Why are more F1 drivers going rallying?

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Raikkonen's gone rallying but WRC star Loeb (above) has tested an F1 car
Raikkonen's gone rallying but WRC star Loeb (above) has tested an F1 car

Kimi Raikkonen entered his first round of the World Rally Championship over the weekend and did rather well.

Sebiastian Vettel was at the same Finnish round and has been talking about how he’d like to give it a try. Robert Kubica has gone even further – buying his own rally car.

I think it’s great to see F1 drivers taking an interest in other motor sports – but why are so many choosing rallying?

This decade the World Rally Championship has struggled to recaptures the glory days of the 1990s, with the likes of Tommi Makinen and Colin McRae driving their iconic Mitsubishi Lancer Evos and Subaru Imprezas.

Today manufacturer teams have dwindled, the FIA has screwed up the calendar and the technical rules (sound familiar?), a competing discipline has emerged in the form of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge and, until very recently, Sebastien Loeb has crushed all-comers with a suffocating dominance F1 fans would call Schumacher-esque.

But despite all these problems, many of which have parallels in F1, there’s no denying the raw appeal of rallying – even for someone like me for whom circuit racing emphatically comes first. A flame-spitting rally car tearing through the countryside at speed is one of motor racing’s great sights.

There’s isn’t quite as rich a history of F1 drivers dabbling in rallying as there is the Indianapolis 500 or Le Mans 24 Hours.

One name that stands out is Jim Clark. He cut his teeth in the rallying scene and there is still an annual round of the British Rallying Championship named after him. He drove a Ford Lotus Cortina in the 1966 British Rally, but having impressed in the early running he crashed in the Loch Achray special stage. He recovered and briefly led the rally before crashing out for good in the Scottish borders. Despite that Clark – reigning F1 world champion at the time – returned to Ford’s service station where he helped repair their other entries.

Less well know is Ayrton Senna’s brief, private test in a Ford Sierra Cosworth and a Metro Clubman in Wales in 1986. This was not with a view to a serious crack at rallying, but for a magazine article. Nonetheless his famous staccato blips of the throttle apparently worked as effectively in a rally car as they did his F1 machine.

According to Melanie in the comments, Raikkonen also fared well in his first WRC appearance:

As far as Kimi?s performances goes, the rally Finland is known as the most difficult rally on the calendar, and it is also the fastest, Kimi surely didn?t pick a easy one to start with. He made two mistakes during the second and third stage, by running wide. But he was still keeping up with his team mate to an extended, by the 5th stage he was only two seconds slower then his team mate. In the sixth and seventh stages that gap changed to 0.4s and by the eighth stage he was 2.5s faster then his team mate, by the ninth stage the 4.6s then his team mate.

His team mate is a professional rally driver who have been driving at Fiat for two years in the IRC. Not only that, they might both be driving Fiat Puntos but Alen?s (Kimi?s team mate) Punto has more horsepower and a newer transmission then Kimi?s.

He has suggested he could move to rallying in 2011. But it could prove a two-way street: Sebastien Loeb tested an F1 car at the end of last year and there are rumours he may switch categories, even if only as a one-off in this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

F1 and rallying are unusual but not uncommon bedfellows. And despite my passion for F1, it’s not hard to understand why drivers and spectators love rallying too. I think this video I came across last month puts it across perfectly:

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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48 comments on “Why are more F1 drivers going rallying?”

  1. At least if we get a rally driver making the switch to F1 we won’t hear him complaining about a lack of mechanical grip!!!

  2. Prisoner Monkeys
    4th August 2009, 13:32

    Why are more F1 drivers going rallying?

    Why not? It’s good fun.

    1. That´s the reason. It looks like a LOT of fun.
      Theres all the going sideways and beyond the limit of the car, beautiful and varied scenery, so many things !
      Plus if you love to drive, there are many hours of driving. In F1, it seems that you spend little time in the car, and a lot meeting with engineers and looking at computer papers.

  3. Maybe F1 drivers feel too safe in their cars or something?

  4. Rallying is great fun to watch. The thing that counts against it for me is that they aren’t racing side by side, whereas in F1, they are (sometimes ;))

    I think Kubica & co should definitely be allowed to race in other series if they want.

  5. Sebastian Vettel on rallying

  6. Casino Square
    4th August 2009, 13:52

    Rallying might really take off again if the likes of Kubica, Raikkonen and even Valentino Rossi get involved in the future. Of course, it’ll never be a competitor to F1 as a TV sport, no one is going to sit and watch 3 consecutive days of cars.

    But rallying is fun to watch as a spectator. I’ve actually been to the Jim Clark rally, which was good, and I imagine the faster cars and gravel stages used in WRC would be spectacular to see.

