Kimi Räikkönen in an interview about his ambivalent relationship to racing, alcohol and smoking.
My first 1:1 interview with Kimi Räikkönen was a few years ago. Räikkönen was currently driving for Lotus and had one of those phases in his career when his desire for media appointments and interviews was particularly limited. 15 minutes of conversation were arranged with Lotus press officer Andy Stobart, but already after five minutes the Iceman got up, grumbled a purely rhetorical “Are we done?” and left me quite surprised and disappointed at the table.
Stobart looked at me shrugging his shoulders: “What should I do?”. Kimi Räikkönen, that was my lesson from that encounter, can’t be controlled. He only does what he likes, and he only does it on his own terms. Media work is still an aversion to him today. But since then six years have passed, a marriage and two children have happened – and certain things have changed.
Our interview about “Kimi’s life and Kimi’s book”, the definition of my request to the Alfa Romeo PR team, should have taken place in Baku. But because I had cleverly saved the appointment in my mobile phone in Austria and saved it bound to time zones, I came too late there. I was told it didn’t bother Kimi. He is said to have enjoyed his additional free time very much!
But of course that doesn’t happen a second time. So next try. From an Alfa spokeswoman I get the tip not to start directly into the interview. Kimi doesn’t like that, I get briefed. But I don’t care about that now. Our conversation begins by telling Kimi about our experience back then. Not reproachful, but still quite direct, exactly the way I felt it.
Ice blue eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses …
He has to smile. I’m pretty sure he can’t remember it. Like he generally can’t remember too much from his wild Lotus years. But more about that later. My lead-in breaks the ice a bit. Kimi looks a bit like he’s already had two or three glasses of wine. Which is certainly not the case on media Thursday. He is simply relaxed. Just Iceman.
While I ask my first questions, he lets himself slip casually back into the chair on the upper floor of the Alfa Romeo hospitality. Unfortunately, I can’t see his cool nordic eyes, they are covered by black sunglasses. His arms are crossed behind the chair. The body language signals a little indifference. That’s the way he is, Kimi: He simply doesn’t care. You can like him for it or not.
I wouldn’t want my children to become like him. But apart from that he is one of my favourite persons in the Formula 1 paddock. Kimi is honest, doesn’t play games – and you know where you are with him.
That’s a quality that not many people have in a money-infested sport …
Q: “Kimi, you seem to have become more relaxed with the media lately. One could almost get the impression that you enjoy it more than before.”
Kimi Räikkönen: “Not really. But I have no choice. That’s the problem! I don’t have much to say. But it’s part of my job.”
Q: “Has your approach to interviews like this changed?
Räikkönen: “I see it more or less the same way as before. It’s still the same people who work as journalists in Formula 1 and mostly ask the same questions. That hasn’t changed much over the years. There are so many stories that you are asked about. The journalists write these stories themselves and then ask our opinion.”
Kimi & rallying: Why did he leave?
Q: “You always say that you enjoy driving, but not the PR and media work. You had that when you drove rallies…”
Räikkönen: “Right. Especially in the second year, when it was clear what I’d do – whether I’d keep driving rally or do nothing. I was very happy in many ways!”
When “or do nothing” comes over his lips Kimi has to grin broadly for the first time. The atmosphere is good in the first minutes of our interview, the chemistry fits, the ice is broken. And the 39-year-old lets me feel that interviews are actually an unbearable thing for him, but that he finds this somewhat bearable. This is probably due to the fact that I don’t formulate my questions conventionally, but try to make a conversation between two people.
One thing I have always asked myself: when Kimi drove rally in 2010 and 2011, he actually had a good life. Although he was the superstar of the scene in the WRC, after the initial hype had subsided he was largely left alone by the journalists and camera teams. And although he claimed not to be interested in all this crap, he returned to Lotus in Formula 1 in 2012 …
Q: “Then why did you decide to leave rallying and return to Formula 1? You had what you wanted.”
Räikkönen: “I tried a bit of NASCAR. What I liked about it was the racing. Rally is not racing in the classic sense. In rallying you don’t have a direct opponent, you drive against the stopwatch. When I drove the Nationwide and Truck races in NASCAR, I noticed how much I enjoy the direct duel against other drivers. I thought to myself: ‘Maybe it’d be nice to have that again more often’. And Formula 1 is the top class in the eyes of most racing drivers. So I wanted to know if it would work out again.”
Kimi: Nothing good comes without something bad
Q: “But you could have driven EuroNASCAR, or in another racing series with less media coverage, if you were only interested in racing itself. Or was the challenge of Formula 1 so important to you?”
Räikkönen: “Yes. Racing, driving in Formula 1, that’s fun for me. No matter what you do, there will always be something positive and something negative. You can’t just have the positive, no matter what racing series you’re in. And elsewhere it’s not the interviews, but other things that you don’t like. This probably applies to all areas of life, that there is always something positive and something negative. It’s difficult to find something perfect that has nothing wrong with it. Let’s take the next holiday, for example: once you’re there, it might be beautiful. But the journey is annoying.”
Q: “Let’s talk about your book. Have you read it?”
Räikkönen: “Yes. Normally I don’t read books. It’s too much like school for me. At school I had to read a few books, but I don’t think I finished reading a single one! That was too boring for me. Not necessarily because of the books themselves – but I couldn’t be bothered to read. On the day of publication there was a small lounge event, and the evening before I read it. I roughly knew what it would contain because I had printed and read individual sections. But that was the first time I had the whole book in front of me, the way it was supposed to look. Then I read it.”
Kimi’s Book: No taboos for the author
Q: “Was there also a topic that you discussed with the author, where you said to him: ‘But we’re not going to publish that!’ Or was there no such thing?
