The day I met Kimi Räikkönen by Peter Sauber
You know, I still don´t know why I agreed to give Kimi Räikkönen a three-day test at Mugello in autumn 2000. At the time I knew nothing about him: we´d never met and I´d never seen him race. The test happened on the back of several conversations I´d had with David Robertson, Kimi´s manager. David isn´t someone I naturally trust – like all driver managers he´s a salesman, and I still call him a carpet salesman whenever I see him! But he sold Kimi´s story in such a way that I became intrigued by him. I wanted to see how good he really was. We agreed on three days at Mugello in mid-September, and it was on day two of the test that I actually met Kimi for the first time. In fact, we didn´t speak much for several reasons. First, his English was even worse than mine back then, and he didn´t speak any German. Second, it was clear that he liked his own space and I decided not to invade it beyond the usual formalities.
We said hello and shook hands, but I wouldn´t say that Kimi came across as very polite. He was like a shy animal who didn´t want to be disturbed – and animals are not polite. Although we didn´t talk much, he gave me the very clear impression that he was a young man who knew exactly what he wanted. That impression strengthened as the day progressed and, in the end, I felt that he would smash through a wall to get to where he wanted to go. He had such determination and focus. On-track Kimi did a good job for a guy who had just 23 car races behind him. We weren´t expecting him to break the lap record, and he did four-lap runs because his neck couldn´t withstand more than that at a time. His lap times were okay but not outstanding. He was so composed. I´d never seen anything like it before in my life.
That was enough for me and Willi [Rampf, Sauber´s technical director]. We knew we wanted him in the car for 2001, and didn´t even look at his telemetry, which was very unusual for us. For instance, we relied quite heavily on telemetry, when it came to signing Felipe Massa for 2002, but we didn´t need to do that with Kimi. We just knew that with a bit more experience he´d be fast. Soon after the test we signed a four-year deal, but everything was dependent on him getting a Superlicence, which was in doubt. In fact, it still puzzles me that he did get it because there was so much opposition. Max [Mosley, FIA president] was quite outspoken, and with good reason because Kimi had so little experience. But we got all necessary paperwork and Kimi did a great job for us in 2001, finishing sixth in his very first race. Of course, he moved to Mclaren the following year, as a result of Ron [Dennis] working hard on him from quite early in the year. Even Mika [Häkkinen] got involved, trying to persuade him to sign for Mclaren.
At the Hungarian Grand Prix, Kimi had made up his mind that he wanted to switch to Mclaren and I could see immediately that the same quality that had attraced me to him – his steely determination – was also the reason I´d lost him. Once he´d made up his mind, that was it. There was no going back. We still say hello whenever we see each other, and we live less than one kilometer apart in Wollerau, near Zürich. But I still can´t quite believe that I agreed to him that first three-day test!