source: Autohebdo Nr 2204, 21. February 2019
The Hinwil team, which has made authenticity its trademark over the years, is definitely protected from false pretences. Tenors of straight talking, Fred the boss and Kimi the champion lift the veil on their nascent relationship and assert their truths. It’s sometimes brutal, often funny and always moving. Dialogue of racers.
Did you know each other before you started working together?
Frédéric Vasseur: To my knowledge, no.
Kimi Räikkönen: Neither to mine. We must have said “hello” to each other in the paddock when we met, but it never went any further.
So, what did you talk about when you first met?
FV: Racing! Not very original, but we had to start somewhere.
KR: It was the day after Monza, if I remember correctly.
FV: He’s good. I went to your place in the afternoon and we let go for four hours.
KR: It’s all been done! Ferrari, Sauber, etc. We’ve done the world of F1 again!
FV: We didn’t even talk about the contract, just cars.
KR: That’s why you came back on Thursday.
FV: Yes, we shook hands and that was it.
Kimi, did Fred ask you what Sauber looked like in 2001?
KR: I think we talked about that, but the problem is that I don’t really remember myself what it was like. The part where we are now existed, that’s for sure. There was this L shape, but it was much smaller. The first time I came to meet Peter Sauber was in this building, but downstairs. Now, the management has gone higher up…
What were you doing in 2001, Fred? Did the names Sauber, Räikkönen mean anything to you?
FV: What is certain is that I didn’t have to focus on what Sauber could look like. In 2001, I was doing F3, but that was before the Euroseries….
You were already taking care of young drivers, you couldn’t help to be interested in this young Finnish guy who had just jumped from the tub of a Formula Renault to that of an F1…
FV: I remember a Finn in Spa in a FR 2.0, but I don’t really know if it was Kimi or Bottas a little later…
KR: Well, it must have been me since I took part in a European round at Spa in 2000!
FV: It must have been you, then! I was in F3 and I thought he was sending some heavy stuff, this kid.
KR: And how, I even won! It was just after my first test in an F1 car which I had done in Mugello. I had a hard time in the first few laps. I felt like I was being arrested. At the top of Raidillon, I was completely composed. It took me all day to find my benchmarks.
Kimi, if I say “art grand prix”, does that mean anything to you?
KR: I knew it was a racing team, but when you get into your F1 business, you don’t see anything else.
FV: You didn’t care, eh! (laughs)
KR: Yeah, but I also knew that Todt was involved. In the end I knew a lot about it (laughs). I even had to go under your awning to greet a fellow Finn.
Fred, what did you do to break the ice with the Iceman?
FV: First of all, I didn’t have to take a peak (laughs)! We talked about the thing we had in common: a passion for racing. We connected quickly. It was relaxed.
Kimi, did Fred find the right words to make you melt?
KR: Well, it looks like he did because I felt comfortable right away. Talking with Fred was like talking to an old friend. I appreciated the directness, frankness. I don’t like people who talk for nothing.
We haven’t talked much about our lives so far, more racing but it’s kind of like we’ve always known each other. We still have some way to go towards each other but the main thing is already there. On the work side, there’s not much to say, just look at what he has achieved in a little more than one season. It was the basis of our discussions, and facilitated my decision to come.
We recruited a lot last year.. We need to stabilize the system a little bit and Kimi will be the leader we expected
Fred, going from a rookie like Charles Leclerc to an experienced driver like Kimi, does it require a review of the approach?
FV: Last year, we had a rookie and a rather experienced pilot in the person of Marcus Ericsson. This year, all things considered, we have the same situation with Kimi and her huge experience on the one hand, and Antonio (Giovinazzi ed.) on the other hand, who is however a little more experienced than Charles was at the same time, a year ago. They’re a good pair, well balanced. It is very important to have someone like Kimi with us, because the team is very young despite its years of presence in F1. We recruited a lot last year, about sixty people. We need to stabilize the system a little bit and Kimi will be the leader we expected. At this stage of our growth, it is a huge plus to have the support of a driver like him.
Kimi, what do you expect from your return to Hinwil? Start up again? Find a welcoming place to finish your career? Find your youth again?