  7. I would love it if one of the F1 Championship rounds was a time trial. Just like they have it in cycling.

    Sth like this:

    They could organize it e.g. in Germany, with the final stage on the old Nurburgring Nord Schleife.

    1. Time trials are already part of the sport – it’s called qualifying!

  8. can someone tell me how the fia has messed up this year’s technical regulations?

  9. Although I don’t believe that Loeb will drive for Toro Rosso this season, it would be awesome to see Schumacher and Loeb in the same race together…

  10. Maybe F1 drivers want to be in a motor sport where its about driving and just driving. No politics, no court case, no crazy rules.

    1. I think you’re right, especially in Kimi’s case. He seems particularly disillusioned with the F1 circus these days.

    2. Lol, WRC is just a afflicted. They’ll not escape politics and draconian technical regs in this series for sure!

  11. If there was no testing ban, you wouldn’t see the likes of Kimi and Seb Vettel at rallies.

  12. I do think there is something more raw and visceral about rallying. Also there’s the notion of conquering or fighting with nature herself, unlike an F1 track where you’d be fighting with Mr. Tilke.

  13. Oh, and love the video! Thank you so much Keith.

  14. I’m just wishing that Kimi decides to do the Paris-Dakar rally and drive one of these rally vehicles:

    1. Nice one but what if he get lost he dont talk then who will find him out.

  15. Keith, the Jim Clark Memorial Rally also encompasses many other national championships, and features WRC-spec cars to golden oldies, and even a handful of Metro 6R4s (the best!).
    I can highly recommend it to you, or any other visitor to your site.
    But I might have a slightly vested interest in the Jim Clark, as these days it’s based in my home-town, Kelso (Woo!).

  16. I’m sure there’s a joke to had somewhere involving F1 Drivers, Gravel Rallying and Piquet Jr… anyone?

  17. F1 is more corporate, money orientated, there is much more politics, & increasingly bland tracks.

    Rallying is all about racing on raw untreated roads, and seems to present much more of a challenge for a driver.

    There is also a fear factor that drivers chase – the danger element seems to be more in rallying (no run off areas for one) and the driver has much more of an impact on the result.

  18. Man, this video is just fantastic…

    Yes, everybody is right. It is much more fun to the drivers and, besides, to the fans. I was watching the Kimi´s crashing and was interesting how Kimi mixed himself with the fans and how they run to help him pull the crashed car. This is a relationship that we cant see in F1 nonsense.

    We always point out the Kimi´s coolness in front of the fans, but look on this video how the guys seems happy:

    He will not miss F1, I´m sure…

  19. Sorry for another comment, Keith, but a guy ask Kimi the same question about why compete in rally:

    1. Mark Hitchcock
      4th August 2009, 23:28

      I was gonna mention that interview when you said how Kimi seemed much happier than usual during the rally.
      He seems much happier and relaxed in that interview than he does in F1.

  20. Because they like it. They are not exclusive to F1, they can play ball, windsurf, hit their heads on a wall, or racing rally … :)

  21. Tommi Makinen and Colin McRae driving their iconic Mitsubishi Lancer Evos and Subaru Imprezas.

    Colin McCrae wasn’t that good, in fact he’s known as a bit of a crasher to the rally fans that aren’t British.

    as for Loeb’s crushing dominance that comes from citreon having the best suspension for years, and then with the lock out on the engines they suddenly had the best engine in long runs, but Seb is pretty tasty anyway. Especially on tarmac.

    As for F1 drivers wanting in on the Rallying its due to the sensation of jumping, they can’t jumping in on F1 car, same goes for Rossi and his love of spinning, he doesn’t normally get that sensation on a bike.

    1. Hmmm, with 25wins, 4th most successful driver in WRC history. Not that good? Maybe not Loeb good (who was, is, ever will be???) but Colin McRae was one of the all time great rally drivers!

      1. but Colin McRae was one of the all time great rally drivers!

        Alot of people feel he lucked out with the superior Suburu car he had, until that point he kept on crashing. And as would have it, the Suburu wasn’t that good until the FIA spayed the Lancia Delta’s, or growlers as they are fondly known as.

        I’m fully aware of the hypocrisy, but he never had a Lancia, because he kept on crashing and Lancia wouldn’t have him.

        You could call Loeb’s championship wins the same, his Citreon wouldn’t have won were it not for the FIA saying engines have to last.

        1. Mark Hitchcock
          4th August 2009, 23:35

          hmm, I’ve always thought that his tendency to push himself and the car over the limit is one of the things that made people like him so much.
          He never thought “Right, I’m in the lead by a long way, I can just cruise to the finish”. He kept on going as fast as possible even though more often than not it ended in a big crash.

