Season 2002

Räikkönen scored a third-place podium finish in his first race with McLaren, the 2002 Australian Grand Prix. Although McLaren suffered many Mercedes engine failures in 2002, he still managed to score 24 points and four podiums, and held his own to teammate David Coulthard. Räikkönen came close to winning his first grand prix in France, but spun out on oil spilled on the Magny-Cours circuit with a handful of laps to go, settling for second place. All told, he finished the season in sixth place, right behind his teammate in fifth; together, they enabled McLaren to a solid third place in the constructor chase.

 

Season 2003

Räikkönen began the 2003 campaign in spectacular fashion, reaching the podium in five out of the first six races. He won his first race during this span, the 2003 Malaysian Grand Prix, and thought he had won in Brazil as well, only to be demoted to second place in the wake of a rain-drenched, red-flagged race. He also came extremely close to winning the famed street circuit of Monaco, but lost by less than a second to (future teammate) Juan Pablo Montoya. The 2003 season would prove to be the closest campaign in years, with Räikkönen still mathematically alive at the final race. But 2003 would not be his year, as he settled for second place to Michael Schumacher. Also, McLaren narrowly lost second place in the constructor championship, finishing a meager two points behind Williams.

 

Season 2004

The 2004 season began in quite dismal fashion for both Räikkönen and McLaren, as he only claimed a single point through the first four races. His McLaren, especially the Mercedes engine, suffered repeated breakdowns, allowing him to complete just two of the first seven events. Toward the middle of the season, though, McLaren switched to their new MP4-19B chassis and had made a partial recovery by end of the year. Räikkönen scored his third ever pole position at McLaren's home grand prix at Silverstone, and he also claimed his second ever victory in Belgium. This victory from the 10th place on the grid and on equipment vastly inferior to Ferrari and Williams spoke much about the the skill of Räikkönen. Anecdotically, it was also a moral victory, because it meant the win of a bet the Daily Express correspondent Bob McKenzie had made earlier in the season. He promised to run naked one lap around the Silverstone track, should McLaren win one race in that year. McKenzie kept his promise at the 2005 Silverstone GP, painted in the black and silver colours of McLaren. Räikkönen ended the year a respectable seventh, with 45 points and four podiums.

Despite the disappointment of the 2004 season, Räikkönen was still seen as one of the rising stars of the sport, along with Renault's Fernando Alonso and 2005 McLaren teammate Juan Pablo Montoya. Many pundits predicted 2005 to be filled with great on-track battles from a resurgent squad in Woking. He was also referred to by Ross Brawn and Jean Todt as a driver whom Ferrari might consider in the future.

In early November 2004, Räikkönen announced his intention to create a racing team with his manager Steve Robertson, to be entitled Räikkönen Robertson Racing, which would compete in Formula 3 in 2005.

 

Season 2005

Räikkönen's start to the 2005 season was less than perfect. The car was reported to be too soft on its Michelin tyres, with the result that it wasn't generating enough heat to post competitive qualifying times. The best qualifying position that a McLaren pilot could manage in the first 3 races was a 6th. Räikkönen compounded this by stalling on the grid of the first race of the season (the Australian Grand Prix), and ending the race with just a point. He looked set for a podium in Malaysia until a faulty tyre valve gave way and dropped him out of the points. Bahrain saw him get his first podium of the season.

Räikkönen then hit back with three consecutive poles at San Marino, Barcelona and Monte Carlo, with an almost certain win being denied at Imola after a driveshaft failure and then winning the Spanish Grand Prix with a large margin. Räikkönen then won the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix, putting him within 22 points of leader Fernando Alonso.

At the European Grand Prix Räikkönen flat-spotted his right front tyre while lapping Jacques Villeneuve (some commentators put a share of the blame on Villeneuve, as he did not give Räikkönen the racing line, and forced him on to the dirty part of the track). The resultant vibrations caused his suspension to fail while he lead on the final lap, sending him into the tire wall and handing a further ten points to his rival Alonso. Opinion is divided as to whether he should have persevered on the track or rather pitted for a tire change and a relatively safe third place.

