Talking about Kimi Räikkönen
He is the F1-driver of the new generation. Way too inexperienced. Way too unpolished. Way too stubborn. And way too good, way too soon.
“Say *****!” There’s still time for Monza qualification so a Finnish man has time to keep a language course in a bus that is filled with Italian F1-fans. “P****”, an Italian boy learns. After the important substantive has been learned, it’s time to move to names. “Häkkinen!” “Räikkönen!” “Schumacher”, an Italian tries to say but he is shouted silent. The learning lesson stops for a moment while the Italians can take a picture of the Finns. But repetition is the key to learning. “Then say P*****” Although the Finnish flag is waving in Monza it isn’t the number one destination for Finnish formula-tourists. Budapest, Barcelona and Hockenheim are traditional places. In the plane that took us to Milan – Monza is 20 km from Milan – a rumor was circulating that the Finnish employees of Hewlett Packard had cancelled their trip because of the terror-strikes. But Sonera’s people aren’t afraid like they are. The atmosphere is in the roof and the truth is that other liquids than petrol are used. “This is already my 11th drink”, one Sonera-man who is enthusiastic over the serving during the flight crows behind his gintonic half an hour before we arrive in Milan.
We are experiencing an exceptional motorsport-weekend: the main focus isn’t on Michael Schumacher. The Italian paper Il Gazzetta dello Sport has dedicated almost two pages for flying Finns. Mika Häkkinen has announced that he will take a one year leave. He will be replaced by 21-year old Kimi Räikkönen who cost Ron Dennis 160 million marks to get him out of Sauber. That’s a lot of a driver who nobody knew anything about 13 months ago. One can only guess Räikkönen’s salary at McLaren but without doubt it will be more than the 6 millions Sauber paid him according to Italian sources. Nine points in 15 races with Sauber’s car is a sensation. As is also the fact that Räikkönen has fought with his team mate, the big promise Nick Heidfeld, evenly all through the season. Heidfeld has after all a long career in F3, testing driver for McLaren and races in Prost team. When looking at the amount of hours and the machinery, Räikkönen has made a miracle resulting in Team Clerasil – which has been the nick name on the paddock for the squad group Räikkönen and Heidfeld – breaking up. There have been omens in the air right from the beginning. Räikkönen scored points in his very first race. Mostly people were astonished by the fact that he was the only driver who didn’t drive off the track during the whole weekend.
Who found this boy who had grown fastened into the steering wheel? You have to look for the answer from Norway. A karting-company guy Harald Huismann had a year before seen Räikönen’s driving lines. He contacted manager David Robertson who had only a year ago pushed the teenager Jenson Button into Williams F1-team. “This you have to see”, Huismann had said. Finally the opportunity to test for Sauber came thanks to Steve Robertson. He was immediately convinced of Räikkönen’s skills. In September 12th 2000 Räikkönen sits for the first time in a formula-car. He has under him 800 horsepower which is 600 horsepower more than in Formula Renault, Räikkönen’s current vehicle. Räikkönen decides to drive just like they say. “Don’t push too hard” And Kimi takes it easy. “Now you can squeeze but try and spin in that specific corner.” And Kimi squeezes and spins in the exact corner. On his 3rd testing day Räikkönen is faster than Sauber’s test driver Pedro Diniz. In November Räikkönen makes a 3-year contract with Sauber. Räikkönen’s contract changes at once the F1-recruiting. The teams wake up and start to look for real talents from lower classes which leads to more younger and inexperienced drivers rising up to F1. The hunger for winning, speed on track, and having a brilliant way to take in new things are enough.
