Once upon a time, I willingly entered a confusing period in my F1 life, when I–a Michael Schumacher fan–got charmed by the fresh-faced Finnish rookie hired by Sauber named Kimi Raikkonen.
That was back in 2001, and 17 years later, I am still a Kimi Raikkonen supporter.
You know you’ve truly made it in your chosen profession when your first name is enough to get you recognized. Whether you’re a hardcore or a casual motorsport fan, when someone mentions “Kimi”, do you ever really think of anyone else besides the Kimi Raikkonen?
Having said that, I’ve had enough of people talking shit about him just for the sake of it.
Quick recap: Kimi is leaving Scuderia Ferrari at the end of the 2018 season, but hang on, he is not retiring but rather moving to another team, Alfa Romeo Sauber (aka his 1st-ever F1 team), on a 2-year contract.
This development of course opened the floodgates and got the F1 community talking/debating/seething/celebrating/flailing. Everyone and their dog is having their say.
Kimi incites such widespread attention (and frustration) perhaps because half of the fans irrationally dislike him for their own personal reasons, while the other half hold on to the Ideal Kimi they know is capable of so much more.
While Kimi is portrayed as the epitome of not giving a damn, let’s get this straight: Kimi does give a damn–about family, friends, racing. The rest, can all go to hell for all he cares.
Beyond the cold, two-dimensional, ‘I was having a shit’/’Leave me alone, I know what to do’-spouting figure painted by the media, what many fail to see is that Kimi is actually not just a racing driver’s driver, but also a rather shrewd businessman.
Kimi is not an Enigma, he is actually as transparent as they come. A lot of people just refuse to see him for what he is.
This Sauber move does not seem like an emotional decision, not a ‘screw you’ to Ferrari, but rather a result of a carefully thought-out long game. It’s a tour de force, in my point of view. There are talks of Kimi acquiring shares in the team, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that turned out to be true. Besides, shouldn’t we be pleased for Sauber if it came to fruition, considering the number of financial hiccups they’ve had to overcome throughout the years? Kimi’s presence assures the team of financial security, something that’s not easy in F1. Moreover, Kimi’s experience and wealth of racing knowledge can only help Sauber maintain or improve their positive performance this season. It puzzles me how some people think Sauber is a step backwards and that Kimi should have quit while he’s ahead, rather than risk becoming a midfielder. Sauber may be a small team, but they will take good care of him. As strange as it may sound, it is an opportunity for him to have a fresh start, to shrug off the sky-high expectations from the past few years, to rebuild, to renew ties, and to enjoy racing–in its purest definition–yet again.
While it is unfortunate that a few young drivers will be left without seats next year, I don’t see why Kimi should be vilified for wanting to stay. Here are the facts: Sauber could have easily said no, but they didn’t. They wanted him. The sport’s infrastructure itself needs improvement (it badly has, for a lot of years), if talented drivers keep losing their seats or could not find seats. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Kimi has one of the biggest fanbases in the sport, and keeping Kimi in F1 will keep those fans watching and spending. F1 is also a business: Kimi Raikkonen is a brand and he sells his brand damn well.
I’ve seen some fellow Kimi fans lament about the situation, not knowing how to feel about the developments. It’s natural to have doubts. I get their points. We want the best for him. We want him to win. While I am sad that the Vettel-Raikkonen Ferrari partnership–something I’ve loved and enjoyed throughout the years–is coming to a close, I am personally happy and grateful that Kimi will be in F1 for at least one more year. That’s what truly matters to me. The desire is there, so may the unmotivated cliché so often attached to him soon be laid to rest.
Let’s just let him have fun and be himself. It is far too early to talk of mistakes and regrets. The best thing we can do is to accept and respect his decision.
You may not understand or like his popularity–and in some ways, notoriety–but do not diminish what he means to the fans, and what he has achieved in F1. He is a Champion. He is not going away easily. He doesn’t have to prove anything. The rest is just gravy.
He’s had enough of others controlling the narrative. Time for him to tell his own story, his way.
Both my heart and mind say we will see a Renewed Raikkonen next year. And the mere thought sends shivers down my spine.