• Thu
  • Oct 23, 2014
  • Updated: 7:28am

Young racing driver in pole position for Formula One glory

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 December, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 December, 2002, 12:00am
 

Formula One star Kimi Raikkonen belongs to the latest crop of top Finnish drivers to come off the assembly line, but there is no denying his meteoric rise.


Just two years ago, the 23-year-old Finn was racing in the British Formula Renault Championship with Manor, winning the title after finishing on the podium in all his rounds.


Finland has long-produced superb drivers with names like retired two-time Formula One champion Mika Hakkinen and Toyota driver Mika Salo and rally drivers Juha Kankkunen and Ari Vatanen.


But Raikkonen's rise from British Formula Renault champion to Formula One contender is astounding.


The Flying Finn by-passed the normal route to Formula One by opting not to race in Formula Three - just like he by-passed Formula Ford to compete in Formula Renault the year before.


His judgment proved just as good as his superb driving skills.


Racing for West Mercedes McLaren, Raikkonen this year tallied 24 points in his second season in Formula One, with one second place and three third-place finishers.


He also finished fourth twice for a solid sixth place in the championship.


Ahead of him in the final standings were Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard.


In July, Raikkonen came closest to his first victory in Formula One at the French Grand Prix. It was to be his most disappointing race - but it also brought him his best result.


Raikkonen said he made a mistake that cost him the race after he skidded on a patch of oil and went wide with five laps remaining, handing the race to Michael Schumacher, who also clinched a record fifth-equalling drivers' crown at Magny-Cours.


'It was the most disappointing race of my life, but that's the way it goes. Next time I hope I can win. The car was great, the team was making very good pit stops, everything was working fine,' said Raikkonen after his second-place finish.


Raikkonen, whose previous best finish was third place in Australia and at Nurburgring, said having the world champion breathing down his neck had not rattled him at all.


'I didn't feel much pressure because I saw the gap was not really closing and it was rather getting bigger,' he said.


'Of course, maybe 10 laps from the end, Michael was catching me a little bit, but I was taking it a bit more easy because I saw I was not getting much pressure from behind.


'The mistake came, it was just my mistake. I just locked a wheel on the oil and the lead was gone.'


That race might have been the 'big one that got away' but Raikkonen is still just 23 and there are many other races where he will have a chance to finally nail his first Grand Prix victory.


Raikkonen's talents were quickly spotted after his British Formula Renault win and within a year Raikkonen joined McLaren from Sauber at the end of last season, after compatriot Hakkinen opted to take a sabbatical year out of Formula One.


Raikkonen secured his very first point in Formula One in making his Formula One debut at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix. He also gained fourth place finishes in Austria and Canada, proving he was no flash in the pan.


He picked up points again at the British Grand Prix to end his first season in Formula One a respectable ninth equal position in the championship.


Described as calm, methodical and blazingly quick on the track, racing is in Raikkonen's blood - his brother Rami competes in the Finnish Rally Championship.


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