The Iceman goes Roman
Only a couple of hours away from Hockenheim by car – considerably less if you put the autobahn to the good use for which it was intended ¬– is the picture postcard German city of Trier, close to the border with Luxembourg and France. It’s a quiet university city, noted for its cathedral and a selection of stunning Roman ruins: the most famous of which is the Porta Nigra, the original city gate that was built between 160 and 200 AD. Not only is this the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps, but it’s also one of the best preserved. As a result it’s Trier’s most popular tourist attraction. And celebrity visitors have included none other than Kimi Raikkonen, who achieved one of his biggest-ever successes there.
The highest-paid rally driver in the world
Since 2002, Trier has hosted Germany’s round of the World Rally Championship, which was normally won by Sebastien Loeb. Even though Loeb is French, for many years the Rallye Deutschland (as it is known) was his home event, as he comes from Haguenau, just across the border in Alsace. In fact, one of the many records that Loeb holds is for the most wins on one single WRC event, which is Germany: where he won a staggering nine times.
In 2010, Loeb’s fellow Citroen C4 WRC driver was Kimi Raikkonen, who had ended his Ferrari contract a year early and was looking for his next challenge. That came courtesy of Red Bull, although not alongside Sebastian Vettel in F1®. Instead, the Austrian drinks giant sponsored him to go rallying, which meant that for one season Kimi became comfortably the highest-paid rally driver in the history of the sport, receiving a salary both from Ferrari and from Red Bull. With Red Bull also sponsoring Citroen’s all-conquering WRC team at the time, it was obvious what he would end up driving. Not that rallying was by any means a new adventure for Kimi: he had already competed with success on Rally Finland (and in other events) previously, driving an Abarth Grande Punto Super 2000, thanks to his contractual links with Ferrari. His older brother, Rami, also had a rally car when they were growing up in Finland, which Kimi may have “borrowed” on a few occasions.
Kimi described rallying as “much, much harder than Formula 1®: in Formula 1® you have to think about 14 or 15 corners, in rallying you have thousands.” Then of course you only ever see those corners twice (at slow speed) during the pre-event recce. They look distinctly different when you are hurtling towards them 100kph faster on the actual rally…
The Porta Nigra Grand Prix
As Kimi pointed out, working with the pace notes was the most tricky part. But Germany’s round of the world championship held a distinct advantage for him because it contained a race track – sort of. The spectator superspecial stage (a stage normally held in city centres, in front of thousands of spectators in grandstands) ran on a short course around the Porta Nigra: effectively a street circuit. And, against the best rally drivers in the world, Kimi won it – which remains his only stage victory in the World Rally Championship (at average of 81.13kph). That was only his second asphalt rally, but his best overall result was fifth on the gravel of Rally Jordan earlier in the year. “I didn’t come into rallying looking for particular results,” he said. “It’s just that I always liked the skill and the bravery of rally drivers and I wanted to see if I could do it myself. Winning the stage in Germany was OK, but actually I had more fun on gravel.”
Coming back full circle
In total, Kimi spent two years as a rally driver (although he didn’t do a full season in 2011, when he had his own team: Ice1 Racing). Then came the call from Lotus to return to Formula 1®, which resulted in a race win before the season was out (a year in which he holds the record for having not only the most F1® finishes in a single season, but also the most points finishes: 20 finishes out of 20 races, 19 times in the points). Remarkably, his two seasons in rallying played a key part in both his performance and consistency today, albeit indirectly.
“You cannot compare the two and say that rallying definitely helped me to drive in Formula 1®,” he points out. “But when I stopped in F1® I was ready to do something different and challenge myself, and without that I don’t think I’d have come back.”
So, basically, if Kimi had not gone rallying – as a result of his contract termination with Ferrari seven years ago – there was no way that Ferrari would have signed him again for next year. Sometimes the world works in strange ways.