How Kimi spent his time away from F1 – Part 2

By on Thursday, December 15, 2011

Raikkonen visiting the Lotus factory in Enstone

All throughout 2010 Kimi Raikkonen was a silly season by himself. The rumours about what he would do in 2011 started even before he stepped into his Red Bull-sponsored Citroen C4 for the first time in January 2010. The main question was whether he was going to return to F1 or not, but the Iceman would never give a clear answer. He was linked to the Red Bull F1 team and later on with Renault, yes, the same team he is going to drive for next season.

The first hint about what Raikkonen intended to do was given by the Iceman himself in the summer of 2010. He told the World Rally Radio, after the last stage of Neste Oil Rally Finland, that he hoped he would also be in his home rally in 2011. That did not stop the speculations, though.

A long time passed before a real announcement was made. The news came well into January of 2011. As a matter of fact, the announcement was not made by Raikkonen, his spokesperson, or the team he was going to drive for; nope, it was a spokesperson for Rally Sweden who announced that the 2007 F1 champion had entered the rally at the last minute, by submitting his entry form by fax and he would be driving for 'IceOne'. Actually, rallying was not the only motorsport-related activity that Raikkonen was involved in 2011, but we will continue this in our next chapter of “How Kimi spent his time away from F1”. In Part 2, we will focus on his rallying activities.

Kimi Raikkonen’s rallying adventures in 2011

Little by little, information begun to emerge about 'IceOne'. In the entry list for the FIA WRC manufacturer’s championship, IceOne was listed as a one-car 'team'. In other words, IceOne was a private team consisting of one car that would take part in at least 7 rallies of the championship, two of them outside Europe. Later, it was also explained that PH-Sport would be taking care of the car, logistics, etc. In previous years, PH-Sport was running the Citroen Junior Team, which had now disappeared. In short, Raikkonen would keep on working with the same people but in his own team. A ten-event calendar was announced: the Finn would take part in all the rallies of the season except two of the overseas rallies – Mexico and Argentina – as well as Italy.

2011 was, again, a season of highs and lows for the former F1 champion. His overall pace improved considerably and his pace was closer to the fastest guys, even matching them at times. His error rate also decreased. On the other hand, he was involved in a freak accident in a road section, between timed stages, in Rallye de France. This completely destroyed his chances in what should have been his best rally of the season. Moreover, his team was excluded from the manufacturers’ championship when Raikkonen cancelled his participation in Rally Australia.

The first rally of the 2011 WRC season took place, as in the previous year, on the snowy lands of Sweden. It was also the premiere of the new generation of World Rally Cars. With the new regulations, the cars are based on the S2000 category, but they use a 1600 turbo engine and some aerodynamic devices the S2000 cars do not have. Citroen swapped the C4 WRC for the DS3 WRC and Ford swapped the Focus WRC for the Fiesta WRC. In addition, Pirelli, who had been the exclusive tyre supplier, left the championship. The teams were allowed to choose between Michelin and DMACK. Most of them chose the French tyre manufacturer.

Detail of Kimi Raikkonen’s Citroen DS3 livery where ‘Iceman’ is written upside-down.

Raikkonen surprised with the livery of his car, when he presented it in Sweden. The previous year, Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko had told the press that it was not good publicity for Red Bull when Raikkonen crashed, given that the Red Bull logos could not be properly read when the car was upside-down. It seems the Finn decided to show Marko that a problem like that is very easy to solve. He chose a black, grey and white livery and, on the rear of the car, “Iceman” is written twice: the correct-side up and upside-down. It does not matter how the car is positioned, “Iceman” can be easily read. Ironically, the 'upside-down' version of the livery was never necessary during the 2011 season.

