Lots of drivers say they prefer to do their talking on the track, but none has ever meant it more than Kimi Räikkönen. I don’t know if he’s ever actually uttered those words (or anything that’s not monosyllabic), but it holds true over the course of his 18-year-long Formula 1 career, which will conclude at the end of the current season.
The young phenom of early 2000s who finally collected a World Championship in 2007 announced his plan to retire Wednesday on Instagram, saying he’d arrived at the decision last winter. Räikkönen extended his contract with Alfa Romeo, the team he’s driven for since 2019, for another year last October. His retirement had been rumored in recent days, and opens a lane for Valtteri Bottas if Mercedes replaces that Finn with Williams’ George Russell.
Racing drivers can be a conceited and petulant bunch, but Räikkönen bucked that notion by profoundly, visibly not giving a fuck about anything secondary to doing his job. When he won what in all likelihood will be the final F1 victory of his career at the 2018 U.S. Grand Prix, he said his fans might’ve been happier about it than he was. I can confirm this, because I remember jumping off my couch and triumphantly howling after he rounded the last corner on the final lap. Kimi didn’t do that.
This is the guy who tried to stop his team from having a party to celebrate his 300th Grand Prix. The guy who drinks his champagne and would rather you just drink yours instead of spraying him with it. The guy who I regularly forget dipped out of F1 to go rallying for two years and do two NASCAR races, just to casually return. Why did he leave? Probably for the same reason he joined Alfa after Ferrari dropped him for Charles Leclerc in 2019: “Why not?”
There’s never been another driver like Räikkönen in the 16 or so years I’ve been watching F1. If history’s a guide, I’m not sure there ever will be again. Amid every other driver’s sniping and drama we just sort of took his expressionless stability and unintentional comedy for granted over the last few years, which was admittedly hard not to do given how little airtime Alfa cars get on a given Sunday. I don’t think we’ll fully realize it’s gone until next season kicks off.
In his message to fans on Instagram, Räikkönen said “Formula 1 might come to an end for me but there is a lot more in life that I want to experience and enjoy. See you around after all of this!”
That last part is what worries me. Left to his own devices, Kimi Räikkönen’s face will never grace a camera again. Of that, I am positive. Abu Dhabi might be the very last we see of him. Kimi, if you’re reading this, I know you’re not the type to consider the wishes of some rando blogger on the internet and I can’t blame you for that, but please — promise to check in every once in a while, would ya? And enjoy your retirement.