KR: None of this. Working as hard as possible and see what we get. I don’t have any quantified objectives in mind, I’ve never had any. I am not approaching 2019 in a different way than 2018 because I am moving from Maranello to Hinwil. We do our best and we see what we get, I have always had this approach. Even in karting. I have no other way of thinking. There is a good group of people here and if we do a good job, the results will follow. Will we be good? How long will it take to be in on it? No one knows and it’s like that every year. At Ferrari or here.
FV: The only certainty is that we are not going to be world champions. But for the rest…
What do you expect from Fred? If you are expecting something….
KR: We’re just starting to work together, and I’m going to need some races before I can expect anything at all. Nevertheless, if he can keep us concentrated and if he can protect us from all the nonsense that politics generates in the teams, it will already be a good start. That’s what I hope and that’s what I’m sure I’ll get with someone like him. I wouldn’t have come if I didn’t feel the guy. So, of course, I expect him to handle all the daily shit (laughs).
Fred, anything in particular that you ask from Kimi?
FV: No, he is simply the reference we need. As I have already said, in a growth process, there are levels and, to reach the next one, we needed someone like him. It will allow us to strengthen the system in the first instance and give an impulse in the second. He will be the perfect reference in technical discussions. He already is if we refer to the meetings, quite numerous, that we have had. No hesitation, no frills with him, but a clear line to achieve the goal. For the engineers, such a guy is priceless. It prevents you from getting lost. It saves you from thinking about it. If the driver is hesitant, if he doesn’t know where he’s going, a kind of flotation settles in the debriefings and that’s very bad. Nothing like that with a Kimi. There are questions, there are always questions, but the course is set. There are the pillars of performance which are the engine, the aero, the budget and… the driver! There is no comparison to be made between Charles, Marcus, Antonio and Kimi who are not at the same level of career, you just have to admit that one has a background that the others don’t have. Maybe they’ll get it tomorrow, that’s not the point. The fact is, we needed a guy like him now. He will push us to be 100% focused on the technical stuff which is the most important thing for the team and for me.
Does Kimi remind you of a driver you’ve already worked with or is he a unique race animal?
FV: An animal (laughs)? I don’t like to make comparisons. What is certain is that we have a good feeling. You know, at this point in the season, everyone is always very happy. Everyone will be world champion, all the team members are the best friends in the world and, after two or three races, everything explodes. Between us, the feeling was good from the beginning because we talk about the same thing in the same way. We’re on the same page, if you will. We have the same approach and, for me, it is very important that we are aligned with the fundamentals.
Kimi, do you sometimes see a hint of Peter Sauber in Frédéric Vasseur?
KR: Yes, at the hair level (laughs)! More seriously, Swiss, French, everyone has their own way of doing things. I spent a year with Peter and that was quite a while ago. We then had the good relationships we still have today. He never blamed me for leaving at the end of the first season when we had signed a three-year contract. I was fine here and I didn’t really have any reason to leave, except that McLaren was the best team at the time with Ferrari. However, when I left, I wanted Sauber to be well treated by McLaren. I wanted this departure to be beneficial to both of us. I wanted to make sure that the team wouldn’t suffer when I left. We split up on good terms. Today, the team has a different name, but the mentality is the same. People think the same way. I am happy to be back.
Does it matter to you, that change of name from Sauber to Alfa Romeo?
KR: The name is different but the people are the same.
FV: From a sporting and technical point of view, it doesn’t matter to me. What matters is the group we form. It’s the people. We don’t change ownership, we don’t change management, we change names, but it’s more to extend the collaboration with Alfa Romeo, so that the company is even more involved in the project. This is a step forward for the company.
I’m here because I see the potential, I see the team, the guys, Fred
Kimi, for what may be your last challenge in F1, you could have opted for something quieter. After Ferrari, did you need something close to your heart to keep the wish to fight, to keep the desire?
KR: No! If the desire hadn’t been there, it wasn’t coming back here that would have brought it back. I’m here because the desire and pleasure have not left me. I wouldn’t spend all that time and energy on something I don’t want to do anymore. It’s true, I really appreciate the time I now spend at home with my wife and children, but I still need that to balance my life. I’m not coming back to Hinwil to complete the circle as I’ve heard. I never had the will to finish where I started. I’m here because I see the potential, I see the team, the guys, Fred. There’s something to do here. Will we make it? Maybe or maybe not, but if we fail, it certainly won’t be because we haven’t tried hard enough. I have a good feeling and, in the past, it has rarely cheated on me. When I returned to Lotus after my WRC seasons, I had the same feeling as today.
