How Kimi spent his time away from F1 - Part 1

By on Monday, December 12, 2011

Kimi Raikkonen will drive for Lotus Renault GP in 2012

On November 29th, Lotus Renault GP (Lotus F1 Team next season) announced they had signed 2007 Formula 1 champion Kimi Raikkonen as their number one driver for 2012 and 2013. The news means the 'Iceman' is back in Formula 1 after a two year 'sabbatical', as he called it back in 2009. But what has Raikkonen been doing during this time? One thing is clear, he has not been idle: he has been rallying, racing in NASCAR, racing enduro bikes and snowmobiles, testing Le Mans prototypes, taking part in motorsport shows and who knows what else. In this series of articles, we review all of his activities while he was away from Formula 1, and hope that we did not leave out anything. We start our report focusing on the Finn’s rallying activities in 2010.

Kimi Raikkonen's rallying adventures in 2010

Since it was announced in December 2009 that Kimi Raikkonen had signed a contract with Red Bull to drive for the Citroen Junior Team in 2010, the Finn’s day job has been the World Rally Championship (WRC). Raikkonen had already taken part in a handful of mostly minor rally events the previous year with a Fiat Grande Punto S2000 and now he had jumped into the highest level of rallying driving a Citroen C4 WRC, a monster compared with the group N car he had used previously. However, he decided to accept the challenge and compete with the best specialists in the world: rally drivers who had years and years of experience with WRC cars, with the different surfaces and conditions they face during the rallies and, above all, with pacenotes. Rallying is more about driving with your ears than with your eyes, usually a challenging adjustment for circuit drivers. Nevertheless, Raikkonen was not alone in this adventure. His co-driver was the experienced Kaj Lindstrom, who used to co-drive four-time world champion Tommi Makinen.

2010 was a year full of contrasts, highs and lows as well as new experiences for the Finn. He won his first special stage in the WRC, he had his highest ever finish of 5th in Turkey and his pace on clean tarmac was brilliant. But he was also off the pace on slippery surfaces and crashed several times, something typical for drivers of his little experience, but that made big headlines. Probably, the worst moment in the season happened during the shakedown of RACC Rally de España, when Raikkonen rolled and damaged the roll cage of his car. He could not even start the rally. Raikkonen was not the first driver, nor will he be the last one, to crash during shakedown; rallying is a tricky sport where mistakes are costly given that there are no run-off areas, only trees and ditches. The Finn learned it the hard way, though.

Prior to his first WRC event in Sweden, Raikkonen entered the Arctic Rally Lapland in order to get used to the handling of his C4 on snow and ice. There, he discovered how difficult it was to keep a WRC car on the road. He lost over 30 minutes after going off, bulldozing down a tree in the process and getting stuck in a snowbank. But he also got to know another characteristic of rallying events: spectators on the sides of the roads to help drivers who run into trouble. Fortunately, a spectator arrived with a big shovel to help Raikkonen and Lindstrom free their car from the snowbank.

He went off in Rally Sweden in a similar way. The Iceman showed some promising pace for someone of his little experience - 1.67 seconds per kilometre slower than the winner - but went off the road in several occasions and got stuck in the snow for half an hour, again. Raikkonen proved though, that he is not afraid of a little physical work, he dug his car out of the snowbank by himself using a small plastic shovel. He seemed to scare more easily of big animals, though. The Finn was the involuntary protagonist of one of the anecdotes of the rally when a rather large moose crossed the road just in front of his car during one of the timed stages, giving him quite a fright. His co-driver had to remind his driver to just focus on the driving. Luckily, both the car and the moose finished the rally unscathed, with Raikkonen in 29th position, 38 minutes 37.2 seconds behind his fellow countryman Mikko Hirvonen, who won the rally.