“Räikkönen. Bueno!”, a grey-haired taxi driver praises the boy who has just taken the 9th position in qualification. The taxi takes us to the village Il Triuggio. There the biggest heroes in motorsport get peace. There is only one hotel, Hotel Fossati. It’s the safe home for F1-stars. The lobby has hundreds of signed photos of drivers who have spent the night there. JJ Lehto. Carlos Reutemann. Niki Lauda. Michael Schumacher. Ayrton Senna. The elevator door is full of F1-team’s stickers. You notice the difference to a normal middle class hotel when you speak to the manager. There is a helicopter field behind the hotel. The hotel has a Gerhard Berger-suite and two Schumacher-suites of which the bigger one is – of course – for the big brother. The car garage is filled with Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsches. The tennis court can in a minute be changed into a football court if some of the drivers, often Michael Schumacher, wants so. There is also a complete gym. The bathroom in the lobby is so clean that you could have a picnic on the floor. There is a guard in front of the hotel 24/7 and he is there for a reason. About 20 f1-groupies hang around the hotel during the whole GP. Just as the sun has set a slim guy walks by in the lobby.
“I’ll go and eat. Let’s talk after that”, Räikkönen says while walking by. Before he has time to run down the stairs to the restaurant, the hotel manager grabs Kimi familiarly from the hand. “Kimi, Kimi.” When his overwhelming attention stops, Räikkönen goes into the night. But you can’t hide from other drivers in a F1-hotel. Olivier Panis hangs in the hotel bar. He is there with a blonde girlfriend who wears a lot of makeup. Panis eats salty biscuits and talks with other employees from BAR. Heinz-Harald Frenzen carries a brown brief case and looks small.
9.30 pm Räikkönen comes from his dinner. He has had a salami pizza. And maybe a beer? “Nooo, no alcohol before the race” Räikkönen wears jeans and a loose sweater with the number 43. He sits on the sofa chair and doesn’t correct his position. When touching his 8000 marks Nokia Zippo he looks like a boardskater who couldn’t be less interested. They tell that Peter Sauber got upset because Räikkönen’s team-shirt always hangs outside his loose jeans. Finally Kimi agreed to let go of his jeans but the shirt never disappeared inside the trousers. They say that Räikkönen is a boy who asks too often why? And if the answer isn’t well enough justified, he doesn’t take the advice or order. Mother Paula sees Kimi getting through the army as a bigger miracle than his victory in Britain’s Formula Renault last year. When manager Steve Robertson called Räikkönen and told him that he is now a McLaren-man, Räikkönen commented it by saying “aha.” The coolness of Räikkönen is sometimes almost autistic, on the other hand it’s the acting like a machine and the ability to shut out everything that’s irrelevant from his mind that is one of his greatest strengths. When Räikkönen’s water bottle broke in the middle of the race in Hungaroring, a liter and half-filled his helmet. Räikkönen didn’t see much, drove a couple of times to the lawn, but couldn’t make himself go to the pit stop even though his visor was sticky and his face was covered with sugary liquid. Whereas Häkkinen has been criticized of having no fighting spirit when he meets small setbacks Räikkönen again, can change his driving style and drive flat out with even three tyres.
One story. Summer 1988. It rains in Pori so that it’s like standing in a shower. Matti, Paula and Rami Räikkönen are in the trailer. Big brother Rami, a skillful karting driver himself, has said to his parents that he doesn’t dare to drive in that weather. The family is watching with their hearts in their throats how the self-made karting car drives around and around on an empty track. The driver is 8-year old Kimi. The mother hopes that the boy would already come back. Finally the car stops in the furthest corner. Kimi waves wildly to his parents and father Matti rushes out in the pouring raining. “I’m out of gas, bring more.” A year earlier Matti Räikkönen have made it. The brothers Kimi and Rami drove endlessly their ‘Päijänne-race’ on the lawn outside their house in Espoo. If the lawn was dry it was watered with a hose so that they could get their mopeds sliding and so that mud would fly all over. The father decided to buy the boys a karting car and move the sound problem to asphalt tracks. He probably didn’t guess where his decision would finally lead to. Matti Räikkönen did when things were at worst four jobs so that he could fund Kimi’s hobby and later on Rami’s rallying. Mother Paula worked as a clerk. “Now I have a chance to pay back to mom and dad. Things were many times put on ice because of money”, Kimi says and you can’t fail to see how satisfied the look on his face is. All of a sudden the interview is stopped because the hotel manager’s son comes with a chocolate cake. The star has to taste this magnificent cake, he simply has to. “No thanks. No sweet”, Kimi rejects. Räikkönen’s trainer, Jukka Viitasaari, says that Kimi has left almost all fat, red meat and sugar out of his food. “He eats healthier than many top sportsmen.” The driver takes care of his body with the right nutrition – the salami pizza was an exception.
