KIMI RAIKKONEN AND THE ALLURE OF FERRARI

KRIt’s been known for many years that the allure of Ferrari is a strong one for any ambitious racer and rarely does the chance to race in red get turned down. For many though, the call from Maranello never comes, for even fewer, it comes twice.

From 2014, for the second time in his career, Kimi Raikkonen will be a Ferrari driver. To some it came as a surprise that the 2007 World Champion will return to the Scuderia, the team with which he claimed that world title and so unceremoniously ousted him at the end of 2009 to make way for Fernando Alonso. But Raikkonen is not the first driver to make a return trip to Italy…

Ferrari’s very first F1 champ, Alberto Ascari, not only delivered that maiden title in 1952 but backed it up with a second title the following year. For 1954 however, Ascari abandoned Ferrari and defected to Lancia. Lancia struggled to field a car – let alone a competitive one – and so Ascari appeared once again at the wheel of one of Enzo Ferrari’s cars, appropriately at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. He was on course for victory too, when the engine of his 625 expired.

Was it the allure of Ferrari or simply Ascari demonstrating what Enzo was missing?

Although only fleeting, Ascari’s return to the red corner was not the only one of the era: Jose Froilan Gonzalez – who passed away only recently – recorded the first ever Grand Prix win for a Ferrari at the 1951 British Grand Prix. For the following two seasons, the Argentinean raced for ‘the other’ Milanese team – Maserati – for whom he finished on the podium four times. For 1954 though, the offer of team leader at Ferrari was too tempting and so he returned, taking another British Grand Prix victory. Gonzalez would retire at the end of 1954 having finished runner-up in the championship to his compatriot Juan Manuel Fangio, but the allure of Ferrari and the chance to race in front of his home crowd saw him compete in the 1955, ’57 and 1960 Argentinean Grand Prix.

Mike Hawthorn, having finished fourth and third in the world championship for the prancing horse in 1953 and 1954 respectively, left Italy to race for Vanwall, the British team set up by Tony Vandervell. It was more than a patriotic move for Yorkshire-born Hawthorn: his father Leslie had recently perished in a road accident and Hawthorn wished to spend more time with family at his Farnham garage. After just two races and two retirements however, Hawthorn departed Vanwall and was drawn back to Ferrari for the remainder of 1955. He returned for good in 1957 following a disastrous ’56 season racing a Maserati, a BRM and, just once, a Vanwall. Hawthorn’s Ferrari return culminated in a World Championship in 1958, after which Hawthorn retired and like his father, would perish in a road accident just months later.

Lorenzo Bandini’s second stint at Ferrari came just a year after he finished third in his first race for the team at the 1962 Monaco Grand Prix. He later impressed at the wheel of a BRM and was promptly invited back to the Scuderia; the highlight of the Italian’s four-and-a-bit years with Ferrari came at the Austrian Grand Prix of 1964 when he took his one and only Grand Prix victory. Three years later however, Bandini would be involved in fiery crash during the Monaco Grand Prix and would succumb to his injuries three days later.

Jacky Ickx, the immensely talented Belgian, drove for Ferrari during 1968, peaking mid-season with victory at the French Grand Prix. Two years later, following a successful ’69 season driving a Brabham, Ickx was drafted back to Ferrari where he would become the closest challenger to the posthumous title won by Jochen Rindt.

Half way through 1970, Ickx was joined by a Swiss rookie named Clay Regazzoni: the 30-year old impressed, finishing fourth in his first two races. Regazzoni would win that years’ Italian Grand Prix and claim three second place finishes on his way to third in the championship.

Regazzoni would stay with Ferrari until the end of 1972 before departing for BRM. The British team struggled throughout ’73 and so did Clay; two sixth-place finishes saw him to a dismal 17th in the final championship standings. For 1974 however, Regazzoni made his return trip to Maranello and over the following three seasons would claim three Grand Prix wins and a brace of podium finishes. Second – in 1974 – was the best Clay could muster in terms of championship positions but his return to Ferrari can be considered a success.

As far as Ferrari careers go, there’s none much more stylish and classy than Mario Andretti’s two-parter: like Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, Mario won on his Ferrari debut – the 1971 South African Grand Prix – and, having not driven for Ferrari in over a decade, Andretti received a hero’s welcome when he returned as a replacement for the seriously injured Dider Pironi for the 1982 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. “You drive for Ferrari and you’re like the Pope”, Andretti said of the experience.

Remarkably, Mario planted the Ferrari 126C2 on pole-position but a clutch problem in the race hampered his chance of victory, he would however, finish an impressive third, much to the delight of the ever-passionate tifosi.

At the end of 1987, Gerhard Berger won the final two races of the season in Japan and Australia, but the following year he was to score perhaps Ferrari’s most memorable race win: less than a month after the death of ‘Old man’ Ferrari, Berger headed a Ferrari one-two finish at Monza in front of an emotional tifosi. It was arguably Berger’s finest hour, yet at the end of 1989 he left Ferrari for rivals McLaren.

Berger, like so many before him, was tempted back though. By 1993 the Austrian was again at the wheel of a Ferrari and although the three seasons that followed yielded just the single win – the German Grand Prix of 1994 – his second stint was widely considered to be a success. For 1996, Berger left Ferrari once again, making way for Michael Schumacher…

If history tells us anything, it’s that Raikkonen’s imminent return to Ferrari could very well be successful and although the Finn has claimed his return is based on financial reasons, it’s hard to deny that the allure of that prancing horse is still as strong as ever.

 

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