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If you are an F1 driver from Finland, you have a close to fifty-fifty chance of being a world champion. Finland has been an F1 powerhouse for decades and has produced some of the most successful and recognisable drivers in the history of the sport, boasting four F1 world championships from nine drivers.
The First Finnish Drivers
Leo Kinnunen entered the sport in 1974 and was the first Finn to compete in Formula 1. However, he was only able to qualify for one grand prix start out of the six he took part in, and he failed to score a point in it.
The next Finnish F1 driver was Miko Kozarowitzky, who made his debut in 1977. He, like Leo, was in the sport for a very brief stint of two races and was unable to qualify in either of his two outings in F1 machinery. In his last outing, he was in an accident that resulted in a broken hand, but he was still encouraged by the team to take part in the race. Miko walked away from the team and was unable to secure a seat elsewhere in F1.
The First Finnish World Champion
Keke Rosberg was the next Finn to enter the sport. He made his debut with Theodore Racing in 1978. Rosberg secured his first podium finish in the 1980 season after moving to Fittipaldi’s team in 1980 and winning his first race at the 1982 Swiss Grand Prix. Keke won the world championship that year, beating teammate Didi by five points and he is one of two drivers to win the championship after winning only one race in the season.
He would go on to win a handful more races in his next four years in the sport before retiring. Keke was the first Finnish superstar in the sport and inspired a generation of Finnish drivers to get their hands behind the wheel of a race car.
The Finn Who Finished with One Podium to His Name
In 1989, managed by a certain Keke Rosberg, JJ Lehto joined the Onyx Formula One team. However, Lehto went without a single point in his debut season and had a relatively uneventful time in his 6 years at the top level of motorsport, bar one podium at the 1991 San Marino Grand Prix. He was able to finish only five of the 16 grand prix he started and finished his career with 10 world championship points. He moved on to Le Mans where he achieved success.
The Double World Champion
Photo by Icon SportMika Hakkinen, later a double world champion, made his Lotus debut in 1991. He collected his first points in his third race and took his first podium of his career in the 1993 Japanese Grand Prix after his move to Mclaren.
The 1994 season was a trailer for what was to come. Mika finished on the podium six times, including an impressive P2 at the 1994 Belgian Grand Prix. He had to wait till the 1997 season to finish on the top step of the podium, but the very next season he won eight of the sixteen races and went on to become a World Champion. He went on to win back-to-back titles by clinching the 1999 F1 World Championship by two points ahead of Eddie Irvine.
He finished runner-up to Michael Schumacher in the 2000 F1 World Championship standings. After the 2001 season, Mika was supposed to take a sabbatical from racing, but nine months into his sabbatical, he announced he would not race in Formula One again.
The Ice Man
Kimi Raikkonen made his Sauber debut in 2001. He scored his first points in his debut race. The ‘Ice Man’, as he is affectionately known, then moved to McLaren to fill the seat left vacant by double world champion, mentor, and fellow Finn, Mika Hakkinen. He would start the season off with a podium in Australia and follow that up with two more podium finishes. He would take his maiden win in the 2003 Malaysian Grand Prix and finish two agonising points behind Michael Schumacher in the driver’s championship come the end of the season.
The driver’s title kept eluding him while at Mclaren, so he switched to Ferrari for the 2007 season and beat the Mclaren duo of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso to the title by one single point. He competed for Ferrari until the 2009 season, when he was bought out of his contract by Ferrari in favour of Fernando Alonso.
He returned to the sport in 2012 with the Lotus F1 team after a brief hiatus. He performed at an exceptionally high level and almost bankrupted the team because of the performance bonus per point in his contract terms. He returned to Ferrari for the 2014 season but couldn’t match his incredibly high standards. He stayed with the Prancing Horses until 2018, when his contract wasn’t renewed to facilitate a move for Charles Leclerc. The Ice Man bowed out of the sport in 2021 after three seasons with Alfa Romeo.
The Flying Finn on the 2023 Grid
Valtteri Bottas is the latest Finn on the grid. He splurged on the F1 scene in 2012 with Williams. His rookie season was unremarkable, but the next season he managed to scale the podium three times and finish fourth in the driver’s championship.
He kept impressing in the Williams by dragging the car to high-point scoring finishes. After Nico Rosberg’s sudden retirement, he was drafted into the Mercedes F1 Team to aid Lewis’ title challenge. He proved to be a good signing, helping the team to five Formula One Constructors Championship titles while also collecting 10 wins for himself in the process. He moved to Alfa Romeo for the 2022 season and is struggling with the car in 2023.
In short, Finland has produced some of the most successful drivers in Formula 1 history. From Keke Rosberg to Mika Hakkinen, Kimi Raikkonen, and now Valtteri Bottas, Finnish drivers are a force to be reckoned with. The 2016 World Champion, Nico Rosberg (the son of Keke), would have been on this list if he hadn’t raced under the German flag; if he hadn’t, Finland would have had 5 world championships for 10 drivers.
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