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Opinion | Kimi Raikkonen conquers America

Kimi Raikkonen won the United States Grand Prix, and there couldn’t be a more popular victor. Formula One is a sport driven by fierce rivalries and team histories, and rare is a driver who can transcend colours and costumery.

other sports Updated: Oct 23, 2018 08:39 IST
Raja Sen
Raja Sen
Hindustan Times
f1,formula one,us grand prix
Kimi Raikkonen celebrates after winning the United States Formula One Grand Prix.(AFP)

The classic action movie Top Gun is at heart, a feature-length showdown between two showboating pilots, going by the handles “Maverick” and “Ice-Man.” Played by Tom Cruise, Maverick is the film’s all-conquering leading man who emerges victorious, but it is his charismatic rival, played by Val Kilmer, who has true style and cheek. So much that Formula One’s coolest, most unflappable racer shares his handle.

On Sunday, Kimi Raikkonen won the United States Grand Prix, and there couldn’t be a more popular victor. Formula One is a sport driven by fierce rivalries and team histories, and rare is a driver who can transcend colours and costumery. This Finn — who won Sunday’s race exactly 11 years after he won his first World Championship for Ferrari — may be the last one standing. “It’s better than finishing second,” he said when congratulated, concise even after driving flawlessly and beating Lewis Hamilton off the line.

One reason everyone is celebrating is that Raikkonen’s last victory came at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, 113 races ago, setting a new record for the longest gap between wins. Raikkonen has always been popular because of how terrific and how taciturn he can be. He started out a prodigious talent, a hard-partying young sensation who delighted in setting the fastest lap. He is a superb judge of braking — both when attacking and defending — and while he seems to get bored when not fighting for the top step, his race-craft is still special.

For me, 2003 was The Most Raikkonen Year. It was his third F1 season, and in the first race, he qualified fifteenth in the McLaren spare car. Yet here he was, finishing in third place, holding off the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher at his most bullish. Raikkonen lost the championship by two points, but he took it to the final race. In 2007, he played the scarlet saviour for Ferrari, taking the title by one point from Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.

And now he’s leaving again. This year, on the eve of the Italian Grand Prix, Ferrari told Raikkonen he will be replaced by Charles LeClerc. Raikkonen’s reaction? He took pole position at that race, and this weekend gave us a win so glorious it is clear he has much left in the tank. I hereby predict he will — unlikely as it sounds — even win with Sauber, the team he is going to and the team he started with. When on song, the years fall away. A Raikkonen overtake does not look like a 39-year-old racer in action.

Thank you for the races, Kimi Raikkonen. For the quotes and the ice-cream and the winks and the glamour-shots and for the way you raised your arms after this victory, as a sunglass-clad superhero. Sebastian Vettel might be Ferrari’s number one driver, but the truly cool don’t need to be called top gun.

(Raja Sen is a film critic and one of India’s longest-running Formula One columnists.)

First Published: Oct 23, 2018 08:32 IST