Kimi Raikkonen in profile
Last Updated: 05/01/17 12:46pm
Just when it looked like Kimi Raikkonen had nothing left to give, the sport's elder statesman enjoyed a resurgent 2016 to earn a new contract at Ferrari. Quiet and dismissive off the track but a determined racer on it, F1's iceman isn't done yet.
Ferocious, race-winning speed had always epitomised Raikkonnen in the mid-2000s with McLaren and when winning a world championship during his first spell at Maranello, but had not been evident since Ferrari rehired him off the back of an impressive two-year stint at Lotus.
The Finn may still be without a victory since his return but earned a fourth year back in red with his performances in a disappointing 2016 campaign for Ferrari, out-qualifying team-mate Sebsatian Vettel over the course of the season and finishing sixth in the standings. Flashes of his best are few and far between and he may still say as little as he did in his hayday, but the 37-year-old is beginning to do his talking on the track again.
Raikkonen made his debut in 2001 and his arrival on the F1 scene was greeted with considerable scepticism and, in some quarters at least, alarm. The youngster had competed in just 23 car races when offered a deal by Sauber and his inexperience left other drivers wary of accepting someone with so few miles under his belt. Raikkonen proved his critics wrong.
His debut season with the midfield Swiss team was sensational, the youngster proving within just a handful of races that he was a special talent.
By the time Kimi's world champion countryman Mika Hakkinen told Ron Dennis that he was thinking of taking a sabbatical in 2002, the race was on to sign the younger Finn - a race won by McLaren.
He finished the 2002 season in sixth place but began 2003 in dominant fashion, taking the chequered flag for a maiden win in Malaysia and the early points lead, despite having to race with a development version of the previous year's McLaren. The championship fight went to the wire in Japan, but a win for Rubens Barrichello guaranteed another title for Ferrari team-mate Michael Schumacher.
Hopes were high that Kimi could go one better in 2004 but McLaren endured a disappointing season while, in 2005, despite seven wins and an additional five podium finishes, the Finn had to settle for second place behind Fernando Alonso in the drivers' battle as reliability woes struck.
A winless 2006 followed for McLaren and at the end of the season Raikkonen had defected to great rivals Ferrari, the team having pinpointed him as the retiring Schumacher's successor.
He won on his debut in red in Australia but it wasn't until the summer that what had been a badly faltering title bid gained serious traction and Raikkonen seriously took the fight to in-fighting McLaren duo Lewis Hamilton and Alonso.
Despite being 17 points behind with only 20 to play for, the Finn somehow won the title against the odds with back-to-back wins in China and Brazil, thus finally becoming World Champion.
Many expected him to go on to further successes with Ferrari but in 2008 he played second fiddle to Felipe Massa and then in 2009, amid a disappointing season in general for Ferrari, he claimed just one race victory, in Belgium, and four additional podium finishes.
Nevertheless, it still came as a shock to many when Ferrari announced that they would part ways with Raikkonen by mutual agreement for 2010, the Finn paid off for the final year of his deal to make way for the incoming Alonso.
Despite talks over a return to McLaren, Raikkonen opted to turn his back on F1 and headed to rallying - a sojourn in which he experienced mixed success.
After on-off speculation that he would eventually come back to F1, Lotus announced at the end of 2011 that he would drive for them the following season, with Raikkonen quickly insisting that he was fully motivated for a return.
He proved as good as his word with the Finn scoring points in all but one of the season's 20 races and, after several near misses, a comeback race victory was finally achieved in Abu Dhabi - although arguably the most memorable aspect of Raikkonen's race was his increasingly agitated radio messages to his race engineer when given instructions!
Once again hailed as a top-tier driver, the success of Raikkonen's comeback was made official when Ferrari opted to re-hire Kimi as a replacement for the outgoing Massa.
Fireworks were expected in 2014 when Raikkonen was paired with Alonso, but the Iceman rather melted as the Spaniard turned up the heat. He finished over 100 points behind Alonso having been outraced 17-2 over the season.
And any hope that the going might be easier following the departure of Alonso to McLaren was soon extinguished by the stellar form of the Spaniard's replacement, four-time champion Vettel.
Armed with a James Allison-inspired Ferrari which was far more competitive - and, crucially, far more to his liking than 2014's model - Raikkonen was in regular top-five contention all season, the problem was that Vettel invariably qualified and finished ahead.
Kimi ended his podium drought with three visits to the rostrum, in Bahrain, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, but Vettel was in the top three a whopping 13 times - including three impressive victories. As with Alonso, Raikkonen finished over 100 points adrift of the sister car in the standings.
The following season proved to be another frustrating year for Raikkonen as repeated errors in qualifying blighted his campaign, performing mainly as an experienced support act to Vettel. Still, the Scuderia's new management happy were happy to prolong his career and at the start of 2016 he looked eager to repay their faith. Second-place finishes in Bahrain and Spain left the Finn only trailing eventual champion Nico Rosberg in the standings after five races.
Unfortunately, those were to be his best results of the campaign as Ferrari struggled to match Red Bull and Mercedes' speed, failing on their promise to return to the front of the field, while both Raikkonen and Vettel were frequently let down by reliability failures. Younger, and some observers may say quicker, drivers were once again linked with Raikkonen's seat during the campaign but another one-year contract was forthcoming, with a late-season run seeing the Finn beat his team-mate 11-10 in qualifying head-to-heads. A surprising turnaround given the 15-4 reverse the year before.
Raikkonen may have to do more than just beat Vettel over one lap to ensure 2017 isn't his swansong campaign - should he want to continue that is - but he seems to have at least rediscovered his consistency.