While all eyes in Abu Dhabi will be on the headline drama of the title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen this weekend, another world champion will be making his final appearance in a Formula One car.
Twenty years after making his F1 debut for Sauber at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix, Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen will start his 349th and final race on Sunday but he says he “wouldn’t change a thing” and has no regrets about stepping away.
“F1 takes up a lot of time but it has never been the main thing for me,” the 2007 world champion told AFP.
“My life has always been outside. There are other more important things for me than F1. Today my schedule affects my whole family so I am looking forward to the day I have nothing planned and can do what they want.”
Retirement is nothing new for the 42-year-old whose drive at Alfa Romeo next year will be taken by Valtteri Bottas. He tried it once before, missing the 2010 and 2011 seasons, although that just made time for him to race in NASCAR and the world rally championship.
That switch within motor sports appears unlikely this time around although Raikkonen’s fans have been encouraging him to bid for the presidency of both Formula One and Finland.
“That would be fun,” he says, cracking an unfamiliar smile. “Not F1. That would be harder than Finland. Not F1, too much politics … Look at this place (in Saudi Arabia), you know, money talks.”
Raikkonen has always been his own man, picking up the nickname ‘The Iceman’ partly because of the brevity of his glacial answers to journalists over the years.
“That is how it works in my head. I tell it like it is,” he says.
Raikkonen also admits that he has not always been the best listener over the course of his career as he forged his own path.
“I think I was given a lot of advice but didn’t listen. I always felt you had to live your life in the best way for yourself and not for others.
“At work, if I had an option, I wouldn’t do most of what I’m asked, but with your life, how you live yor life… you live it for yourself. If you try to live it as someone else wants, you might do it for a year or two but it will not end up very nicely.
“I’m happy I lived my way. Good or bad, I can live with it because it’s my decisions.
“I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Raikkonen came to prominence as a driver when he left Sauber for McLaren for the 2002 season, finishing runner-up twice in the world championship in 2003, behind Michael Schumacher, and 2005 behind Fernando Alonso.
With one race still to come, Raikonnen has won 21 races, most recently at the 2018 United States Grand Prix in the final year of his second stint at Ferrari.
The Finn picks out Schumacher as his toughest opponent over the years.
“I raced against him many years, we had a lot of good fights.”
Ferrari signed him to replace the departing Schumacher for the 2007 season which, hardly surprisingly, he puts down as the highlight of his career “if we look at the results”.
“Otherwise, every year there are good moments and bad moments, as in normal life. Some days are worse than others because you slept badly or because you have a crap day.
“If for a few years it hadn’t been fun, I would never have stayed that long.
“It’s not always the nicest to leave home and fly 10 hours. But when you actually get to do what you came for on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it’s okay. That said, I’m glad it’s coming to an end.”