There are no guarantees that a driver returning to F1 after time away will demonstrate the level of performance he'd shown previously. There are always question marks over speed and commitment, and these were all raised when Kimi climbed back into the seat of an F1 car at the start of 2012, after two years away.
But soon we were witnessing familiar flashes of the Iceman's brilliance: the fastest lap towards the end of a race, the charges through the field, another podium and then another. Over the year, he has rarely made a mistake; his speed has been stellar, his consistency metronomic.
Typical Kimi, he's a man of few words, who doesn't boast or effuse about his strong season, but we thought some pictorial reminders might get him talking about what a great year he's had. And it worked. We spoke to Kimi alongside his engineer Mark Slade, to reflect on a fantastic comeback, which has quite rightly been rewarded with a confirmed second season at Lotus for 2013.
Raikkonen reacquaints himself with wet weather in an F1 car © XPB
Kimi Raikkonen: That day was the first time I'd ever driven the car in the wet and that was right at the start of the race, on full tanks, which wasn't the easiest thing to do.
There was a high rate of attrition and we were able to keep it together for a good result and score some points.
I managed to set the fastest lap towards the end of the race when the track was drying, so that was an important result because in the first few races we had some issues, then we started to build up performances after that.
Mark Slade: Looking back, this was at the time of the year when we were tending to come on quite strong late in the race, and this result was a sign of how competitive we could be despite a five-place gearbox penalty that had hampered our starting position.
To be fair, the fastest lap was a bit of a surprise at the time, but for the whole team it had been a huge step forward from where we had been the previous year. At the same time, we knew there was still a bit we needed to do to get the car into a winning position.
We've found that the E20 has been quite easy on its tyres and that's why we performed well at hot tracks. Plus Kimi's driving style is also quite light on tyres and I found when we worked together in 2005 [at McLaren], when tyre changes were not allowed, that it paid massive dividends in those circumstances.
But in a situation where you need to get a lot of temperature in the tyres, that sometimes puts Kimi at a little bit of a disadvantage as his natural way of driving the car isn't so aggressive.
Inches from victory
Raikkonen tries to wrestle the Bahrain lead from Vettel © LAT
Kimi Raikkonen: Yeah, thinking back I should probably have stayed on the inside and tried to overtake [Sebastian] Vettel for the win. But even if I had passed him I don't know if I would have been able to keep him behind.
It was a good race but, looking back, I had one chance to overtake and didn't use it, so it's disappointing. But that's how it goes. I got a run, he defended, so I went to the other side of the track.
I might have done it differently if it was now, but that's what happened then and we still got a good result for the team. And no one expected us to do that well after such a difficult qualifying.
Mark Slade: I was actually a little bit disappointed because going into that event I thought that we had a really good chance of winning the race, but there was just that fraction that wasn't quite there.
We didn't push to get into Q3 on the Saturday because we didn't want to waste an extra set of tyres and, as it happened, the advantage of new tyres was very significant come the race.
We actually had the legs of everyone on new rubber but, unfortunately, when it came to the last stint, Vettel had also saved a set and that just gave him enough extra grip. It was so close, but our tyres just couldn't maintain that edge of performance. Despite that, to finish second and third [with Romain Grosjean] in this race was fantastic.
It was so good for the team as it was our first really decent result in a long time and there was a great feeling in the garage after the race. It was a real boost for everyone.
Just like old times
Raikkonen, Alonso, Schumacher... 2012 © LAT
Kimi Raikkonen: Ah, that's from Valencia and that other one is from somewhere else... Magny-Cours 2005, right? That feels like quite a few years ago now.
We all look similar apart from all the colours that have switched around. Life goes on. Michael [Schumacher] doesn't look that much older, but he's leaving now. That's his choice, but it has to end at some point for everybody.
When you stand on the podium, it really doesn't matter to me if there are world champions or any other drivers standing alongside me. But the funny thing about this race was that Fernando Alonso's engineer Andrea Stella came up to the podium on behalf of the winning team and he's engineered all three of us over the years, so it was something we all celebrated with him on that day.
Raikkonen, Alonso, Schumacher... 2005 © XPB
Mark Slade: That was a good race for us and I have to point out that I've engineered all three of them as well.
Looking back at the Magny-Cours photo, you can tell from Kimi's face he's a bit disappointed as he probably felt this was a race he should have won.
It was one of those races where the engine failed in practice, so we had a 10-place grid penalty and then he came through to second. I remember the satisfaction when he passed [Juan Pablo] Montoya, as relations with his team-mate weren't at their best at that time.
In many ways, Valencia this year was a better result as we were still on the up, whereas at McLaren there was an expectation of a good result.
The only downside to Valencia this year is that Romain Grosjean had been incredibly fast and then we had an alternator failure. We felt Romain could have won that race and, while we were pleased Kimi was on the podium, there was a regret that a good team result had not quite materialised.
