Perhaps the only thing more surprising than Kimi Raikkonen’s move to Sauber is the fact Formula One’s no-nonsense Iceman broke the news on Instagram.
Most expected the end of Raikkonen’s second tenure at Ferrari would be enough to prompt him to walk away from F1 completely. For someone who seems completely disinterested by most of the formalities which come with being an F1 driver — the media appearances, the sponsor events, even some of the interactions with the sport’s fans — it seemed unlikely Raikkonen would want to keep putting up with all of those things without the pay-off of a front-running, competitive race car.
That myth was dispelled in fine style on Tuesday. His switch to Sauber continues the narrative of 2018’s bafflingly unpredictable driver market but also revealed something we should have always remembered about the Finn.
Raikkonen is as close to a throwback as you are likely to find in modern F1. The Finn would probably have preferred to have been born into a previous era of the sport — he once ran a James Hunt tribute helmet at the Monaco Grand Prix and entered, and won, a snowmobile race in Finland under the name of the 1976 world champion.
A comparison to Hunt seems fair. Once Hunt won his own solitary world championship, his desire to win another seemed to diminish, although he continued in F1 for a handful of years afterwards. Like Hunt, Raikkonen was elevated to Formula One having forged a reputation for being supremely fast — he was so quick at a young age Peter Sauber took a chance on the then-unknown Finn in 2001 despite having just 23 open-wheel races to his name. He’s never quite reached the heights of his championship season in 2007 and, in his second tenure at Ferrari has too often been a frustrating shadow of the electricfying talent he was in the mid-2000s.
His popularity in F1 is rooted in the perception that Raikkonen does not really care about anything. He is his own man, unmoved by the whims of a modern sporting audience and constantly puzzled by what we expect of a modern day race driver on a day-to-day basis. But clearly, despite all of his hilariously frank radio messages, all of his mumbled answers or deadpan gazes into the lens of a TV camera, Raikkonen’s desire to get into a race car has never really diminished.
Although it’s worth noting there are also likely to be several million other reasons for this career move, it’s definitely one Raikkonen did not need to make. During a sabbatical in 2010 and 2011 he showed a desire to try other series of racing and plenty of other avenues would have been open to him had he decided to walk away.
Sauber seems like a perfect place for Raikkonen to spend the autumn of his Formula One career. The team’s Hinwil base is just down the road from his Switzerland residence, where Raikkonen the race driver has also evolved into Raikkonen the increasingly endearing family man.
And it’s not just a random move down the order, either. Under its new ownership and closer partnership with Maranello, Sauber is enjoying a stunning resurgence, with former Ferrari man Simone Resta joining earlier this year to oversee the team’s technical department underneath the overall leadership of Frederic Vasseur. The smart money says Sauber will have a very competitive race car next year, one that can surely contend to be the lead team of the second tier of performance which has formed behind the big three of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. Raikkonen has the chance to help lead Sauber — a team he has remained a keen admirer of since 2001 — into this exciting new era, the most exciting chapter of its recent history.
Raikkonen was never going to win a world championship at Ferrari alongside a man as committed and dedicated to that goal as Sebastian Vettel. But his current form was worthy of staying on the grid and the sport will be better off for seeing just what the Iceman is capable of doing in the unfamiliar surroundings of the midfield pack.