F1 2021 gets underway this weekend in Bahrain and, among the 20 drivers on the grid, we’ve got two men celebrating 20 years since their debuts in the sport.
With three world titles between them, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen are two of the modern greats and both will surely show they’ve more than got enough to keep pace and beat the youngsters swirling around them.
Both appeared fresh-faced at the Australian GP in 2001 with Alonso running for Minardi and Raikkonen turning out for Sauber with him earning a points finish on his debut in the process.
In the time since, both have had wonderful moments at the very pinnacle of racing and will forever have their names etched in the history of the sport.
Alonso, of course, won both titles in 2005 and 2006 as Renault ended Ferrari’s dominance of the early 2000s. Indeed, in ’05, the Spaniard actually beat Raikkonen to the championship with the Finn ferociously fast but let down by the reliability of his McLaren.
In ’06, meanwhile, the old-guard of Michael Schumacher and the Scuderia were back but, in his final season in his first F1 spell, the German could not quite topple Alonso who made it back-to-back wins.
Conveniently enough, ’07 saw Raikkonen finally get his own crown, this time for Ferrari as he replaced Schumacher, pipping Alonso – now in a McLaren – and a young Lewis Hamilton in a dramatic finale in Brazil.
Certainly, these were the years where the drivers were perhaps at the peak of their powers and in the following seasons we saw other names come to the fore in terms of winning titles.
Alonso moved to Renault for 2008 but it wasn’t the same winning-machine whilst Raikkonen’s time at Ferrari petered out and he left ahead of 2010 to go rallying, replaced in fact by Alonso.
In 2010 and 2012 the Spaniard was twice beaten narrowly to the title by Sebastian Vettel who was now on the scene, whilst ’12 also saw Raikkonen return – finishing an impressive third in the standings in his Lotus Renault.
2013 saw another second-place for Alonso but well adrift of Vettel, with 2014 then seeing sweeping regulation changes and the Mercedes era ushered in.
Again, Alonso and Raikkonen’s careers intertwined as the Finn headed back to Ferrari to team-mate his former title rival from almost ten years prior, but the relationship would last just a season as Alonso went back to McLaren for an infamous spell powered by Honda.
So things stayed until the end of 2018 before Alonso embarked on a two-season break, driving in and winning Le Mans and also competing in the Indy 500 and the Dakar rally.
For Raikkonen, a switch to Alfa Romeo and a chance to complete the circle with it his former Sauber team under a new name.
2021 arrives, then, and both are back for another season. They retain the bug for F1 heading into their 20th year since their debuts and both will surely highlight why they remain among the fastest drivers in the world.