Unbelievably, it’s 20 years since Kimi Raikkonen won the Formula Renault UK title and then made history by taking an unprecedented leap straight into Formula 1.
Raikkonen had appeared in Formula Renault in the UK in 1999 and actually won the end-of-season ‘winter series’ with the benchmark team, Manor Motorsport.
For 2000, though, the rules changed – everyone had to use new ‘identikit’ Formula Renault cars produced by Italian manufacturer Tatuus.
Raikkonen, sticking with Manor, proved near unstoppable, winning seven out of ten races to guarantee himself the title with two rounds still to go.
His dominance in Formula Renault against such a competitive grid had caught F1’s attention for he missed those last two races as he was flown to Italy by Sauber (now his current team, Alfa Romeo) to test its car!
Any hopes of him moving to F1 for 2001 still required governing body the FIA granting him a hallowed ‘super licence’ and some argued that such approval could set a dangerous precedent.
Raikkonen, only 20 at the time, would be missing out the traditional categories of F3 and F2. What’s more, his car racing experience was limited pretty much to just Formula Renault.
But the FIA did side with Raikkonen and he duly joined Sauber for a highly impressive maiden F1 season in 2001 – even scoring points on his debut in Australia.
In 2003 and 2005, Raikkonen strongly challenged for the title with McLaren and in 2007, now with Ferrari, the crown was his after narrowly beating 2003 Formula Renault UK champ and his McLaren replacement Lewis Hamilton!
At the end of 2019, an illustrious career had netted 21 GP victories in all – two even with Renault power (when Raikkonen drove for the Lotus team in 2012 and 2013).
Here are some memories from those involved with Raikkonen’s Formula Renault UK title-winning year of 2000:
Jakob Ebrey, Renault UK motorsport photographer
“Having seen Kimi the year before I expected something special, but what he delivered was amazing.
“One particular moment was at Croft for qualifying. Normally I leave the assembly area just before the cars do or as soon as they leave. For once I just watched them start qualifying there.
“The first turn at Croft (Clervaux) leaves no margin for error. Lap one Kimi, flat out, wallops the kerbs and gone… lap two the same, lap three the same. Like he's just started the race of his life! Everyone else took three to four laps to get up to speed… Oh, and winning seven out of ten races was not too bad either…”
Matt James, Editor, Motorsport News magazine
“MN had decided to pick out eight talents to watch in 2000. Having been impressed with Kimi in 1999 (in his limited Formula Renault season) I picked him. I phoned him.
“‘Can’t speak, in forest with gun,’ he said. “Somewhat alarmed, I put the phone down. I tried later, and he was much more relaxed. ‘Sorry: am in the middle of national service – it is still mandatory here in Finland.’ I am glad I selected him as one to watch: he stormed the season.
“Kimi at Croft was simply sensational. It was easy to forget that because of his limited season in 1999 many of the tracks were new to him. In North Yorkshire, he put in one of his trademark opening laps but this one was super special.
“At the start of lap two, he was tackling Clervaux as his nearest rivals were still turning through the hairpin at the end of the previous lap.
“Cold-tyre mastery is always a sign of supreme talent, and Kimi’s opening laps were always a thing of beauty.”
All photos © Jakob Ebrey Photography