At Rally Sweden, it became clear that the shorter wheel base and improved agility of the new cars played in Raikkonen’s favour. His driving became cleaner and he positioned the car better on the road, which not only meant his times improved compared with the previous season, but the risk of crashing also decreased. The Finn, who admitted that he had not been pushing as hard as he really could, finished the rally in 8th position, 7 minutes and 2.3 seconds behind Mikko Hirvonen, after losing some time due to a puncture. His difference in pace to Hirvonen reduced to 0.90 seconds per kilometre compared with the 1.67 seconds per kilometre of the previous year. The Saturday afternoon loop of stages was also one of the high points of Raikkonen’s 2011 season: something did “click” and, for the first time in his rallying career, he was able to intuitively drive to the pacenotes. Suddenly, Raikkonen was able to match the pace of Sebastien Loeb, Sebastien Ogier and Petter Solberg.

After skipping Rally Guanajuato Mexico, the next stop on Raikkonen’s calendar was the Vodafone Rally de Portugal. In the Iberian gravel rally, the 2007 F1 champion obtained 6 points after finishing 7th, 10 minutes and 54.1 seconds behind the winner, Sebastien Ogier. Again, the Finnish driver admitted he was still not pushing to the limit on the stages, because he was working on getting confidence in driving to the notes. In this event, the gap between his pace and the rally winner reduced to 1.45 seconds per kilometre from the 1.81 seconds per kilometre in 2010.

Next stop on the rally calendar was Jordan. The process of shipping the equipment needed for the rally ended up turning into a logistic nightmare which almost caused the cancellation of the rally. The political unrest in Syria meant that equipment could not be sent to Jordan by road and the teams sent the rally cars by plane instead. The rest of the WRC equipment, such as the Michelin tyres and all of the timing equipment were sent by ship. Unfortunately, one of the engines of the ship broke down and the arrival was delayed, and delayed... and delayed again. The rally organizers had to quickly search and provide borrowed cars for all the participants to carry out the recce, since the recce cars were also on the ship. Moreover, the first leg of the rally had to be cancelled. Once the rally could finally start, Raikkonen confirmed, again, that he felt much more comfortable in the DS3 than he had felt in the C4, as his progress continued. He finished the very technical Jordan Rally in 6th position, 6 minutes and 14.9 seconds behind the winner, and was very close to matching his best ever finish in the WRC championship. He was comfortably in 5th position when, on the penultimate stage of the rally, he hit a big rock which he saw but could not avoid. The collision with the rock caused a puncture which he had to drive on for 15 kilometres, losing over a minute and causing him to fall to sixth position. On a much more positive note, the Iceman could reduce his pace difference to the rally winner to 1.22 seconds per kilometre, compared to the 1.45 seconds per kilometre of the previous rally, or the 2.17 seconds per kilometre of the same Jordan Rally one year before.

Kimi Raikkonen during the Acropolis Rally 2011

After a nine-week break away from the WRC, where Raikkonen tried some other forms of motorsport, the Finn was finally back behind the wheel of his DS3 for the Acropolis Rally. For the first time in 2011, he was going to take part in a rally he was not familiar with from the previous season, a rally his competitors did have experience in. However, Raikkonen got another 6 points for the drivers’ championship. He finished in 7th position, 8 minutes and 29.4 seconds behind Sebastien Ogier, even though a puncture during the 6th stage – yet another puncture – cost him a minute. In this occasion, he was 1.35 seconds per kilometre slower than the rally winner. The Finn got one of the biggest frights in his short rallying career when, driving on a muddy patch, his car slid wide and almost crashed into a large group of spectators. Luckily, it all turned out to be a bad fright for everyone involved and the Finn drove overly-careful for the next couple of stages.

Following the Greek rally, the next event in the championship was Raikkonen’s home event, the Neste Oil Rally Finland. As he admits, the former F1 champion drove his best rally ever here. He only finished in 9th position and a collision with a fence cost him some time. But, for the first time in his WRC career, the Iceman finished a rally less than 4 minutes behind the winner, specifically 3 minutes and 59.8 seconds behind Sebastien Loeb. Surely, what encouraged Raikkonen the most was that he was able to comfortably drive much closer to the 'big guys'. His pace gap with Loeb reduced to 0.65 seconds per kilometre – in 2010 it had been 1.38 seconds per kilometre – and the gap to 2003 world champion Petter Solberg, who also drove a privateer spec DS3, reduced to 0.39 seconds per kilometre. There were even stages where Raikkonen could beat Petter Solberg purely on pace.

