We join Kimi as he turns on the charm in Turkey for a guest appearance on German television
In 129BC, the Romans took control of Anatolia, a land of several independent kingdoms covering the space we now call Turkey. Evidence of this occupation is still tangible, and it is at one of the more spectacular architectural edifices that Kimi Räikkönen finds himself on this warm, bright day in May. One wonders, then, what the Romans might have made of Wetten, Dass..?, a German television spectacular which has taken over the imposing amphitheater at Aspendos for one night only. The quarterly programme is as popular in German-speaking Europe as it´s possible to be, with some 30,000 people applying for tickets each month. The TV audience is estimated at a massive 50 million people, so Kimi can reasonably expect his appearance to make an impact. We arrive at the venue and it´s hot and dry. The Wetten, Dass..? team have already been there for a fortnight, setting up camp behind old Roman structure. This is no small logistical undertaking, and the number of diesel generators whirring away is testament to the amount of power required to keep the show ticking over – and it hasn´t even started yet!
The thought of guesting on a live show that will be watched by some 50 million Europeans doesn´t seem to be affecting Kimi, though. “I´ve done this type of thing before,” he explains. “So I don´t get too nervous.” Upon arrival, we are shown to the Green Room, which is in fact, a bare white-walled structure inside a cavernous tent. Here, the guests of the show each have enclosed areas in which to chill out before the show. Kimi relaxes: eating a banana while flicking though a batch of motorsport magazines. A number of production staff, clipboards clutched tightly underarm, knock from time to time to check that all is well. After Kimi has been afforded time to settle down, we are offered a tour of the vast and imposing amphitheater. Kimi, like so many here today, is taken aback by the sheer power of the venue. “It´s amazing,” he says, looking up at the ranks of worn-smooth stone seating. “It reminds me of when I visited Athens for the Olympics last year – so much history. Really impressive.”
For now, though, the place is taken over by the tools of 21st century television production, with lights, cables, cameras and monitors competing for space. Kimi is shown his marks´, that is: where he will stand, sit, be introduced and so on. He returns to his dressing room to kill a few hours before the live show gets underway. During this respite, Kimi records an interview for the show´s website before posing for photos with the other stars of the show, who include socialite Paris Hilton, Columbian singer Shakira and the popular classical singing quartet, Il Divo. The master of ceremonies is the energetic Thomas Gottschalk, a man clearly excited about having Formula 1´s latest winner as a guest. “It´s a bonus for Wetten, Dass..? to have Kimi on the show,” he says. “Grand Prix drivers are a special breed and the crowd will be really pleased to see him. Kimi is very popular in Germany, but I know that our audiences all over Europe are keen to hear what he has to say. He is very friendly and open-minded, a pleasure to meet.”
The format for the show itself is simple. Each guest is introduced by Gottschalk before joining him on the sofa for a chat. They are then invited to make a decision on the outcome of a, usually precarious, challenge that will be undertaken live by a member of the public. In Kimi´s case, the scenario concerns a Swiss lorry driver who has set himself the challenge to knocking over carefully balanced eggs with his truck and leaving them unbroken – believe me, it makes sense when you see it. Kimi will have the challenge explained to him by Gottschalk and simply has to use his judgement as to whether it will be completed successfully. Should the contestant fail, the celebrity who backed them will undertake a forfeit of the host´s choosing!
An audience of some 5000 people is expected to arrive, with all roads leading to the event chock-full of coaches carrying excitable groups to this ancient cultural centre. It´s relatively calm backstage, though, giving little impression of the organized chaos that is going on outside as the audience make their way in. With a couple of hours to go until showtime, the noise of the masses becomes audible, ramping up excitement levels by another notch. Dusk falls and the sky is grey-blue. Tension is rising like the bubbles in a local hookah pipe. The time seems to pass more quickly now, and it´s soon time for Kimi to make his entrance. He emerges from the back of a black Mercedes-Benz S-Class to make his way through the front of the venue onto the brightly lit stage. He is welcomed by the host and the crowd applaud wildly. There are even a few “Kimi” banners being waved.
After answering questions from the host, who is keen to hear Kimi assess his chances of winning the 2005 drivers´ title, it´s time for Kimi to place his bet. A live link to Switzerland is established, and the protagonist explains his attempt before climbing aboard his substantial lorry. There is silence in the auditorium as he begins to crawl gingerly between the eggs. The challenge lasts for roughly a minute, but it seems that a few eggs have indeed been smashed by the truck. A final count is needed before Kimi´s fate is known. He loses the bet and has to take the forfeit. As the show winds on, more and more celebrities join Kimi on the large beige sofa. The laughter continues for another two hours before an explosion of light and sound brings the event to a carnivalesque close. The crowd make their way back onto their coaches and the riggers start dismantling their apparatus from the impressive old stone – a job that will last well into the next day. And then? 129BC doesn´t seem that far away at all.