Would you try a rally again?
FV: No way! Not for two years, in any case.
KR: I think you have your answer (laughs).
Fred, from the day Kimi signed the contract, did you suddenly feel the weight of pressure on your shoulders?
FV: Not in the slightest! I’m a big boy, the pressure, I put it on myself. I don’t need Kimi because it’s inherent to the business. We want to be successful, we want to improve and it is this desire that creates the pressure. It is beneficial to the system. Waiting for Kimi to put pressure on us would be the wrong approach. Kimi wants results as much as we want results, and we are pushing in the same direction. The pressure doesn’t come from one person.
Kimi, you don’t live very far from Hinwil. Aren’t you afraid that you will be asked to come to the factory too often?
KR: Shh, don’t give them any bad ideas (laughs)! Come on, seriously, it’s quite nice to come here. It doesn’t bother me and, better said, I appreciate coming. I like the discussions with the guys, I like the atmosphere of the factory. This is the time of year when my schedule allows me to do so, and I really appreciate it. After that, it’s more complicated when you have a series of race weekends, but if it’s for a good reason, I’m always happy to come. Nevertheless, if it means coming for bullshit, no.
Fred, knowing that Kimi can be here in less than an hour, is it a comfort, even a reassurance?
FV: I don’t know if we can talk about “comfort”, but drivers are an important part of the system. If they are happy to spend time in the factory, it’s great for the guys, for the team, for the cohesion. It’s great that Kimi is very open to this kind of support and that he lives in the area. This is an advantage, but I don’t choose my drivers based on their geographical position.
KR: It’s true that it’s fun. The other time, I stopped by with my son, just like that, unexpectedly. It creates other bonds. More private.
You both have a reputation for loathing the “bullshit” as the English say. This “true talk” that characterizes you, is that what brings you closer?
FV: Let’s see… Let’s just say it’s a good start.
KR: We may have problems, but we will talk about them frankly, without bias, without misdirected ways. It is important in a relationship to know that you can have this frank and direct relationship. In any case, it’s important to me.
FV: For me too!
Fred, did you discover anything about Kimi that you didn’t suspect?
FV: We didn’t know each other before, but I think he’s much more open than you can imagine when you don’t hang out with him.
Kimi, same question….
KR: I don’t have any preconceived images of people. Whether it’s good or bad, I don’t judge until I know. I had heard some things about Fred that seem to fit him well, and I’m glad. Things like “pure racer”. I have been in teams where things have not always gone as well as I would have liked, where unfortunately there was a lot more to talk about than racing. Nothing like that here.
FV: Don’t talk like that, you’re going to move me to tears (laughs).
If you can bring the team to the top, will it be the greatest success of your career?
FV: What do you mean by “top”?
KR: Based on my personal experience, winning with Lotus was more rewarding than winning with McLaren or Ferrari for the simple reason that we were starting from afar. If you win in a team with which everyone expects you to win, it’s very different from winning when no one is expecting it.
FV: Honestly, last year, I think I had more fun with a 6th place or two cars in the points than Toto (Wolff. ed.) when Lewis Hamilton was victorious. It was a challenge! Less than ten months earlier, we were 4 seconds down… The success is different whether we call ourselves Mercedes, Ferrari or Sauber. For us, it was to constantly improve throughout the season. Race after race, we were always a little better. We started from the bottom of the grid. We were P9 in the first third of the season, able to qualify in Q3 in the second third, and P5 in the last 7 races. With the new regulations, it is impossible to predict where we will start the season, but I want to keep the same capacity for improvement.
Fred, you know the expression “Flying Finn”. Do you really think the Finns are flying?
FV: I’m a very down-to-earth person, but if Kimi shows me that it’s possible, I’d believe it.
Kimi, do you think the famous “French touch” exists?
KR: It’s not easy to apply it in F1, but the progress made last year by the team shows that there may be something about it. That being said, success in F1 is rarely the success of a single man.
Finally, when the time comes to celebrate your first joint podium, will it be champagne or vodka for everyone?
FV: Why choose?
KR: Yes, both!