After doing so well in Finland, Raikkonen felt optimistic going to the first rally of the season on a sealed surface – tarmac and concrete - the ADAC Rallye Deutschland. In fact, the Finn finished again in the points. This time, he finished in 6th position, 7 minutes and 24.6 seconds behind the winner. It was not an easy rally for the Iceman, though. The list of incidents seemed to be endless: bad luck with the weather, numerous spins, he hit the only tree within sight and damaged his door, which would swing open every time he took a tight corner, and he suffered a puncture in the stage he hoped he could win again this year - Circus Maximus Trier. Asked by the World Rally Radio what he had learnt during the 2011 edition of the German rally, an absolutely exasperated Kimi Raikkonen answered: “I’ve learned that I shouldn’t come here anymore!” In hindsight, it seems the Iceman really meant it. Nevertheless, and regardless of the Finn’s pessimism, the ADAC Rallye Deutschland confirmed the positive evolution in his pace that had been evident all year long (see figure). His difference to the rally winner reduced from 1.31 seconds per kilometre in 2010 to 0.99 seconds per kilometre in 2011. And, like in 2010, Raikkonen shone in the difficult and dangerous Panzerplatte stage, where he was 5th the second time through.

Comparison of Kimi Raikkonen's pace difference to the rally winners in 2010 and 2011. *Acropolis Rally did not take place in 2010.

And then... everything went downhill from there. Raikkonen decided to skip Rally Australia and his team was excluded from the manufacturer’s championship, he was involved in an accident in a road section during Rally de France Alsace, his engine burst into flames in Spain and, for the first time in the season, he crashed out of Wales Rally GB.

Raikkonen had nominated Rally Australia as one of his two rallies outside Europe when he entered IceOne to the WRC manufacturer’s championship. He even submitted an entry for the rally. But a few weeks before it actually took place, the Finn announced he was not going. In an interview, he said he just did not want to fly to somewhere so far away, but the official reason given for the cancellation was “logistical problems”. It is possible that Raikkonen had already decided he was going back to F1 and did not want to spend the large sum of money it would cost to travel there. Anyway, his non-appearance in Australia meant his team did not comply with the rules of the manufacturer’s championship and, as a consequence, it was excluded from the manufacturer’s classification. The issue was somehow blown out of proportion in the media when a much respected magazine mistakenly reported that it had been Raikkonen, as a driver, who had been excluded of the championship. Even though the original news article was later corrected, the wrong version of the story had already been disseminated. An FIA member had to publicly explain that the disciplinary action that had been taken did not affect Raikkonen’s championship points or his future participation in any way.

Kimi Raikkonen and his co-driver, Kaj Lindstrom, during Rally Finland 2011

Rallye de France Alsace was expected to be the best rally of the season for Raikkonen. Good quality tarmac roads and good weather should play in his favour. But after only two stages, the Iceman was out of the rally, in the most curious way. Raikkonen crashed with his friend Henning Solberg in the road section to SS3 with in a freak accident, breaking his suspension and ending up in a ditch. It is specifically stated in the rules that drivers are not allowed to drive their WRC cars in such a condition on open roads, and Raikkonen had to leave his car at the spot. Of course, such damage was repairable, but Raikkonen decided not to accept the thirty-minute penalty he would incur by re-entering the rally under superrallying conditions. He went home.

RACC Rally de España did not go much better for the Iceman. In 2010, he could not even start the rally when he rolled during shakedown. In 2011, he made it to the start of the rally, but a technical defect in his engine, which caused it to leak several litres fuel and started a small fire, meant that the Spanish rally was over for him after two stages.

Rumours about a possible return of Raikkonen to F1 were already rampant during Wales Rally GB, the last rally of the season. It felt like the Iceman was quietly saying farewell to the series. He started the rally carefully, as he always does, and gradually increased his pace throughout day 1. At the end of the day, he was 7th, only one second behind rising talent Ott Tanak, who was also driving a WRC car in the rally. But a mistake in the first stage of day 2 ended his rally and, for the time being, Raikkonen’s rallying career.

Raikkonen finished the 2011 championship with 34 points in 10th position.

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