Petri Nevalainen: The Iceman – A Portrait of Kimi Räikkönen
(Jäämies – Kimi Räikkösen henkilökuva)
Excerpts from the book translated by Raymond Carter
A sunny day in 1987. Two fair-haired boys are tearing around with all kinds of motorised vehicles in the garden of a detached house in Espoo, just as they’ve done month on month and year on year. Their parents’ patience has at last run out, but with good intent. They don’t object to the boys’ driving, only to the fact that the grass always ends up like a ploughed field. Luckily, there’s a kart track nearby, and the Räikkönen boys are delighted to be given the chance to use it. This was the beginning of Kimi Räikkönen’s colourful journey to the upper echelons of the motor sport world. At the end of a long and twisting road shone the target – the much-sought-after first Formula One world championship, which Räikkönen achieved majestically in 2007 driving for the all-time legendary Ferrari brand. And there was certainly no lack of drama in that championship season. The excitement of the final race of the series in Brazil brought blood, sweat and tears to both Räikkönen and his fans. In the end, coming home first was a complete surprise – achieving it required many things to fall into place in just the right way. Time after time during that season, possibilities for taking the championship appeared to fade away, but the Finnish driver never lost faith.
His enthusiasm for karting, an expensive hobby, presented the Räikkönen family with a tough choice: home improvements and an inside toilet or another season on the track and in the outside loo? The decisive family meeting was held in a familiar location – around the kitchen table. The decision came down: postpone the improvements, continue with the outside loo and see how far Kimi could go in the summer season. When the younger brother at last began to earn significant amounts of money from his driving, the improvements finally got under way – not only in the loo, but in many other places as well. In March 2008, Räikkönen confirmed to a Guardian reporter that the outside toilet was still in use when he signed his first Formula One contract with the Sauber team in the year 2000. To urban Brits, an outside loo was something exotic and amazing. When the reporter asked him how on earth it was possible to use an outside toilet in sub-zero winter temperatures, Räikkönen had his answer ready. “It’s easy, just be quick,” he said.
(Travelling with his good friend Kalle Jokinen, Räikkönen’s mechanic during his karting years)
The two of them set off to London in a battered Renault Clio for an agreed meeting with David Robertson. The location for the meeting was the Thistle Hotel in Brands Hatch. Robertson’s son Steve had himself been on the race track in 1990 (among other occasions) in the British F3 series during the so-called “Mika-Mika” year when the Finns Mika Häkkinen and Mika Salo had been fighting for overall victory in the competition. The Räikkönen/Jokinen conquest of the world looked as if it had come to a premature halt at the border crossing between Holland and France, when the vehicle’s Dutch number plates turned out to be a problem. The border guard waved his hand at the two Finnish passports and looked at the car. “Those passports and this car. Hmmm… I’ve nothing that tells me whether you have permission to drive that vehicle,” he said. The two Finns had no choice but to turn the car around and set off back in the direction they‘d come, searching the map for other border crossing points.
People working close to them said that the Robertsons’ behaviour towards Räikkönen was akin to worship. It was difficult for them to say anything remotely negative about their protégé, whatever actually happened. This approach was perhaps based on the early stage of their relationship and the Renault Formula competition in which Räikkönen’s success was more the rule than the exception. On one occasion, when Kimi failed to gain pole position on the starting grid, the Robertsons investigated. They recalled that Räikkönen had taken a phone call just before the time trials. The party on the other end was eventually identified as Paula, Kimi’s mother, and the subject as a difference of opinion over his girlfriend of the moment. According to Räikkönen, he shouted at his managers, demanding that his private affairs should never again be interfered with in such a way. Although David Robertson was obviously only trying his best to find out whether something was wrong, Räikkönen was clearly upset about the way that things had been handled.
Finland’s 2007 midsummer celebrations were just around the corner, and the Formula One drivers’ season was approaching its half-way point. The second part of the American section of the tour, the seventh race in the series, would take place at Indianapolis. Even though many distracting thoughts must have been running through Kimi Räikkönen’s mind in a location so far from home, he showed no external signs of this. But the wish to speak to his old friend Kalle Jokinen just wouldn’t go away. According to Jokinen, his mobile phone rang on that Indianapolis weekend while he was in a karaoke bar with friends. The caller was Räikkönen, who said that the team had a lot of work to do to build a car that would see off McLaren. Then Kimi obviously recognised from the background noise that his friend was not at work. ”Could you go and sing ‘Truck driver’ for me,” he said. “And leave the line open while you’re singing. It helps, because sometimes it’s a little lonely out here.” Jokinen did as he’d been asked and went off to perform Matti Esko’s version of Räikkönen’s favourite song at the top of his voice. Another of Kimi’s karaoke favourites is Kari Tapio’s ”Pole position” – for obvious reasons. Thanking his friend, Räikkönen said he’d get in touch later.
Räikkönen’s fans had to cope with an extra ration of nervousness as they followed the last laps and the battle between Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld for 4th, 5th and 6th place. Even though they were only driving to beat each other, their final positions would have an effect on the struggle for the championship. Quite unexpectedly, they had been given the decider’s role in the bigger battle. While everyone was concentrating on Räikkönen and Hamilton, the fierce tussle between these three turned into the heart of the competition. On several occasions, it looked as if they would force each other off the circuit. Tyres were smoking and brakes were locking up, but the trio kept going. On this occasion, luck was at last on Räikkönen’s side. He won the race, and Hamilton was unable to do better than seventh position. After this incredible phase, this meant that Räikkönen became only the third Finn to win the world championship! “It’s difficult to find any words,” he said after the victory. “My feelings are so strong. “
(Comment by Jean Todt)
”Kimi’s focus on the job he’s doing is absolute. He wants to succeed and has all the necessary motivation. He’s also normal in the sense that he’s not always happy with the way things are at any point in time. The team supports him in every way, and the results have been good, says Todt. According to him, Räikkönen did not make a single unnecessary complaint during the whole of the 2007 season. “That’s how he’s made. He’ll open his mouth when it’s the right thing to do, and he doesn’t speak without good reason. “He’s an easy guy to work with. He gets straight to the point and concentrates on the essence. He’s able to say “Yes” or “No” as the situation demands. For the team this is good, because his answers are always clear and they don’t have to wonder what the question might have been.