Iceman Kimi Räikkönen

Little Kimi, how much you have grown

From Finland, Dad Matti, Mom Paula, and friend and rival Toni Vilander speak about the (eventful) childhood of the Ferrari driver. “In everything he has done, he has always shown his true nature. Overtaking.

”The symbol feature of Kimi Räikkönen is not his typically Finnish nature, neither his silent attitude, nor his affectionate attachment to the family. Rather, in everything he does, the driver of Espoo puts his inexhaustible agonistic energy. All funny things this Finnish 27 years-old guy does with his friends, he makes it to a personal challenge. “It’s difficult to play with Kimi, for example at ping pong. If I play well, Kimi always must try to prevail, however”, explains his bigger brother Rami Räikkönen. “Sometimes you have to let him win, because he does not stop until he has won.” “This is at everything you make, both for a bicycle trip and for a tennis match”, confirms Toni Vilander, a race rival who now is Kimi’s bosom friend. Like every Finn, Räikkönen loves the cross country skiing. The skating step, according the trainer Mark Arnall, is perfect to reinforce the legs of a driver: “But absolutely I don’t think to go skiing with Kimi”, smiles Arnall, who is in perfect form but he has already tried to fight with Kimi in various other sports… Kimi in fact is interested in all that is only similar to a sport. When he presented a racing horse to his wife Jenni and he tried for the first time in his life to ride it, he immediately tried to go the animal as fast as possible on track. At the end he began to scream how to stop the horse. Fortunately the crazy run finished in a high front flip, but since that day Jenni Dahlman-Räikkönen never has given his husband the permission to ride her horses. The Räikkönens love animals: in addition to the horses they have two dogs, a German shepherd named Ajax and a Jack Russell Terrier, Peppi. But Kimi is allergic to horses and cats: “And also to the journalists”, he adds smiling. Well, he also has the sense of the humor.

In addition to his competing-affectation, courage and self-control are innate features of Räikkönen. Kimi is a real man of ice and really justifies with his behavior the nickname given by McLaren. The mother Paula Räikkönen remembers she has seen her son irritable only once. Kimi was six years old and he went to a normal visit to the doctor’s office. While the mother and the doctor were speaking, Kimi, in a games corner, began to distress himself and to get nervous. Immediately the doctor thought the child could be affected by disturbs of concentration, even if it was only about toys. Instead Kimi, who loved riddles very much at those times, had found a puzzle, suited to his age that seemed him much too easy, so he wanted another one- for children 10-15 aged – that the nurse did not want to give him. At the end Kimi obtained what he wanted and quickly put all pieces in right place with a happy smile. So the doctor laughing said: “For sure this boy doesn’t have any concentration problems”.

The Räikkönen family is from the Carelia: they come from the country of Raikkola, near Sakkijarvi, a city of ex URSS after the Second World War, while Kimi’s family house is sited in Karhusuo (Espoo). “Over there, among forests”, Kimi’s father Matti tells. The house had been built by Kimi’s great-grandfather. His parents Paula and Matti have lived there for twenty years. The house courtyard was the first track for Rami and Kimi. The story began with a mini-cross, a bicycle for children marked Italietti. “Kimi was three years old and he wasn’t able to drive a pedal car, but he could ride that Italietti very well”, the father remembers. “Then when the boys grew, the bicycles would have had to be changed, but they were too much expensive”. Meanwhile, Kimi and his brother Rami were competing in everything, sometimes they came to blows, sometimes they rode their little bicycles raising powder clouds, all the day.

Instead of two new bicycles the Räikkönens acquired two Lada, very old Russian cars, models 1200 and 1600. One red, the other green. “Since that moment our garden has been similar to a potato field. There was a deep furrow surrounded by a gravel wall, that did not allow to arrive to the house directly from the road”, remembers the dad. Then the Lada cars were sold and they acquired a go-kart. The two boys moved some kilometers from the house courtyard to the famous track of Bemböle, threatened of closing for ten years, where Kimi and Keke Rosberg, JJ Lehto, Mika Salo, Mika Häkkinen began their own career. At Bemböle the amateurs could run three days a week, time that the Räikkönen brothers spent integrally. But two racing love brothers could not resist over a long time with only one go-kart: “Rami was too much higher than Kimi and he had to regulate the pedals at every change of driver”, dad Matti continues. “As result, boys didn’t drive their lap-times, but spent the time in the box waiting for their own turn… So we also had to buy another car”. The family house badly a renovation, there wasn’t even a bathroom, but because of the boys’ cars, they had to be contented with an outside toilet.

Kimi’s first contest category was the Mini Raket Karting, in which Kimi began to run when he was 10 years old, in 1989. In 1991 he was 2nd in the general Class of the Mini Raket Goblet, while first classified was Toni Vilander. After this contest Räikkönen jumped in the Formula A 100 cc, where he won his debut race. “In the lower classes Kimi was not with the best ones, because there was not money for new chassis. We only could run. In my opinion a young talented driver grows better if he has not immediately the best cars. In those days fifth place was already a success for us”, emphasizes Matti Räikkönen. In those years Toni Vilander was a hard rival for Räikkönen, but quickly the two boys learned to appreciate themselves, becoming friends. “Kimi always has been a positive companion, with a terrible longing for winning. We left the fights on the tracks and we spent nice times together. We became friends. Then we made a promise: if one of us would be arrived in F1, the other one would have followed him to spur him”, tells Vilander. “Also the military service we made together: Kimi postponed for a year his coming in the Armed Forces to wait for me”. Vilander and Räikkönen, together with Oskari Heikkinen, were the National team of karting.

Studies have never been a challenge for Räikkönen: he didn’t like studying on the books. Best day for Kimi was on Thursday because the scholastic program planned two hours of physical activity, two hours of unskilled labors, pea soup and crêpes for lunch. “Every winter Kimi wore out two schoolbags, not because of the books inside, but because he handled them as a sledge when he went home”, the Dad jokes. He was 16 years old when he stopped the professional school, course for mechanics, and he went away…

Räikkönen always has been fascinated from all types of sport. He played hockey on ice in the Espoo Team, the Jupperin Urheilijat. The Matinkylä stadium was at the opposite side of Espoo and as training for the juniors began at 7 o’clock in the morning, Kimi, who certainly is not an early riser, had to clench his teeth for being of the match. “Once, while I was taking Kimi to the training, in the rear seat he always repeated that maybe it would be better to change sport and playing fencing. For sure fencers have not to play in the middle of the night. I so brought out into laughter that I was going off the road”, Mom Paula tells. “Kimi was the smallest boy of the team and he was a defending player. If he was not able to block adversaries with other ways, he threw to their feet to trouble the action with obstinacy and toughness. Sometimes the coach worried about him and didn’t let Kimi play when the adversaries were too dangerously sturdy”. Now Räikkönen loves hockey on ice: Teemu Selanne, one of best producers of the NHL and player of the Anaheim Ducks, is his friend and at the same time his neighbor at Porkkala. Every time he can Räikkönen goes to the training and to the contest of the Finnish VIP-Team of the Oilers of Pietarinkatu, and also to Kirkkonummi to see amateurs teams. One thing is clear: his taste of the competition is the same one of when he was a child.

Source:  SportWeek 24.02.2007

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