The Rise and Fall of Kimi Raikkonen

Billy Sexton@@billysextonAnalyst IAugust 24, 2008

How should a world champion defend his title?

Should he race every race as if it’s his last to defend his precious crown?

Should he make sure his teammate is in a full supporting role, not competing against him?

Should he be a racer, try to force people off the circuit, prevent them from winning, just as long as it benefits him and his title defence?

The answer to all of these questions is simple: Yes, he should.

For instance, Fernando Alonso forced Lewis Hamilton off of the circuit in Spa 2007. He was trying to help himself, trying to defend his world title at all costs.

Michael Schumacher and Ferrari won in Austria 2002 thanks to Rubens Barrichello slowing down. It was controversial and arguably wrong.

But was Schumacher bothered by what the press and media had to say? Was he bothered about what people thought? Or was he caring only about his title and crown and his successful defence of it?

Kimi Raikkonen could take a leaf out of both Alonso’s and Schumi’s books. His title is looking like it will easily fall into the hands of Hamilton or Massa, not his.

But why is this happening? Why is the Formula One World Champion letting his crown slip away from him so easily?

Kimi started his career at the Sauber Team, where he impressed instantly. Both Raikkonen and Nick Heidfeld helped Sauber to fourth place in the constructor’s championship, their best result.

Due to four points-scoring finishes in 2001, including one on his debut in Australia, Raikkonen was soon snapped up by Ron Dennis and McLaren to replace former world champion Mika Hakkinen. No pressure.

Although Kimi scored a podium on his McLaren debut, he found it difficult to score points in a season where Ferrari was so strong. Nevertheless, Raikkonen improved on 2001 and finished the season sixth, with 24 points to his name.

2003 saw Kimi really excel. He won his first Grand Prix in Malaysia and was fairly consistent throughout the season, although he never won again in 2003.

He came agonisingly close to preventing Michael Schumacher from equaling Juan Manuel Fangio’s record of five titles. If only he had scored a single point in the three races he retired from...

Kimi was hoping to go one step further in 2004, but it wasn’t to be. The McLaren MP4-19 was very unreliable and inconsistent. McLaren introduced the MP4-19B for the second part to the season and Raikkonen won at Spa-Francorchamps, the highlight of his season.

After a slow start to the 2005 season, Raikkonen found his form and won seven races. His charge up the grid at Suzuka goes down as one of the greatest victories ever... so good that it made Ron Dennis cry.

Raikkonen came close to taking the title again, finishing runner up to eventual champion Fernando Alonso.

He really wanted a championship crown now, as he had finished runner-up twice.

2006 didn’t provide answers and results for Raikkonen, and the MP4-21 didn’t even win a race. Six retirements and the best result of second meant that the Iceman thoroughly shook the hand of the Ferrari team when he was offered a race seat there for 2007. Just how would his life change...

A firm favourite to take the title at the start of the season, the “fastest man on the grid” got off to a dream start at the curtain opener in Australia, beating McLaren new boys Alonso and Hamilton to win on his debut for the Scuderia, the perfect way to start the objective of winning both championships.

After falling off the pace a little, Raikkonen found form in Magny-Cours and Silverstone. He remained consistent for the rest of the season, winning in Spa, Shanghai and Interlagos to achieve his lifelong dream.

Kimi Raikkonen was on top of the world, he was the Formula One World Drivers Champion.

Going into the 2008 season, there was more pressure on Raikkonen than usual, because he was the world champion.

He struggled at the first race in Australia but was quick to get back on track with wins in Malaysia and Spain. He led the championship race going into the Turkish Grand Prix.

But then it fell apart. While teammate Massa won the race, Raikkonen was convincingly beaten by championship rival Hamilton.

It went bad to worse for Raikkonen. Crashing into the back of Sutil in Monaco, being crashed into by Hamilton in Canada, his exhaust coming loose in Magny Cours, having the wrong pit stop strategy at Silverstone, struggling in qualifying at the Hockenheimring, stuck behind Alonso at Hungary, and his engine blowing up in Valencia summarises Raikkonen’s season... literally!

So back to the questions I presented at the start of this article.

Why is the Formula One World Champion letting his crown slip away from him so easily? Why is he letting it fall into the hands of his teammate or Lewis Hamilton?

My opinion is that I don’t think Raikkonen really cares about the championship anymore. He came so close in 2003 and 2005 that all he wanted to do was win the championship at least once and prove that he is one of the best.

Now that he has done that, he isn’t worried about retaining his crown. Money is speaking louder than success to Raikkonen.

So what does the rest of 2008 and the 2009 season hold in store for the Iceman?

I think he will win one more race this season, at his favourite circuit in Belgium.

Then the No. 1 car will become No. 2 at Ferrari, the rest of his season will be concentrated on helping Massa win the championship.

In a way, it is a battle of the Finns. Raikkonen is supporting Massa and trying to take points away from Hamilton whilst Kovalainen supports Hamilton and tries to prevent Massa from scoring big points.

And 2009?

Ferrari will do everything in their power to help both drivers, but if Raikkonen performs as he has done this season, its back to No. 2 duties for him.

We’re watching his career crash in front of his very eyes. Or are we?

What do you think, my fellow Bleachers? What does the future have in store for Kimi Raikkonen? Tell me in your comments and don’t forget to rate!