The second Ice-Time
Another ex-world champion returns to Formula 1. After 2 years of hobbying in the WRC, Kimi realized he missed wheel-to wheel racing, and so Kimi’s sacred fire came back.
When Kimi Räikkönen closed the Formula 1 door after 2009, it didn’t seem for any moment he would ever come back to the top class of circuit racing. His third season with Ferrari went laborious. The Flying Finn only scored 1 victory, 4 podium places, an anonymous 12th position in his last race and an even so laborious 6th place in the world championship. The only victory in Spa was certainly a good one. For Ferrari, apparently it wasn’t enough. They hired Fernando Alonso. Not Felipe Massa, but Kimi Raikkonen had to give room to Alonso. ‘’Only when I get a top seat, I’ll stay in F1’’, that’s what Kimi said, realizing that all of those places were occupied. However, he was already done with all the obligations of being a F1 driver. Raikkonen obviously has never been a lover of press conferences, interviews with journalists, sponsor activities and all the other things he had to do.
This writer knows it. In 2004 I got the rare chance to talk to this guy who’s called ‘’The Iceman’’ after many requests. The man with almost the childish voice… His nickname doesn’t only fit his coolness behind the wheel, but also on the icy silence in his conversations. A British colleague wished me luck. ‘’Do you know Chief, the Indian from the movie One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest?’’, he asked. ‘’He talks more than Kimi, and he couldn’t even talk.’’ Räikkönen was at that time doing his 4th season of his career, the third with McLaren, and in that year, the Mercedes engines died in droves. At the moment of the interview his 4th engine just broke down. Add to this that an Italian journalist in our company, who bragged about the reliability of the Ferrari and Michael Schumacher’s winning streak, spiced up things. As you’ll understand, this would become a laborious interview.
First question: How would you describe you season so far, Kimi?
Kimi’s answer: ’’difficult’’.
That’s the way it went for at least 10 minutes. 10 minutes, wherein the McLaren driver looked a few times just a little too emphatically on his watch. McLaren’s PR-lady saved us from our suffering. Räikkönen was in a hurry to get to his fiancee Jenni Dahlman, a former Miss Scandinavia with who he’s still been married these days, and his managers David and Steve Robertson. The Finn nodded with a villainous smile in our direction. Yet again 2 journalists with an illusion less.
As cool and unfathomable as he seems to be in public, as passionated the Iceman becomes behind the wheel from a proper racing car. He becomes another human. It was so already when he was driving the Formula Renault in England. In the winter-series of that class he won in 1999 the first four races in a row and in 2000 he captured his first championship title in the British Formula Renault championship, by winning 7 of the 10 races. In total he grabbed thirteen wins in 23 races, a winning percentage of 56%!
In that period the talented Finn was accompanied by the Dutch ex-driver Gerrit van Kouwen, who was one of the first persons who could be planning the rough diamond. In 2004 Van Kouwen told before a reportage in this magazine this about Raikkonen: ‘’Brands hatch was Kimi’s first time in a semi-factory Formula Renault car which was prepared for him. On my question to Kimi, if we should change something between the distance to the wheel and the pedals, Kimi only said: ‘’It’s okay’’. In his first run his best lap he was only 2 seconds off the pace from a real factory car from Van Diemen. Unbelievable!
In his first test at Mugello we had to be on the track at half past 8 in the morning. I wanted to leave early but Kimi said to me: ‘’Wake me up at 10 past 8’’. Everybody was fussing about his first Formula 1 test, except Kimi himself. He jumped in the car and immediately drove a world class time. The second test day Peter Sauber came to the track, to watch Kimi. Peter first tough about a testing contract, but the Robertsons said: ‘’No, no testing contract. Give him a seat. He’s ready for it.’’ Before that conscious article I spoke to Kimi’s manager Steve Robertson. He described Kimi’s talent this way: ‘’My reason to work with Kimi is his unbelievable judgment that he has already since the start of his career, and his flair in the car. There’s a difference between good and really good, but where I was at the first category, Kimi was a class of his own, another league.’’
The rest is history. With a preliminary super-license to drive a F1 car (Max Mosley first wanted to see it before he wanted to believe in Kimi) Kimi scored as 21 year old rookie in his first ever GP a point scoring 6th place and immediately a WDC point. Formula 1 was introduced to an amazing talent. McLaren thanked Sauber warmly for his talent spotting and took the young Finn at the end of the 2001 season. Raikkonen drove 5 seasons for McLaren wherein he scored 9 GP wins, and the vice championship behind Schumacher in 2003 and 2005.
Schumacher´s temporary retirement made room at Ferrari for Kimi to go there. Ron Dennis probably did not shed a tear because of it. Kimi became a party animal from the purest type. As big earner he didn’t have to watch his money. Legendary was his visit to the London’s strip-club, wherein Kimi probably thought the ladies were still dressed too much. Raikkonen decided to make a strip-act himself, but the bouncers didn’t feel much for it and did their jobs. A nice set-off that Steve Robertson wanted to sketch. ‘’Kimi is a quiet boy, who likes to sit on the sofa and watch a DVD with Jenni. He doesn’t like to go out, he prefers something which will be delivered instead of going to an expensive restaurant. Actually, Kimi is a homester.’’
Kimi’s transition to Ferrari was a golden move. In his first season was an immediate hit, ironically enough because of his successors at McLaren didn’t want to give each other anything, creaming off points from each other which were much needed. By winning 2007’s last GP in Sao Paulo, Kimi captured the world championship, just 1 point in front of Alonso and Hamilton, mission accomplished.
