Kimi Raikkonen entered his first round of the World Rally Championship over the weekend and did rather well.
Sebiastian Vettel was at the same Finnish round and has been talking about how he’d like to give it a try. Robert Kubica has gone even further – buying his own rally car.
I think it’s great to see F1 drivers taking an interest in other motor sports – but why are so many choosing rallying?
This decade the World Rally Championship has struggled to recaptures the glory days of the 1990s, with the likes of Tommi Makinen and Colin McRae driving their iconic Mitsubishi Lancer Evos and Subaru Imprezas.
Today manufacturer teams have dwindled, the FIA has screwed up the calendar and the technical rules (sound familiar?), a competing discipline has emerged in the form of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge and, until very recently, Sebastien Loeb has crushed all-comers with a suffocating dominance F1 fans would call Schumacher-esque.
But despite all these problems, many of which have parallels in F1, there’s no denying the raw appeal of rallying – even for someone like me for whom circuit racing emphatically comes first. A flame-spitting rally car tearing through the countryside at speed is one of motor racing’s great sights.
There’s isn’t quite as rich a history of F1 drivers dabbling in rallying as there is the Indianapolis 500 or Le Mans 24 Hours.
One name that stands out is Jim Clark. He cut his teeth in the rallying scene and there is still an annual round of the British Rallying Championship named after him. He drove a Ford Lotus Cortina in the 1966 British Rally, but having impressed in the early running he crashed in the Loch Achray special stage. He recovered and briefly led the rally before crashing out for good in the Scottish borders. Despite that Clark – reigning F1 world champion at the time – returned to Ford’s service station where he helped repair their other entries.
Less well know is Ayrton Senna’s brief, private test in a Ford Sierra Cosworth and a Metro Clubman in Wales in 1986. This was not with a view to a serious crack at rallying, but for a magazine article. Nonetheless his famous staccato blips of the throttle apparently worked as effectively in a rally car as they did his F1 machine.
According to Melanie in the comments, Raikkonen also fared well in his first WRC appearance:
As far as Kimi?óÔé¼Ôäós performances goes, the rally Finland is known as the most difficult rally on the calendar, and it is also the fastest, Kimi surely didn?óÔé¼Ôäót pick a easy one to start with. He made two mistakes during the second and third stage, by running wide. But he was still keeping up with his team mate to an extended, by the 5th stage he was only two seconds slower then his team mate. In the sixth and seventh stages that gap changed to 0.4s and by the eighth stage he was 2.5s faster then his team mate, by the ninth stage the 4.6s then his team mate.
His team mate is a professional rally driver who have been driving at Fiat for two years in the IRC. Not only that, they might both be driving Fiat Puntos but Alen?óÔé¼Ôäós (Kimi?óÔé¼Ôäós team mate) Punto has more horsepower and a newer transmission then Kimi?óÔé¼Ôäós.
He has suggested he could move to rallying in 2011. But it could prove a two-way street: Sebastien Loeb tested an F1 car at the end of last year and there are rumours he may switch categories, even if only as a one-off in this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
F1 and rallying are unusual but not uncommon bedfellows. And despite my passion for F1, it’s not hard to understand why drivers and spectators love rallying too. I think this video I came across last month puts it across perfectly: