by Leo Turrini
Summer ode to Kimi Räikkönen, someone who carries Maranello in his heart. But also a driver who divides, who is the first one to be crucified and put to public ridicule. That’s why so many opinions about him are totally wrong.
Probably I’m going to inflict a disappointment to the August director of this spectacular magazine (and to my three readers, of course). However, it is true: I, who from the remote 2007 on proudly proclaim myself ‘ferrarista di rito raikkoniano’, have spoken to Kimi my entire life just a couple of times. That is to say, I do not know him really. There is nothing personal. There is no privileged bond. If he met me, he would not recognize me. Nonetheless, I was-am-will be what I said a few lines ago.
At the root of a conviction
Now that the date of 30th July, following the Hungarian events, was officially designated by the competent authorities for the celebrations of the Holy Drinker, well, I feel obliged to explain how and where my belief was born. The belief, I make it short, that Räikkönen is one of the best drivers of the last twenty years. I start from the beginning (from the first meeting, I mean). March 2001. Completely dopey by jet lag and the time zone, I walk down to the entrance gates to the Melbourne Paddock. GP of Australia, race number one for the season. I’m getting closer to the turnstiles and I notice a blond young man who is arguing, though softly, with the marshals. The young man murmured: Sorry, I do not have the pass but I’m a Formula One driver. And the marshals replied: Go away, we have never even seen you on a picture, think up something else or pay the ticket like everyone else. And the blond repeated: You are wrong, I’m the new driver of Sauber, my name is Kimi Räikkönen… With hindsight, the insistent stubbornness of the Australian marshals was a symptom of an omen. Like it or not, in spite of excellent results, in his career the Finn has often clashed with the prejudice of people who pontificate without knowing, without checking, without realizing reality. In fact, in 2001 Kimi was at the service of Sauber, I enjoyed the scene for a while and then I also wrote an article about it because the episode was too funny. They let him in, eh. But after half an hour of back and forth! Now, it must have been that bizarre occasion that made me curious about the character. So, I’ve been keeping an eye on the subject. Damn! He was going strong. So much so that when McLaren, who was still the true McLaren at that time, not the bad copy of the present, announced that it had chosen him to replace Hakkinen, in short, I was not even surprised. We understand each other? I’m talking about 2001. A lifetime ago. That alone would be enough to dismantle the clichés of Räikkönen. If one is lazy-lethargic-floppy-indolent-submissive-uncaring-discontinuous-distracted-acephalous and delirious (all things that have been cheerfully incurred on the account of one of the four humans to have won the world championship by driving a Ferrari in the last fifty years , from 1967 onwards) now, if someone is all of these things, how do you explain that in 2017 he is still on track? If the detractors in actual permanent service were right, it should be assumed that Räikkönen is protected by P2, Spectre, KGB of Stalin, CIA and Mossad. If the protesters were right, he would have disappeared from the scene for quite a while.
At Ferrari Schumacher and Todt wanted him
And yet he is still here, he still does the pole at Montecarlo and does a race like that in Budapest and if one starts to look at the numbers without blinkers he realizes that his performance is very good. So, maybe we should revisit the chronicles, to end with the nonsense. So then, let’s take the time machine as well because how it was asserted it is taken and in the end everything is explained. Summer 2005. In Ferrari they know that the legendary Schumi is about to pull the plug, from there then in twelve months. President Montezemolo would like very much aim at Fernando Alonso who with Renault is winning his first title. L’avvocato (lawyer) has a soft spot for the champions who also know how to gear towards the media: the Spaniard is perfect from this point of view. Only Jean Todt and Schumi have a different idea. In their view, the ideal candidate for the Succession Impossible is Finnish. It is Räikkönen, who in the meantime with McLaren is losing a championship because of repeated failures of the Mercedes engine. Were they right, the French and the German? It can be discussed infinitely, of course. Certainly the motivation that Todt and Schumi presented to the chairman was of devastating clarity: Alonso in character is not suited to Ferrari’s logic, Kimi instead is, because he never puts himself in front of the team.
Those who cannot comprehend just look at the numbers
It went like this, although there are still dear friends who cannot comprehend it. It went like this and here the talent of Fernando is in no way at question. The rest tell the numbers. In the first cycle at Maranello, Räikkönen and Ferrari won three world championships (one driver, two constructors). Alonso has been 5 years in Emilia, specific faults and not only his own, but the balance is cruel. Zero titles, Jose Mourinho would have exclaimed. Zero titles. Point. Why I pull out this story? Because from there originates the clash between what is true and what is probable. In 2007 they didn’t yet tell stories of “fake news” and Donald Trump was only damaging on TV. On the other hand, Kimi winning the championship with one point ahead of Alonso and Hamilton, the story that he didn’t win was circulating, for heaven’s sake. Those from McLaren have lost it! Did it count that Fernando and Lewis were driving a car that was an abusive copy of the Red? For god’s sake: it did not matter. An external driver was caught up in whatever scandal, there was no painful mail sent by Räikkönen, he did not ask on Saturday night on which lap the main competitor would stop at the box, and so on. Yet, he was the champion by chance, almost an intruder, a usurper.
Discretion, education and fair play are defects?
