x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Kimi Raikkonen: Recluse, rascal or a racer?

The 2007 F1 champion makes it clear that interviews are not his thing, but Gary Meenaghan gets him to talk in Montreal and the Finn turns insightful about Formula One's 1970s-era stars and his return to the sport.

Kimi Raikkonen is enjoying his return to Formula One so far with Lotus, but while he has had good results with a few podium finishes they are still waiting on that first win of the 2012 season.
Kimi Raikkonen is enjoying his return to Formula One so far with Lotus, but while he has had good results with a few podium finishes they are still waiting on that first win of the 2012 season.

Click here to read Gary Meenaghan's F1 blog from Montreal

If ever one incident epitomised the enigmatic nature of Kimi Raikkonen, his performance in Spain last month provided it.

The Finn had finished third in only his fourth race since returning from a two-year hiatus. As is customary, he was required to be interviewed on TV alongside his two fellow podium-finishers, in this case Pastor Maldonado and Fernando Alonso.

With the mainstream English-language interviews complete, each man was asked to say a few words in his native tongue. Alonso and Maldonado both spoke at length in Spanish about their race, the issues they faced, their hopes going forward and thanked their teams for their hard work in Barcelona and back at their respective factories.

When the camera turned to Raikkonen to address Finnish viewers, he simply said: "Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers."

Unintentionally, in the space of five seconds, Raikkonen had displayed perfectly his three vastly different personas: the racer, the recluse and the rascal.

Brilliant behind the wheel, mute at the microphone and a wild-child while not working.

In the sphere of world sportsmen, nobody more than Raikkonen juxtaposes an aptitude at his chosen profession with such an apparent lack of enthusiasm.

The 2007 world champion, Raikkonen's cold, insouciant demeanour has seen him earn the sobriquet of "Iceman". He has embraced the nickname; he has it inked into his inner left forearm.

When he sat down at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve last week to speak to The National, he did so wearing a face as straight as the peak of his Lotus F1 baseball cap.

If a font type existed that gradually got smaller and smaller until it became illegible, it would perfectly convey the way Raikkonen answers a question. His response, regardless of the query put to him, is almost always delivered in a muted monotone that tails off in a way that suggests he is bored even of his own voice.

"Interviews are never the best things for me …" he said. "I am here because I like to race and drive, and everything else is not the reason I am here … I have to do it, so I do … But if you take the racing away … I would never come to the circuit …"

Like a conundrum similar to that of buying a birthday present for a millionaire, what can possibly stoke excitement in a man who drives at speeds in excess of 300kph? The answer appears to be "nothing". Yet his stale public persona in the paddock is far removed from the stories that swirl around regarding his extra-curricular activities.

The week before the start of the 2007 world championship, Raikkonen's debut race with Ferrari, while the majority of the driver field were in Melbourne preparing for the season-opening race, he was competing in a snowmobile race in Finland. He competed under the pseudonym James Hunt, a tipping of the cap to the late British F1 driver renowned as much for his playboy antics as his 1976 world championship success.

Six months later, "James Hunt" was registered to compete at a Jet Ski race, but when the day arrived and spectators backed the shoreline hoping for a glimpse of the F1 driver, they were greeted by a group of men dressed in gorilla suits. When asked shortly after the incident, Raikkonen replied: "Yeah, but was it really me? You don't know."

In Monaco last month, after seeking permission from Hunt's family, he wore a specially designed helmet in tribute to the fun-loving English driver who died in 1993 at age 45.

Hunt operated in a hedonistic era when F1 was about racing and partying and chasing girls. Raikkonen, who in 2004 married a former Miss Scandinavia, said it is not so much Hunt he admires, but the way that generation lived.

"It was just something that came up with my friends …" Raikkonen said of his tributary Hunt helmet. "It is not just him, though, but the time that he raced … It was a different way of life … a different way of racing … a completely different atmosphere …"

Nowadays, drivers are increasingly reliant on sponsorship money to the extent they almost always act out the position of positive role model. Raikkonen, 32, does not play the game. In a world of corporate line-toeing, he appears to be racing in the wrong decade.