Two into one doesn't go
Grosjean and Raikkonen lean on each other in Hungary © XPB
Kimi Raikkonen: Hungary was one of those races where I thought I drove really well. I made some mistakes in qualifying and the car was better after we made some set-up changes.
Again I was out of position and, knowing Hungary, it is very difficult to overtake, but I managed to preserve my tyres for a long run. Then when everyone came into the pits I pushed and I was able to make up a lot of time. I caught [Lewis] Hamilton for second, but unfortunately I wasn't as quick and wasn't able to pass him.
As I came out of the pits I knew my team-mate was close because the team told me on the radio. Then we were side by side and I saw that as I braked he was coming closer towards me.
But it was a normal move, it's racing and we didn't touch. Going around Turn 1, I locked the inside wheel. I probably pushed a bit too hard at that corner, but it was a good move and it would have been exactly the same if it was the other way around.
Mark Slade: We found ourselves in the happy position where other people had stopped first ahead of us and they had got themselves stuck in traffic and we were still going quickly, so we just kept going.
Romain was being held up and he wasn't able to use his pace, but Kimi was because he hadn't stopped, and when he came out there was a clear track ahead of him. And then he ultimately came out of his second stop ahead of Romain.
You're thinking in the team, 'Please don't hit each other!' From Kimi's point of view it was a very assertive move, but then as Kimi said, Romain would do the same.
F1 is a strange sport in the way the team works together but, within that team, two drivers are rivals. Your biggest threat is your team-mate because everyone knows you have the same equipment, or assume you have. Inevitably you are judged heavily against your team-mate and most drivers know it, which creates interesting tensions.
Eau my word!
Raikkonen and Schumacher had an epic battle at Spa © XPB
Kimi Raikkonen: At this stage of the year it was frustrating at races like Germany when we wanted to put new bits on the car and test them but we were unlucky with the weather. At other times when it rained in qualifying, we were able to get the best out of the car, but were still out of position for the race.
Here I passed Michael before the last chicane on this lap and then on the next lap he repassed me on the straight using his DRS. I found that even when I had the DRS I couldn't pass him on this straight.
So the plan was to pass him and then use the DRS to hold him off. And I think he lifted enough in Eau Rouge, which slowed him down. I was fast enough in the corner so that I had nothing really to lose and I thought that he's old enough to back off. Also I think drivers give each other more respect in faster corners because if something goes wrong there is a bigger chance of someone getting hurt.
Mark Slade: That was just brilliant through Eau Rouge. But it was the lead up to it as well. He knew he was quicker than Michael and he tried several different ways to try to get ahead of him, which didn't work. Like he said, the only way he could get the DRS was by being behind him at the DRS-activation point and then overtaking him before he deployed it.
It was a clean move and completely under control; it was superbly clinical - but we all held our breath at that moment. For me, it reminded me of the [Mika] Hakkinen move on Michael around [Ricardo] Zonta a few years ago. Whatever you say about Michael's form this year, that day he was driving the car extremely well and, as always, he's a difficult man to pass. The way Kimi went about it, trying one approach, then another, was just fantastic.
TOP Lotus position
Abu Dhabi GP
Back on top in Abu Dhabi © XPB
Kimi Raikkonen: It's been a hard season, but this win is what we needed for the whole team and for myself. We hadn't had the easiest time over the past few races, but this result gives everyone more belief.
We made a good start and made sure we weren't stuck behind cars that weren't as fast as us. I managed to get past [Mark] Webber and [Pastor] Maldonado before I changed into second gear.
Of course, a win is the same as any other win, but I'm glad now that people will stop asking me if we can win or not. To be honest I don't really care what people think, I just do my thing and if I'm happy with what I'm doing and if it's in the best interests of the team then that's that.
Mark Slade: We wanted to get the monkey off our back and we've had so many ups and downs, on and off the track this year, that Kimi's win is massively satisfying. Plus I think the performance proves that Kimi is his old self again. There was no doubt that Lewis Hamilton had the car out there and was going to win the race, but who knows - perhaps he was going to struggle with tyre degradation later in the race?
For me, the moment that Kimi was at his strongest was after the second safety car. That was when he put in the two fastest laps of the race and pulled a second gap on Fernando - that was absolutely sensational.
As for all the radio comments, it's Simon Rennie who speaks to him on Sundays, and... well... he's always been like that, ever since I've worked with him in 2002. His focus is on doing what he's doing and everything else is irrelevant to him. We would do exactly the same again, and there isn't any particular issue about it at all.
The closing stages were tense. Alonso closed half a second on us on one lap and our hearts stopped beating. It was terrifying: we were in suspended animation. I'd been there with him before and I knew he was going to do it, but it was tense. Then in the last two laps he'd just saved enough in his tyres and started to pull out the gap to Alonso again. He'd judged it to perfection.
It was our first win since Fuji 2008, so we had a beer with Kimi afterwards. It's important to celebrate those moments together.
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