Although former McLaren team mates Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya seem to be spectral opposites in terms of character (Montoya’s fiery personality standing in stark contrast to the Kimster’s “Iceman” persona), they do have one thing in common: both drivers seem to have walked away from the pinnacle of motorsport (if we can agree on that designation for Formula 1) with a “good riddance” attitude.
Montoya, while brilliant at times (remember his slick overtaking maneuver against Schumacher at Turn 1 at Interlagos, in 2001?), often seemed like the proverbial bull in a china shop in the world of Formula 1, where a driver’s slightest faux pas, on track or off, is analyzed ad nauseam by the media. Montoya, like his fellow IndyCar alumnus Jacques Villeneuve, was often dismayed when he was publicly roasted by the F1 community for what he regarded a minor unforced error.
Montoya, in a move that was highly unusual for an F1 driver who was more or less guaranteed of a job, walked away from the series and actively sought a ride with his old boss Chip Gnassi, on the NASCAR circuit. Many F1 drivers would consider this an ignominious move, more suitable for the likes of disgraced driver Nelson Piquet, Jr., or the under-performing Scott Speed.
NASCAR seems to be a relatively good fit for Montoya. He can give free rein to his bumper-car style driving instincts, and he no longer has to train hard or watch his weight (he looks at least 20 pounds heavier than he was during his F1 days). If nothing else, as long as he maintains a decent performance, he should be assured of a long career: the good ‘ol boys of NASCAR seem to race actively until they’re old enogh to start drawing a pension.
As for Raikkonen, although he was forced out of his seat at Ferrari, he easily could have gone back to McLaren, or even to Renault, had he wanted to. But no, like Montoya, he decided he’d had enough. As a driver, Raikkonen was quicker and less mistake prone than Montoya, but he always felt cramped by the regimented, corporate nature of F1. Kimi likes to step into the car and race. He doesn’t care much for testing or development work (imagine the Iceman in a simulator!), and he cares even less for the promotional demands placed on virtually all the top drivers these days.
The Kimster opted instead for a venue that seems highlight driver skill over technology perhaps more than any other formula currently in operation: rally driving. Of course, this makes perfect sense. Once a driver has tasted success in Formula 1, moving into a different open-wheel series would seem like a distinct step downwards. He might have tried his hand at the German DTM series, or perhaps LeMans prototypes, but somehow the WRC seems a more logical fit for the Kimster.
Montoya has received multiple offers to return to Formula 1 since he left the sport, all of which he’s rebuffed. Likewise, the Kimster has been sought out by at least two top teams since his exit from Maranello. But the Kimster, like Montoya, claims that he doesn’t miss F1, and has no discernible plans for making a comeback. As he recently told Gulf News, “I have no interest in returning to Formula One. I do not want to talk about Formula One. Rallying is where I want to be. And it is good to be back for another season.”
Raikkonen raced for the Citroen Junior Team last year, in his maiden WRC season, but in a move that seems fitting given the Kimster’s independent nature, for the 2011 season the Flying Finn has established his own team, ICE 1 Racing. Funding is to be provided by Raikkonen’s personal sponsors. Assuming he enjoys a reasonable measure of success, don’t expect him to move from tin tops back to open wheels any time soon.