The next event on the WRC calendar was the Corona Rally Mexico, a gravel rally that takes place at high altitude. Raikkonen started this rally without any prior testing on gravel, which meant that he did not have any experience with the Citroen C4 on this kind of surface. A back injury from his Formula 1 days resurfaced and the tests had to be cancelled. During this rally, the Finnish driver experienced the biggest crash of his rallying career. His car suffered a technical problem during the second stage of the rally which made him lose 35 minutes. Once he had no chances whatsoever of making it to the points, he decided to drive flat out... and rolled down a hill on stage 7. Neither he nor Kaj Lindstrom, his co-driver, suffered any injuries, but the car was severely damaged and Raikkonen had to retire. Several days after the accident, reports surfaced that the rear spoiler of Raikkonen’s car was never found. The team suspects that the spoiler simply detached itself prior to the accident, making the car much more unstable under braking. However, we will never know if it was one of the causes of the accident. This was not the first time in Raikkonen’s career that his rear spoiler went missing; during the 2004 German Grand Prix, rear wing of his McLaren detached when he was driving at about 280 kph. On that occasion, the Finn crashed heavily against a tyre wall.

From Mexico, the WRC family moved on Jordan. Raikkonen’s bosses expressed their concern before this rally about the difficulties it might present for the Finnish driver. The Jordan Rally is known for its high technical difficulty, it was not the best rally for a driver with so little rallying experience as Raikkonen had at the time. However, this ended up being the rally where Raikkonen got his first points in the WRC championship. He finished 8th, 12 minutes 31.0 seconds behind the winner Sebastien Loeb and was not involved in any remarkable drama; he just drove nice and steady – and slow, 2.17 seconds per kilometre slower than Loeb – to the finish line. The Iceman was happy with his first four points in the championship after the rally.

Next stop in the championship gave Raikkonen his best finish in his entire WRC career. He finished the Rally of Turkey in 5th, 6 minutes 44.3 seconds behind Loeb, who won this event. Turkey was a new rally in the calendar. For the first time in the season, Raikkonen was not disadvantaged over the other WRC regulars because of his lack of knowledge of the stages. In this case, the difference in pace to the “big boys” could only be attributed to the lack of rallying experience as well as with the pacenotes and, of course, with the innate different in pace with the fastest guys, which is an unknown quantity. Remarkably, as the previous knowledge of the stages was dropped from the equation, the difference reduced to 1.27 seconds per kilometre from the 2.17 seconds per kilometre of the Jordan Rally. Looking closely at the stage times of the Finnish driver during Rally of Turkey, it is also quite easy to notice one of the characteristics of Raikkonen’s driving style during the two seasons he has been competing in the WRC: his pace, compared to the fastest drivers, was better the second time through the stages than on the first run (see graph). This is usually read as an indication Raikkonen’s lack of confidence on his pacenotes during the first run.

Comparison of Kimi Raikkonen's pace difference to the stage winner the first and the second time through the stages. Rally of Turkey 2010.

After skipping Rally New Zealand due to the high costs associated to rally Down Under, the next event in Raikkonen’s schedule was the Vodafone Rally de Portugal, another gravel rally. It became the 3rd event in a row that the Finn finished a WRC rally in the points. He finished 10th, 11 minutes 34.3 seconds behind his teammate Sebastien Ogier. He made a few mistakes that cost him some time and his overall pace was 1.81 seconds per kilometre slower than Ogier.

Before facing the first tarmac rally of the WRC season, Raikkonen and Sebastien Ogier took part in the Rally della Lanterna, a rally that is part of Italian Tarmac Rallying Championship. This was the Finn’s first podium in his short rallying career. He finished the rally in second position, just 5.7 seconds behind Ogier in what was his first experience ever with tarmac in a Citroen C4.

Kimi Raikkonen waiting for assistance after going off the road. Bulgaria 2010.

