Kimi Raikkonen had “massive physical problems” before his F1 career, and very nearly did not compete.
Raikkonen retired from F1 at the end of the 2021 season, having raced at McLaren, Ferrari, Lotus and Alfa Romeo (then Sauber). He is a former world champion and the driver who has had the most starts in F1.
It was an absolutely illustrious career from the Iceman, and he can be proud of his achievements. However, it all very nearly did not happen.
It has been revealed that Raikkonen had “massive physical problems” before his F1 career.
Beat Zehnder, who worked with Sauber for thirty years, told Racingnews365.com, “He was testing alongside Pedro Diniz and he was, pretty soon, at the same lap time level.
“And he had massive physical problems. Mugello is not the best track for a rookie to start testing, because it’s physically very demanding.
“Kimi had massive problems, he couldn’t hold his neck up after three laps. So we did a three-lap stint, 15 minutes break, three laps stint. Josef (Leberer, Sauber physio) was doing the massage always in between, and quite soon, it was apparent that he’s a talent.”
Lightning in a bottle
“Immediately after the test, we said, ‘let’s try it’,” Zehnder continued.
“We had some obstacles, like no super license. And Peter (Sauber) had to convince all the team principals, the FIA and Bernie (Ecclestone), and we had some team principals like Ron Dennis at McLaren at the time, who was completely against it.
“After the test, we asked Kimi to spend a month with Josef in the Austrian Alps. Kimi was furious because he wanted to go back to Finland.
“We said ‘No, no, if you want to be a Formula 1 driver we have to work with you’. And, for the first two days, he didn’t talk to Josef he was so angry!”