          Even if he wasn’t one of the best drivers (which I think he was) then he’d still be a legend because of that passion and flat-out no matter what mindset.

    2. spanky the wonder monkey
      5th August 2009, 12:42


      if you’re not going fast enough to crash, you’re not going fast enough.

      if you think mcrae wasn’t that good, then you clearly didn’t watch him hunt down and completely destroy his then team-mate carlos sainz in the 1995 network q rally, taking the world title in the process. that was something else and one of the most incredible bits of driving i’ve ever seen.

      the best thing to happen to subaru (in the uk at least) was colin mcrae.

      1. I didn’t watch the 95 rally no, because Toyota got thrown out for some arbitrary reason and the Lancia’s got their organs chopped off by the FIA. We lost the monte carlo that year I believe too? and the Corsican rally too? they were epic races!

        In comes a Suburu that was powerful versus its competition because it didn’t have any, only another Suburu.

        Why would I watch a championship were the most beautiful cars had been destroyed by the FIA?.

        I’m disgruntled, yes, I know that, I loved the Lancia’s and the Toyota’s.

        And Sainz? didn’t he smash mcrae up recently for the second seat at Citroen?, yep the second seat when Citreon weren’t doing too good.

        Say what you will, I can read all that you say on the internet, when I saw mcrae race, I saw him crash, even when he had Citreon’s advanced suspension and slow engine, he crashed.

        Wise old racers don’t crash as much.

        1. I actually love watching Monster Truck racing, I know its silly, but I get to sit down with my nephews and watch some actual racing and then watch them do freestyle.

          No politics, no poppycock about the Bounty Hunter truck having 750 BHP more power than the Max D truck and getting thrown out of the championship, just great big fire breathing engines tearing up the place for ***** and giggles. And for the fans!.

          I used to love rallying, now the only good thing about rallying is Gigi Gali trying to fight everyone.

        2. spanky the wonder monkey
          6th August 2009, 12:17

          granted, there was more than a little of the bin-it-or-win-it approach ;-) but having followed mcrae from his early years in the british championship, this was a constant throughout his career and one of the ‘qualities’ that endeared him to fans in the uk….it was always maximum attack.

          toyota were excluded in ’95 for an oversize turbo restrictor. otherwise known as cheating. hardly arbitrary!

          i was always gutted when the spectacle of gp B was terminated in ’86. seeing the delta go from the s4 monster to the gp A puppy was horrible….especially with gp S in the pipeline at the time. have always had a soft spot for the stratos, especially having been sat in one for a sprint event :-)

  22. I tried to watch rally racing, I just can get in to that form of racing. To me it is so darn boring to watch.

  23. Why F1 go rallying?

    Because it’s much more fun? Because it’s much more attractive to drive fast at the countryside, with trees, rocks, people very close to the road? Because the “sense” of speed seems to be much greater? Because they don’t get the frustrating feeling of “being stuck behind a slower car”?

    So many reasons… :P I would go rallying…

  24. I think the likes of Raikkonen, Vettel and Kubica are just racers at heart. F1 only races 17-18 times a year, so they have to look at other categories if they want to race more regularly. With the testing ban, the drivers will get even less mileage in F1 cars, so I think it’s only natural that the drivers will look to rallying and other series as well. Many drivers do karting events in their spare time too.

  25. who wouldn’t want to jump a car through the air and slide around gravel corners at 100mph missing solid tree trunks by inches? give me a good roll cage n count me in!

  26. IMO for a F1 driver to move to any other form of Motorsport, it is a huge step down.(Like having been with the most incredible woman ever, it just makes any other woman oh so boring)

    Rallying however, that is something else, there’s no overtaking at all but still pure motorsport pure racing. It’s something totally different. That is why it still can be very much attractiv to F1 driver.

  27. StrFerrari4Ever
    5th August 2009, 0:03

    I understand why F1 drivers are suddenly finding rallying appealing the jumps fast flowing sections without any real braking areas would show the skill of the so called best drivers in the world. In rallying it will be about what someone does on the stage and they wont have to worry about getting hit by a penalty by those damn stewards I miss the group b cars though those 600hp monsters were BEASTS :D .

  28. you have to remember that jim clark was the best human being at driving cars. it didn’t matter which cars, he would drive them to their limit. it was like how some omnipotent being would drive. that he was an awesome rally driver is almost unsurprising given his prowess in single-seaters, touring cars, sportscars etc.

    raikkonen does look more relaxed. is this just the finnish way? it seems like finnish drivers are born sideways on gravel (so to speak); i am confident raikkonen could make a decent fist of a WRC drive if he really wanted to do so.
    having won the f1 championship, he has nothing left to prove (i see i number of parallels with hakkinen; the fact that hakkinen won a second WDC was astonishing and may be blamed on coulthard’s poor luck/consistency/speed in 1999)) – rallying is the new challenge.

