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Nothing fazes this Formula One ice man

SUNDAY DRIVER -

December 04, 2005|By JASON STEIN

So when does finishing second (twice) finally become just a second thought?

Is it when you realize you're on the world's biggest open-wheel-racing stage and already have done more in five years than some have done in a lifetime?

Or is it the moment the engine on another Formula One season shuts off for the final time and you know that runner-up doesn't necessarily mean an empty run?

If you are Kimi Raikkonen, you never twice about it.

"There's no point in looking back," Raikkonen said recently in an interview with Formula One's official Web site after another second-place finish in F-1's world championship standings, his second such finish in three years.

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"I only look forward."

Looking forward. Learning from the past. It's just Kimi's way.

"There is no point in speculating about what ifs."

If Formula One was advertising for a man of steel, Raikkonen could be the poster boy. Make that a man of ice and steel.

He has been nicknamed the "Flying Finn" for his Finnish descent, but he could be called the "Finish Freezer" for his cool demeanor. In fact, he has become known as the "Iceman."

Ah, the life of the 26-year-old Raikkonen, part of F-1's new breed of hot, young stars: nothing rattles you because nothing can.

How cool is the Iceman?

Before his first race as an F-1 driver, he fell asleep on the starting grid 20 minutes before the race. (He still can't remember what he dreamt about.)

How casual is Raikkonen?

He prefers junk food to gourmet food, PlayStation to posh apartments and a nice trip through the Swiss Alps in his Mercedes while listening to a little U2 on the sound system.

He's that normal. But he's also that cool under pressure.

He always seems to have been.

Kimi Matias Raikkonen began go-karting in Finland at age 12 and enjoyed considerable success in a hurry, winning at every amateur stop including national karting titles, grand prixs and Finnish Championships. Within 10 years, Raikkonen was racing single-seat, open-wheel cars in the British Formula Renault circuit with Manor Motorsports. During his first season of winter racing, Raikkonen won all four of his outings and stayed with Manor for 2000 where he won seven of the 10 races that season. And the other three? Raikkonen also found the podium in each.

The Finn was flying and it didn't take long for others to notice.

The following year, the F-1 Sauber team had him test its car and immediately penned him to a contract as a teammate of Nick Heidfeld for the 2001 season.

Raikkonen was only 22 and he didn't disappoint.

He finished sixth in his Grand Prix debut (nap and all) and went on to score points in three other races that year (twice finishing fourth). It was the best season ever for the Sauber team even if there was a rookie at the wheel.

Great results immediately produced the chance for even greater opportunities.

A year later, fellow Finn Mika Hakkinen - the other Flying Finn - was about to retire from the McLaren's-Mercedes team. With only 16 races under his belt, Raikkonen was selected as the replacement.

The move would be the best of his career.

After switching to McLaren-Mercedes in 2002, Raikkonen was really rolling, finishing second in the driver's standings in 2003 to a dominant Ferrari team. After a year of adjustment, Raikkonen returned to form in 2005 with another second-place championship finish, this time to fellow "young gun" Fernando Alonso.

A second second? It might be enough to get some drivers thinking dj vu.

But Kimi? Not a chance.

"It's racing," he said. "I'm not bitter about it. Of course we wanted to win the championship and that didn't happen. But it was a good fight for the whole season."

He's still waiting for the next big fight. And going into the 2006 season, Raikkonen will be a favorite to climb back up the F-1 standings.

He doesn't want three runner-up finishes does he? Does he even care?

"I guess we do have a good place to move forward from (for next year)," he says, matter-of-factly.

"Everyone is pushing forward."

That's Raikkonen included. No point in looking back.

It's just Kimi's way.

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