than anyone else managed. His second F1 win was secured by 3.1s. It was one of only three occasions Ferrari’s remarkable F2004 was beaten all season.
“Raikkonen stamped his authority on the race with a perfect blend of aggression and cool, passing the world champion’s Ferrari, then repeatedly seeing it off despite several significant issues inside the McLaren’s cockpit,” reckoned Autosport.
1. 2005 Japanese GP, Suzuka
Car: McLaren MP4-20
This has to be number one. “Raikkonen’s greatest race,” proclaimed Autosport’s cover, while reporter Hughes described it as “the greatest grand prix in living memory”.
Thanks to rain hitting the single-lap qualifying session, Raikkonen lined up 17th, with outgoing world champion Michael Schumacher 14th and his successor, Alonso, 16th.
All three made brilliant progress on the first lap, Schumacher coming round in seventh, Alonso eighth and Raikkonen 12th. “That was a product of bold, incisive racecraft, each of them finding gaps in the places supposedly off-limits to feasibility,” wrote Hughes.
Crucially, they were helped by Montoya crashing his McLaren and bringing out the safety car. That meant Ralf Schumacher’s polesitting and three-stopping Toyota didn’t have enough laps to build up a buffer over its two-stopping rivals and essentially made Fisichella favourite for victory in his Renault.
After his lap-one climb, Raikkonen picked off Massa, Antonio Pizzonia, Jacques Villeneuve and Christian Klien. He then gained ground during the stops and found himself following Schumacher, with Alonso behind. After 29 of the 53 laps, they were running together in fourth, fifth and sixth.
Schumacher defended well, but Raikkonen made it past by going around the outside of him at Turn 1 on lap 30. The put him fourth, 17.6s behind leader Fisichella.
The Renault made its final stop with 15 laps to go. Raikkonen went seven laps longer, allowing him to leapfrog Button (BAR) and Mark Webber’s Williams to run second. With seven laps to go the McLaren was 5.5s behind Fisichella.
“Kimi began lapping at an extraordinary rate,” wrote Hughes. “It was a stunning effort that seemed to blow Fisi’s resolve.”
With three laps to go the gap was half a second and Fisichella helped Raikkonen’s cause by defending into the chicane even when he didn’t need to.
He did so again on the penultimate lap, going in too deep and running wide. The charging Raikkonen stormed to the left on the run down to the first corner on the final lap, sweeping around the outside to complete a stunning drive to victory.
“Suzuka in 2005 was in many ways a special race,” says Raikkonen, while Paddy Lowe, part of the McLaren engineering team that year, agrees it was the Finn at his zenith: “That was a fantastic win – probably Kimi’s best ever race. I’d say that was Kimi at his peak in 2005.”
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