  29. With all respect to all other explanations to why and how etc… I see no other good explanation than this is a pure sponsor-move. F1 drivers in Rally. MotoGP drivers in F1 or whatever. They al have one thing incommon. Sponsors of course.
    What did Kimi drive? Punto! Who makes Punto? Fiat. Who owns Ferrari? And finally who is Kimi working for?
    I see no reason whatsoever to why Kimi would switch to Rallying considering the salaries in racing and rallying. If he want to rally – he’ll do so without need to attend to a competition. Why make things complicated after his F1 carrer.
    Why did Rossi race? Who was he racing for? Who owns Ferrari and sponsors Rossis team in MotoGP? Fiat! But why does Fiat or Red Bull and others do this. Because of the huuuge media attention they get of course. It’s worth millions and even more millions. It’s pretty spectacular to see Kimi in a rally car. Even more spectacular than to see him win a F1 race nowdays. And Seeing Kimi wearing a Ferrari hat in a rally car can’t be less worth, at least for Ferrari.
    Why did Alonso laugh he ass off when Rossi came in and tested for Ferrari? Because Alonso felt no threat whatsoever and he knew there was not even one small chance he could be fast in F1 no matter how many MotoGPs he had won. And still everyone really believed Rossi was coming to Ferrari. Sorry but psych!
    How about Hakkinens test drive for McLaren in 2006? I think I would’ve made a faster lap then. Still there were people speaking about Hakkinen to return to McLaren. Hmmm…
    Does anyone seriously think these drivers have serious plans of switching? I don’t. Kimi is rallying as a simple duty he is obliged to for Ferrari. The fun of it makes it only a small plus. Vettel was there with RBR-clothes on same rally not because he has switching plans, but because he was working for Red Bull. Loeb is involved in these sponsor-tricks because of whom hes working for as well. Red Bull. Spectalcular happenings sell massively. If you can put your brand in the same happening, you have huuuge media attention, no matter what Kimi likes to do with his spare time. And I put my name here to get my share of media coverage as well. And Paris Hilton made a porn-vid.

  30. yes of course he drove a punto, he wld have had no choice. He is still under contract of ferrari, and fiat own them. no conspiracy. He is a racer, who has lost his motivation for F1, he seems sick of the circus, politics, the constant mess that F1 is in. He has made his millions, become F1WDC, why not have some fun. Look at who he admires. Hamilton admired senna, Kimi Admired Hunt. Says it all

  31. I’ve always said that Rally Drivers are the true nutters in the world of motor sport. it takes a special type of Unobtanium balls to hurtle around the country side at 220Kph with a ravine on one side in what can be best described as a very hot hatch with some bars inside.

    When I was younger, I went on a short demo with Lebanese Rally Champion of the time Jean Pierre Nasrallah in an old Group A prepared Porsche 911. That was some scary stuff. although I was young I know it would still scare the hell out of me now (maybe:). I almost did go rallying myself in 2000, but lack of funding was the killer…

    still, Circuit riving has it’s machismo, but for me the most thing i admire about Circuit racing is the driving techniques involved in lapping consistent lap times for so long.

  32. spanky the wonder monkey
    5th August 2009, 8:17

    the best years in rallying were the mid 80’s with the 600hp fire breathing group b monsters.
    i think the 2 disciplines attract different sorts of drivers. circuit racing is usually more exacting with the goal being fastest speed with the perfect lines around the perfect lap. rallying is a lot more ‘random’ where adopting a circuit racing line will just see you in the scenery on the first corner. personally, i prefer the out-of-control feeling when driving a rally car, especially when you’re airborne between the trees at 100mph+

    for fans, rallying gets you a lot closer to the action (well, it did, now there are spectator pens) with, generally, more freedom to find that perfect spot. added to that is ‘chasing the rally’ around the countryside. on the old welsh rally, we’d manage to get to 1 in 3 stages, watch the top 20 then leg it to the next stage. you’d be poring over maps a few days before the event, planning the viewing with timings etc. the upshot being that you felt as though you were part of the rally.

    1. definitely Wonder Monkey… you say it right. chasing a rally is a great thing to do, although a bit demanding, but heck it’s for free…

      ooh and those group B cars…i can never get enough of watching Michele Mouton, Walter Rohl,Hanu Mikola, Ari Vatanen, blmoquist etc etc and other greats at the wheel of some of the mightiest road cars ever, the golden age of Rallying

  33. rallying is for nutters, especially the dude in the right seat and those people on the side of the road. I love it!!!

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