Next, he went to Rally Bulgaria, another new rally on the WRC calendar. A few things became clear during this rally: Raikkonen is much faster on tarmac than gravel – he was only 0.54 seconds per kilometre off the pace, and in some splits he even was the fastest of all drivers – he crashes easily in slow tight corners and he has the tendency to crash out on his side of the road. Up to this point the Iceman seemed to be able to evaluate braking points in the high-speed passages very well, but not so well in slow turns where he tended to go off the road. Some experts think his tendency to get off the road when he makes a mistake arises because the Finn only steps once on the brakes when approaching a corner, a much more time-effective way of braking but much more risky: if he brakes too late, he is automatically off the road. Some of the experts also think he can evaluate the braking points at high speed better because of his past in Formula 1. His tendency to crash out road on the left side of the road is a curious one; a common joke in the rallying world is that you better crash on your co-driver side of the car since, well, he is just the co-driver. Raikkonen seems to prefer taking risks when he is the one who might get the hit, though. And this is what happened in a hairpin in SS4, Raikkonen was a few kph too fast in a very slow right turn and, very slowly, rolled off the road. It was a minor accident given that it happened at very low speed, but the car ended up upside down in a deep ditch covered by vegetation and the automatic alarm system went off, making the organizers stop the stage immediately and send an ambulance to the accident point, just to find the driver, without a scratch, merely standing on the floor of his car. Raikkonen re-entered the rally the next day, with 10 minutes superrallying penalties and ended the event in 11th, 14 minutes and 6.4 seconds behind Loeb.

The next rally of the championship was the only one where Raikkonen had some previous experience: the Neste Oil Rally Finland. In 2009, he took part in the event with his Fiat Punto Grande S2000 prepared by Tommi Makinen. He was 3rd in his class when he rolled out of the rally in SS19. His effort in 2010 went only slightly better. The Finn went off into a ditch in SS12 and lost a lot of time, but at least, in this occasion, he could drive his home event to the finish line, even if he finished in 25th position, 23 minutes 15.3 seconds behind his fellow Finn Jari-Matti Latvala, who won the rally. In the fast gravel stages of Finald, Raikkonen reduced his difference in pace to the rally winner to 1.38 seconds per kilometre, confirming his progressive improvement on gravel (see figure).

Kimi Raikkonen's pace difference to the rally winner, in seconds per kilometre. 2010 season.

ADAC Rally Deutschland is a rally that takes place on tarmac but also on concrete, again, a new surface for Raikkonen. However, the German rally meant one of the high points in the Finn’s rallying career. He won his first WRC-stage on the streets of Trier. It was a short super special stage, the kind of stage he can memorize easily and, therefore, not depend on the pacenotes. Moreover, the stage also took place on clean tarmac which also helped Raikkonen. In this rally, it is also remarkable the good results the 2007 F1 world champion achieved in the famous Panzerplatte stage: a mamouth 48-kilometres-long stage that runs along a road whose sides are marked by the dreadful “Hinkelsteine”, sharp rocks that are placed to help tanks stay on the road and that have caused some very spectacular accidents in the past. Raikkonen obtained the 8th best time the first time through the Panzerplatte and the 6th best time the second time through. After being involved in a couple of little dramas during the rally, Raikkonen finished in 7thposition, 8 minutes and 50.5 seconds and 1.31 seconds per kilometre behind Loeb.

Following Germany, the Finn went through a very bad patch. He crashed out during Rally Japan and Rallye de France. And he couldn’t even start Rally Spain. The Iceman rolled his car during shakedown and damaged the roll cage which automatically meant he was not allowed to start the rally. The only positive point during this time was when he won Rallye du Vosgien, a national French rally he entered to prepare for Rallye de France.

After hitting a low point in Spain, only the last rally of the season was left, and that was Wales Rally GB. This rally takes place mostly on mud, a very slippery and tricky surface on which Raikkonen had almost no experience and which, he admits, he does not read very well: he cannot predict the amount of grip he is going to find at each corner. Nevertheless, he drove to the end of the rally with a steady pace – 1.82 seconds per kilometre off the pace of the rally winner – and was not involved in any kind of incident. He was rewarded with four points for his finish in 8th position, 10 minutes 27.9 seconds behind the winner, Sebastien Loeb.

Raikkonen finished the championship with 25 points in 10th position.

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