Eh! To those who ask me why I am so fond of the guy who in 2001 should not even set foot in Melbourne’s paddock, I always answer banal: because I’m a ferrarista, because he won an incredible title in desperate circumstances, because I have never heard Kimi say one word against the Scuderia, not even when he was treated not bad, but rather very bad. Discretion and education and fair play should be virtues but in a world upside down they become defects. Let’s take 2008. Räikkönen is the reigning world champion, he has done it right at first shot with Ferrari like Scheckter and Fangio. Consequence: Montezemolo, who unfortunately already started to lose it and I say that as I am a true friend, comes out declaring: now it is Massa’s turn. A colossal stupidity, it was immediately clear to everybody. It has nothing to do with Felipe, poor thing. Only that he now had set in motion a mechanism, not unrelated to the turbulent events of 2007. Alonso “had to” come to Ferrari. Mind you: It was an acceptable operation due to the value of the driver. But did it make sense to sacrifice Kimi and moreover in that way? No, not at all. Everyone knew it. You don’t expel a champion in that way, one who even with the disastrous single-seater of 2009 had been able to win at Spa. At Spa, not in the backyard of my house. The real Greats of F1 have often triumphed in the Ardennes. On the list there are the names of Clark. Senna. Schumi. Räikkönen… And here I come to the romantic aspect. Dismissed in the manner described, the Finn doesn’t make a fuss, doesn’t cause trouble, doesn’t attack anyone. He limits himself to a statement that is a tribute to the plain and unvarnished truth: “It’s business”. Translated: they leave me at home and pay me as well for an economic convenience. Not for a technical, sporting, competitive judgment. I would like to meet some of the “anti”, the members of the prestigious Par, the Anti Räikkönen Party, to ask them quietly: oh, but was the interpretation given by Kimi maybe wrong? Honestly, leaving Alonso always aside, the brave Massa was better than him? In which movie? And how would have Fernando behaved if, winning the title in 2010 (ouch. Abu Dhabi and Petrov…), Montezemolo had come out exclaiming: now it’s Massa’s turn?
Kimi has Ferrari inside!
I don’t want to rage, for heaven’s sake. Neither I’m interested in convincing anybody. I just say that for a while Räikkönen leaves to let off steam in the rallies, he even climbs in a Nascar pickup and takes time to complain on live TV because his bottom is going to be on fire, in that racing car, and in short in 2012 he comes back with Lotus and immediately one thing becomes clear to me. This one here, I say, is back because he has a dream. He is back because, in spite of the treatment received, he is still in love with Ferrari. He is back because he hopes to end his career as a Ferrari driver. Ferrari, here is another thing that many do not manage to understand, Kimi has it inside. He cares. There is a wonderful photo from Autumn 2007, the day after the miracle of Interlagos. Räikkönen at Maranello, happy like a child under the Christmas tree, surrounded by all the staff of the racing department. The most beautiful moment of his career, if not of his life. And so, 2012 in Lotus. He goes immediately like a rocket. I watch, I understand the motivation of the person and one summer afternoon I come across Montezemolo, really him. In Ferrari they speculate to end with Massa and the candidate as successor was Mark Webber, followed by Paul di Resta. Webber refuses, di Resta does not excite. I am courageous and I shoot: avvocato, here there is a debt to pay, get Kimi back and we will be at peace with this… To my total surprise, the president doesn’t avoid the provocation. But he expresses a valid objection: Alonso is fighting for the title with Vettel, I cannot go and tell him that we put him next to Räikkönen, he would not take it well. Meanwhile, Kimi impresses in Abu Dhabi (“leaving me alone, I know what I’m doing …”) ahead of the Spaniard and Fernando loses the championship there, no two ways about it. And in 2013 Räikkönen again triumphs in Australia and although he doesn’t see a dollar from Lotus he is 2nd in the championship, until he decides to stop because racing for free doesn’t help health.
Are you ready for the next heart attack?
At that point, Ferrari takes him back. And does absolutely the right thing, even though it makes those unhappy who were holding a grudge since 2005. Has anyone ever asked, regardless of the events that are coming to us soon, how come at Maranello, despite so many “extra” hostilities, Räikkönen is so well-liked? Is it always because (indeed, blame) of P2, KGB, Mossad, CIA? It won’t be because he has never created a mess in the team, has never called out in trouble, has never criticized the engineers or mechanics, has never said “geni-scemi” to his team? It won’t be because he will even be old but not become senile, otherwise you don’t get the pole at Monaco in 2017. And one like Marchionne, who has a piggybank instead of his heart, would confirm him in 2015-16-17 if he did not understand that the Holy Drinker is an added value? Oh god, I’m almost at the end. I apologize for the boring arguments, I also have to be scrapped. And I take this opportunity to say that if Ferrari replaced the last world champion with Leclerc I would have nothing to argue, it would be a generational solution. But for years I’ve heard suggested Bottas, Perez, Hülkenberg. Anything to not see Räikkönen, there were those who would even put in Ferrari a driver of a methane fueled bus in the town of Vimercate. Are you serious? I close this rambling with a second personal reference. January 2014. Kimi has won his bet. He returned to Maranello. Those who sent him away, the same people, “it’s business”, have called him back. I met him by chance at Montana, the temple-restaurant of the ferraristi. I tell him: you do not know, but three days after Interlagos 2007 I got a heart attack and it was your fault, the fault of that Brazilian Sunday that never seemed to end, between frozen fuel and appeals, etcetera. He listens. He hugs me. Laughs (the photo is on my Whatsapp profile). And he says, “Are you ready for the next one?” Are you ready for the next heart attack? Well, it did not happen. But in Budapest, July 30 2017, the day of San Kimi on the calendar, I came close.
source: Autosprint magazine; translation by me