Former F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen has admitted that he is not missing the top flight since departing the fray at the end of last season to make his full-time bow in the World Rally Championship (WRC) with the Red Bull-backed Citroën Junior Team this year – as he revealed that not only is rallying a friendlier environment, but it is a more challenging one into the bargain.
After being ousted by Ferrari to make way for incoming fellow title-winner Fernando Alonso – at the cost of a reputed £15 million to the Scuderia
– being unable to agree financial terms with erstwhile employers McLaren-Mercedes and shunning the overtures of reigning double world champions Mercedes Grand Prix, in early December a disillusioned Raikkonen pledged his immediate future to the WRC with Citroën.
Following a warm-up on the Arctic Lapland Rally last month, the 30-year-old made his official WRC debut for the French manufacturer on Rally Sweden last weekend, the opening round on the 2010 calendar. Whilst the anticipated 'learning curve' saw the Finn at one stage beached in a snow bank – costing him as much as 25 minutes, and with it all conceivable hope of a good result – he did reach the finish, albeit in 30th position, and but for his error would likely have placed just outside of the top ten, a far from unrespectable result on his maiden appearance at full international level.
The Espoo native was clearly having fun, too – something he opines the increasingly boring, mundane, clinical and predictable world of F1 has forgotten how to do in recent years.
“I was in Formula 1 for a long time and, right now, I don't miss it,” Raikkonen told the News of the World
. “In F1, testing and everything is exactly the same; you go to the same circuits and do lap-after-lap. The only variable is whether it rains or not.
“The WRC is more open than F1, it's more relaxed and there's a warmer feeling. The teams are friends together. In rallying, everything is completely different to Formula 1. There are so many variables – different conditions, different roads and different surfaces. It is a big challenge; every corner is different. In Formula 1, that's not the case.”
Confessing that he has not even followed the pre-season testing that many would have found it hard to believe last year that he would no longer be a part of, Raikkonen added that even the celebrated and much-hyped return of his former sparring partner Michael Schumacher – the most successful driver in F1 history – does not greatly excite him, as he insisted he has no regrets about the somewhat unceremonious manner in which he exited the sport.
“I only see the [lap] times in the newspapers the following day,” the 18-time grand prix-winner mused, betraying no emotion even in the light of the fact that Alonso in 'his' Ferrari has been one of the outright pace-setters from day one. “I have this new challenge and I am more interested in this right now, but even when I raced in F1 I never really looked at what times everyone did, because you know the details before the next race.
“For me, it doesn't matter who is racing in Formula 1 now. Michael probably started to miss it and he has got a good option now, so it's good for him. Let's see how he does. Whatever happened in the end, [Ferrari] wanted to change driver and I had no contract for this year.
“If people don't want you somewhere and they are willing to pay you out, I have no reason to try to stay because it's not going to be a happy relationship – but that's life. It has happened and I do not have a bad feeling with anybody. I got what I wanted in the end.”