Beat Zehnder (52), the long-serving Sauber team manager, spoke with SonntagsBlick about his Finnish buddy.
When did you meet Kimi Räikkönen for the first time?
In September 2000 at his first test for us. In Mugello, on probably the most difficult test track in the world.
Your first impression?
Honestly, I can’t really remember. There was just a slim boy standing there and he was quick right away. That surprised everyone – and is very rare in Formula 1.
So it was sympathy at first sight with the racing driver Räikkönen?
You could call it that. We knew immediately that we had a great driver in the team. I had to talk to him a lot because he had no idea and the Formula 1 regulations are almost as thick as the Bible.
That was all?
No. Our physio Josef Leberer had to get him fit first. I mean really fit.
Kimi scored nine World Championship points in the first year, which would correspond to 52 points in today’s standings …
Yeah, that was sensational. And our relationship got better and better. Kimi could always trust me – until today. That’s why we are perhaps the best Formula 1 buddies.
So one reason why Kimi now wants to get rid of the Ferrari pain at Sauber …
Because of me, Kimi certainly doesn’t extend his career. He just wants to race and have fun. He believes in the team, sees that it’s going up, and an important point is technical director Simone Resta, whom he knows from Ferrari.
Where and when did the decisive talks take place?
I don’t like to talk about these things. But team boss Frédéric Vasseur and I went to Kimi’s house in Baar twice after Monza. Later, Fred made the contract with him.
Your sympathy for Kimi will last forever …
I hope so. We are often together privately, have a chat and we have never lied to each other. That is very rare in our sport.
How many Sauber people from 2001 are still at the race track?
Three. Physio Josef Leberer, the brake specialist Bruno Rohr and me.
Your shock moments with Kimi in the Sauber 2001?
There was Imola, when he suddenly only held the steering wheel in his hands at full speed. Kimi didn’t brake, but tried to re-engage the steering wheel with the quick lock. And in Suzuka he had the worst accident when the rear suspension broke and he crashed into Alesi’s Jordan. Fortunately, he remained uninjured.