The following 2 years were laborious, Raikkonen was a worldchampion, he had nothing to prove. At Ferrari they were flirting with Alonso, back then, a Renault driver again. The Finn however sometimes won a race (Malaysia and Spain) in 2008 and (Spa) in 2009, but the secret fire was gone, Ferrari’s non winning cars were part of it.
When the Scuderia, as expected, presented Fernando Alonso before the 2010 season, there was no room for the world champion from 2007 left. Kimi didn’t seem to have much desire to race against the Spaniard. He had already shown what he was capable of. Just like Felipe Massa, Kimi had a continuous contract with Ferrari, but Massa could stay and Kimi was ‘’kindly thanked’’ for his services. After this happened, Kimi became the best paid driver without F1 seat. Ferrari had an annual salary for him to leave. ‘’Thanks for all the support for 3 years at SF,’’ he tweeted at the 1st October of 2009, thereafter it became quiet around the Finn.
Away from the press, in the rest of his pre-retirement, Kimi chose to do things which he liked. He did 2 seasons in the WRC. 2 seasons with a Citroen, 1 season with his own team. With his point scoring 8th place in Jordan, Kimi became the first driver after Carlos Reutemann who scored points in both F1 and WRC. Obviously fun in the rallying world, grabbed some points, but never got exceptional results. His last WRC outing ended with a 3rd consecutive retirement. Thereafter, Kimi probably thought, I’m done. His NASCAR outing in the States can’t be seen as a serious career step as well. In his last NASCAR race at 28/05/2011 Kimi finished in 27th, with parts from others underneath his car and a fine for speeding in the pit-lane in his pocket. His NASCAR adventure didn’t give him any prize money, but gave him one important insight. ‘’I missed the wheel-to-wheel racing on track, which is actually more fun than driving against a ticking clock, as in the WRC.’’ Kimi just wanted relax and have wheel-to-wheel fights.
And so ended a tweet silence of 2 years on Tuesday the 29th November of 2011: ‘’Hello everybody, it has been some time, but I am back! Expect more from here in the future. He just signed a two-year deal with Lotus-Renault, which will be called Lotus next year and he handled the news as the typical Raikkonen: ‘’I got a telephone call from certain people in the F1. We got a deal, and I’m very happy with it. In a press release of Lotus-Renault, Kimi said he is more motivated than ever. It won’t be a problem according to Kimi. ‘’Otherwise, I wouldn’t have come back. Everybody always talk about my motivation, but apart from myself I know what I do and I don’t care what others think of my way of doing this. I wouldn’t have signed a contract if I wouldn’t enjoy those years. I never lost passion for F1, but I never had passion from all the things around F1’’. Oh yeah, still just as talkative.
Gerrit van Kouwen (accompanied Kimi in his Formula Ford years)
‘’I like Kimi’s comeback, because I haven’t seen many races the past few years. With the announcement of Kimi’s comeback, I’ll go and visit a race every now and then, I think. Whether it’s wise to come back? What’s wise? It’s just like Schumacher, if Kimi will enjoy himself, why not? After two years of rallying it probably became itchy again for Kimi. I also think that Kimi found out you have to work very very hard to get in the top at the WRC. I don’t know if he was committed enough. It’s not just driving a stage with a few pace-notes: there’s a hell of a lot more to do. Don’t forget you’ll drive against guys who’ve done this all their life. When you look at pure talent, Kimi is unbeatable. He is ‘’naturally gifted’’, as the English people would say. You’ll notice it when you’re sitting next to him in a car on a public road. As smooth as he drives, his assessment skills. Much will depend on his car, and if Lotus is developing well. How he gets along with the tyres. Kimi likes an oversteering car, a car which is pointy, which turns in aggressively. Actually when you turn in, the turn has been made already. Schumacher likes that too, but had troubles with those tyres.’’
Olav Mol (saw as F1 commentator all 157 races from Räikkönen)
‘’I’d like to see the racer Kimi Räikkönen back. He is one of the guys we’re watching F1 for, if only because we are freed from the Senna’s and Petrov’s in this world. If it’s gonna be a success? Well, when he gets fun doing it, it can become pretty good fun. The question is what Lotus told him. They say they know in 2 years where they are, and Renault isn’t the winning Renault anymore. There are rumors Kimi has purchased something with Raikkonen-Robertson racing, maybe to give young talents the opportunity to drive. That sounds logic to me. At least Lotus has got a driver who can develop a car, because Heidfeld, Petrov and Senna couldn’t. There are in the recent past some guys who made a comeback in different racing classes. There was 10 years between his last race and his comeback in Jan Lammers case, the biggest gap ever. While Jacques Villeneuve’s comeback wasn’t a success, Nigel Mansell found out his fat ass didn’t fit in the car anymore. In Michael Schumacher’s case, there’s not much to cheer for. But Kimi is one of the top class drivers, just like Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton. They’ve got the word racing in their pants tattooed. He misses the F1, he says. He hasn’t got anything to prove anymore. The expectations are not too high and maybe because of that, it’s the perfect moment to come back. Financially he’s completely independent, that’s why you can do crazy things on that age, you’ll get drunk in strip clubs. But he’s older now and has left those things behind him. Boys like Kimi and Schumacher think F1 is the best, something faster on 4 wheels, you can’t find in this world.’’