Kimi’s first grand prix was in 2001 with Sauber. His team mate was “Quick Nick” Heidfeld, who some people at the time thought was the heir apparent to Michael Schumacher. By the end of the season though, Heidfeld had racked up only three more points than the inexperienced Kimi, his new team mate. The Finn finished sixth in his first race in Australia, and followed that up with two fourth places in Austria and Canada, then a fifth place at Silverstone. That was enough to convince McLaren-Mercedes to sign him alongside David Coulthard for the following season.
In silver for the first time, Kimi finished on the podium with third in the 2002 season-opening Australian Grand Prix, followed by a similar result at the Nurburgring and Suzuka. At Magny-Cours he was only a second behind Schumacher, who won the race (and the world title, with six races still to go: a still-unbeaten record). At Spa he was second to Schumacher again – but in qualifying. And that really sparked his love affair with the epic Belgian circuit, where he won four times between 2004 and 2009.
The 2003 season was arguably Kimi’s best year with McLaren: he finished just two points off Schumacher, who tied up his fourth title, while making life extremely difficult for the German throughout the season. He also claimed his first two pole positions (at the Nurburgring and Indianapolis) and his first win, in Malaysia. In 2005 he was second in the world championship once more, behind Fernando Alonso in the Renault but with exactly the same number of race wins over the course of the season: seven.