"We would have had more fun for sure," he said when the theory is put to him. "It was not only the racing that was different, but the whole … First of all, there was not so much money involved; it was kind of more still like if you go in Formula Three …"

Few of Raikkonen's mumbled responses reveal more about his psyche than the admission he recently read a biography of Hunt's life, but stopped with 20 pages remaining. As the pages regarding the modern era approached, his interest switched off.

When asked if he thought he might ever finish the book, he replied: "One day … maybe."

Raikkonen was born on October 17, 1979, in the southern Finnish city of Espoo, and grew up careering a go-kart around a refuse dump with his brother, Rami. He watched a lot of racing on TV - "any kind of racing … of course F1, but also sometimes other …" He had no favourites, but rooted for his compatriots, Mika Hakkinen and Mika Salo.

He watched old videos of Hunt and the rest of the field from the 1970s.

Now, such is his apparent disinterest in anything but physically racing, he revealed at his comeback race in March that he had barely followed the sport since his retirement, a claim backed up when, during the Australian race, he asked over his team radio why he kept being shown blue flags. His engineer replied: "They are not for you, Kimi. They are for people who need to be lapped."

Wearing a pair of large, dark sunglasses to cover his aqueous blue eyes from the Canadian sunshine, Raikkonen elaborated: "In 2010, I watched a little when I was home and it was on TV, but it was never a case of 'OK, it's going to start in two hours, I better go sit and get ready.'

"It was the same last year. I watched the last two or three races because I knew I would be coming back and watched more closely to see how it was and watched for data. If it was on the highlights, I'd watch it, but otherwise: not interested."

Since his return to the sport, he has finished in the points at five of his six races and scored podiums in Bahrain and Spain. The rules have changed since 2009, but Raikkonen's prowess has not been affected.

"If people had said at the start of the season that we would have these results, we would have been very happy … but knowing now that we could have done even better … you can't help but be a bit disappointed …" he said.

Six drivers have won the opening six races of the 2012 season, a series of results unseen in the sport's 62-year history.

Sunday, Raikkonen will start 12th in the Canadian Grand Prix, a race he won in 2005 and that traditionally produces unpredictable results.

He knows a first win is on the horizon, but he is unlikely to concede much more.

"We want to be at the front," he said. "That's it."

 

MANY MOODS OF KIMI RAIKKONEN

2001:

Tension? What tension? It is less than half an hour before the  
season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne and Raikkonen is  
making his F1 debut. The 21-year-old is the subject of much  
speculation after being given a seat with Sauber, despite only ever  
having raced 23 single-seat races. But where is he? As team staff rush  
to get gear from garage to grid, their rookie driver is dozing in the  
team home. He is eventually awoken by an engineer.

2006:

At the Monaco Grand Prix, after being forced to retire mid-race  
when his car caught fire, rather than return to his Ferrari pit  
garage, Raikkonen is shown walking along the harbour and hopping  
aboard his yacht, the aptly named “One More Toy”. Moments later he is  
relaxing topless with friends and bubbles, paying no attention to the  
race outcome.

2006:

At the Brazilian Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher – who Raikkonen  
will replace at Ferrari the following season – is awarded a lifetime  
achievement award by football legend Pele. The majority of the driver  
field turn out to show their respect to the seven-time world champion,  
but the Finn fails to show.

2006:

While enjoying a break between races and holidaying with friends  
in Gran Canaria, Raikkonen is photographed worse for wear and sleeping  
on the pavement outside of a nightclub. He is hugging an inflatable  
dolphin. “What I do in my private life doesn't make me drive any  
slower,” he responds, when faced with criticism.

2009:

During a rain delay at the Malaysian Grand Prix, Raikkonen – for  
all intents and purposes still in the race – is shown on camera  
dressed in shorts and munching on a Magnum ice cream. The Iceman name  
took on a new meaning.

2011:

In December, just weeks after announcing he is returning to F1  
with Lotus, Raikkonen crashes out of a snowmobile race, injuring his  
left wrist. His team downplay the incident, but three months later,  
the Finn reveals he actually broke it. He now sports a large red scar  
at he base of his left hand.

GMeenaghan@thenational.ae

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