Viitasaari says that Kimi runs 10 km in under 40 minutes and 3500 meters in Cooper-test. Although the F1-drivers are these days in top form, those results are exceptional. “Mika Salo ran 3200 meters”, Viitasaari knows. When Räikkönen is in Finland he runs in the surroundings of his childhood home in Espoon Keskus or in Helsinki central park usually over 10 km at a time. In GP’s Kimi has a habit of jogging around the track a couple of times. Viitasaari thinks that Räikkönen’s ability to control his body is phenomenal. “Kimi could have become a gymnast. He learned to stand on his hands in four days. He immediately succeeded on the sleigh.” Räikkönen’s co-ordination skills are developed in many ways. In one practice they put a one meter board on a football where Räikkönen has to balance. “Häkkinen was is his youth in a circus school”, Viitasaari reminds. Viitasaari has trained many top sportsmen. According to him he has only met one sportsman who has had as strong will to win as Räikkönen has, Arto Bryggare.
“When they fail they don’t explain. In fact they aren’t even able to talk because they are so disappointed in themselves because they couldn’t win.” Anecdot: In the army that Kimi hated he was the 2nd best orienteer. The best one was an orienteer in the national team. Respecting team mates too much is without doubt a hinder for winning. But there has to be drivers who Kimi adores, some driver’s clean driving lines or something. “I don’t have any idols”, Räikkönen says. Only barely does he agree to admit that Schumi and Häkkinen has to be good drivers because they have won WDC’s. Snap. Snap. Snap. Kimi stares at his Zippo, writes a text-message, answers shortly and rubs his neck. If there is one thing where Kimi’s professionalism is still questioned, it’s dealing with the media. According to an experienced sport reporter Kimi is in fact a warm person but his shyness makes his behavior clumsy and the answers are often very short.
Finns are used to that but abroad his behavior is seen as impoliteness. Räikkönen’s withdrawal is also seen by the fact that he hasn’t much become friends with other drivers. “I went out with Heidfeld a couple of times in the beginning of the season. Now that has stopped too. I don’t really have any mates among the drivers with whom I could spend time with.” Earlier the same day the F1-circles have been shocked when the Italian Alex Zanardi had an accident in Cart-Series. Zanardi is put in coma and they had to amputate his both legs. Isn’t Kimi afraid? Isn’t his mother afraid? “I don’t think about fear. If I would I would be in the wrong profession but mothers are always afraid. Women are like that.” Kikka Kuosmanen who co-ordinates Räikkönen’s press contacts in Finland says that Kimi is a guy who simply thinks it’s ‘cool’ to cruise 360 km/h. Cool, that’s it. “Yeah, I usually take a nap half an hour before the race”, Räikkönen tells. If Häkkinen is an Iceman then Räikkönen is a carbonic acid Iceman. And a man like that always means troubles for his team mate. The most cynical British reporters have claimed that David Coulthard is afraid of Räikkönen’s performance. If Räikkönen can win Coulthard several times next season, there might well be two Finns in McLaren in 2003. Although they doubt that Mika Häkkinen will ever come back. “If Häkkinen starts to feel anxiety over changing diapers and home life, he will come back, otherwise he won’t”, a British reporter said.
It’s 10 pm, Kimi has to go to sleep because he has a race tomorrow – an important race, Steve Robertson hints. But the wonder boy doesn’t get to sleep that easily. The fans stalk everywhere. Two 20-year old girls grab him. The camera takes photos but Kimi doesn’t smile. It’s not his way. He grins. Kimi Räikkönen drove in 7th in Monza. What is the magic drink then made of? F1-commentators say that the formula of the magic drink is a top secret. BS! F1-drivers drink a 15 % energy drink, trainer Jukka Viitasaari tells. It’s a malt dextrin drink based on carbohydrates with added B-vitamin and salt. You get it in different flavors, berry or fruit. Mostly the drivers drink the same liquids that bikers and runners drink.