Alonso's first major mistake of the 2005 season handed the Canadian Grand Prix to Räikkönen. The following weekend saw the Michelin teams, including McLaren, withdraw from the United States Grand Prix due to safety concerns.

At the French Grand Prix Räikkönen suffered a ten-place grid-penalty following the replacement of his new specification Mercedes Benz engine which failed in Friday practice. Räikkönen, putting in what Ron Dennis would call his best ever qualifying lap, qualified 3rd (demoted to 13th) with a significant fuel load. He eventually finished 2nd behind Fernando Alonso. A week later at the British Grand Prix Räikkönen suffered another Mercedes engine failure due to an oil leak; his 2nd place qualifying place became 12th. He claimed 3rd place in the race.

In the German Grand Prix Räikkönen, was comfortably in the lead having dominated all through the weekend, suffered a hydraulics failure (it has also been reported that the failure could have been due to a "fluid leak triggered by human error, a pressure relief valve had apparently not been re-fastened properly after a check"), handing victory and a further 10 points to Alonso. It was his third retirement while leading a race this year. On all 3 occasions, it was championship rival Fernando Alonso, who took advantage to win.

Significantly, at the opening of the Hungarian Grand Prix, though saying he was very comfortable at McLaren, Räikkönen raised the possibility that he may leave McLaren when his contract expires in 2006 if reliability issues are not solved. He told a news conference, "We need to work in a better way just to make sure that the car is very reliable." He however went on to take the chequered flag with a convincing victory over Michael Schumacher.

Räikkönen also achieved an impressive statistic at the Hungarian Grand Prix by managing to win the race from the most handicapped qualifying position, having had to do his qualifying run first on the notoriously dusty and dirty track due to his early retirement a week earlier at Hockenheim. No other driver had previously managed this feat under the controversial grid qualification system which significantly penalises those who retire from a race.

Räikkönen then became the first ever winner of the Turkish Grand Prix. Two weeks later at the Italian Grand Prix, Kimi Räikkönen's pole position time was taken from him as he received a 10-position grid penalty for another engine change. Just how impressive this lap was only revealed during the race, when it turned out that he had 5 laps of fuel more than teammate Juan Pablo Montoya and 6 more than Alonso during qualifying - and still managed to outpace them. Just when it looked like McLaren had pulled off a strategic coup with Räikkönen on a one-stop strategy, his left-rear tyre delaminated (something which affected Montoya, too, towards the end and almost had him giving the race to Alonso), and was forced to take an extra stop to change the tyre. He dropped down to 12th. He recovered, but spun his car after pushing too hard chasing the 3rd placed driver. He eventually finished fourth.

He went on to win, for the second year in a row, the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps. The following race (the Brazilian Grand Prix) saw Alonso clinch the Drivers' Championship, after finishing third behind Montoya and Räikkönen.

In the penultimate race of the year, at the Suzuka circuit in Japan, Räikkönen produced arguably the best drive of his career, taking his 7th victory of the season after starting 17th on the grid (as rain had mixed up the qualifying grid). The win was secured when he overtook Renault driver Giancarlo Fisichella on the final lap, which many considered to be the most spectacular pass of the season.

Proponents of Räikkönen argue that he was the best driver of the 2005 season. Without the reliability issues, he may very well have won the Drivers' Championship. (This was reflected in Räikkönen getting several post-season accolades like "Driver of the season" - especially from reputed magazines like F1 Racing and Autosport.) However most commentators agree that Alonso fully deserves the title, dominating the early part of the season, while McLaren struggled, and driving consistently since then to capitalise on Räikkönen's problems. The Japanese and Chinese Grands Prix also saw Alonso abandon the conservative style evident in some races when he was still chasing the championship title.