Räikkönen: “Not really. Maybe a little thing, but not really. It wasn’t like I was trying to hide anything. Of course, there would have been lots of stories that could have been written in. But a book like that has X pages. You can’t put everything in there, or it’ll get too thick. And I never wanted to have a scandal book in which it was told that this and that happened so and so. There wasn’t actually any topic on which I said: ‘This can’t go in like that’. There was no such thing. I was very open.”
Q: “There was one chapter that I found very entertaining – and to be honest it reminded me a bit of my own wilder days. It is the chapter ‘Sixteen Days’. It describes how you were drunk non-stop between Bahrain and Barcelona in 2013. How could you even remember it?”
Räikkönen: “I couldn’t even. Half of it other people had to tell me. We just toured across Europe and had a bit of fun. It wasn’t the first time. And it was quite normal for us.”
Q: “I think that’s what people love about you: that you just don’t give a shit! Maybe someone else would have said: ‘We’re not putting that in the book.'”
Räikkönen: “But there’s nothing wrong with that. Where is that a bad story? There’s nothing bad in it. That was quite normal, and it happened many times. The chapter in the book is not the only time I’ve done something like this. I had fun”.
Q: “You are married now and you have two children. I guess that kind of fun has changed in your life.”
Räikkönen: “Sure. Now there are other priorities. At that time I had my work, but otherwise … If I wanted to fly somewhere, I just flew there. I didn’t have to ask anyone. I was old enough to do what I wanted.”
Family and children today more important than any parties
“When you have a family, it changes. I want to be with my children. I’m already away from home a lot with racing anyway. I enjoy the time with my family. Sometimes I still go out with my wife. But that’s something completely different. We’re all getting older, aren’t we? And after 16 drunken days I don’t feel as good today as I used to. There are other things in life that are important to me today. That doesn’t mean that I can’t go out anymore. Of course I can! But my time with the children and the family is more important to me”.
Q: “When you say that you still sometimes have a blast today: One such evening must have been the FIA Gala 2018 in Saint Petersburg. I must say, this was the most entertaining FIA gala in years!”
Räikkönen: “You see! It’s so damn boring, it’s better to get drunk. Maybe they invited me especially to provide the entertainment!”
Q: “It was really funny to watch. And I have to say I’m impressed by how relaxed your wife put it away. If I staggered on a stage like that, my girlfriend would be pissed off…”
Räikkönen: “Yes, all easy. She has already experienced a lot with me!”
Q: “Did you have any calls from angry FIA officials after that?”
Räikköenen: “Nothing. Not one call. Why even? Why should they be angry? The bottom line is: They invited me. So it’s not my fault! And nothing bad happened.”
I would also like to address another issue that is unfortunately ignored in the Kimi book: Kimi and the cigarette smoke. Someone who should know told me that Kimi drank and smoked in many Lotus meetings in summer 2013. The team owed him money, and so he didn’t take his exemplary behaviour too seriously …
Open secret: Kimi and the cigarette smoke
Q: “There is a paddock legend from the time when you drank even more. It is said that you smoked in Lotus meetings back then. Is that true?”
Räikkönen: “I don’t know if that was really in meetings. I wouldn’t say meetings to that. I’m not quite sure – maybe so. I smoked when I was younger. It’s been a long time ago.”
Q: “Did you quit completely?
Räikkönen: “I don’t even remember the last time I smoked. In the book I also think it says that I smoked and then quit. But to come back to the question: As I said, I’m not sure. But I don’t think I smoked in meetings. In the motorhome, however, I’m quite sure, on the terrace. Sometimes with my boss!
Q: “That didn’t bother him?”
Räikkönen: “Obviously not. I think once was after Abu Dhabi – I remember that. That was absolutely never a problem. At least he never said anything to me!
Q: “There’s a lot of talk about Lewis Hamilton’s lifestyle. Didn’t you ever feel that stopping drinking and smoking could improve your performance?”
Räikkönen: “No, not really. Maybe it even made me better to live the way I wanted to. If you’re the type to read books, you should read books. Whatever suits you. The most important thing is that you know for yourself what is best for you. If you are urged to do something that any other driver is doing for whom things are going well, it won’t work. You know best what’s good for you. Everyone has their own methods. That’s the most important thing. No matter what it is. I’m sure everyone lives their lives a little differently. I think the older you get, the better you get to know yourself and find out what is good for you and what is not. And then it has to be fun. If someone tells you all the time to do this and that which you don’t enjoy, it won’t do you any good in the long run”.
Q: “Would you say you’re a more balanced character today than you were ten years ago?
Räikkönen: “Hm. In many ways yes. But my life has also changed a lot. I have a family now. Nothing stresses me so easily anymore. My life is certainly more fulfilled today than it used to be. There are other things that are important now. More important things.
Ferrari & McLaren: Two things that are missing in the book
Q: “There are a few things I missed badly in the book. For example the return to Ferrari. They had paid you a pile of money at the end of 2009 to stop you driving for Ferrari. And then you come back. It was difficult to understand from the outside because we assumed that relationships were broken. What was it like to return to Ferrari and who was the first to approach you?”
Räikkönen: ” They approached me. That was when I was driving for Lotus. I never had a problem with Ferrari. I still had a contract in 2009, but so many things just pissed me off, also in Formula 1 as a whole. So we ended it. They wanted something different in the team. We found a solution – but I never had a problem with anyone from Ferrari. We had, admittedly, discussions with one or two people there. But we spoke that out. I never had the feeling that I had been treated unfairly. People write something all the time. The truth is: I didn’t even care much about all the contract stories back then. I just wanted to do something other than Formula 1. I still had friends at Ferrari and we started talking at some point. So one thing came after another.”
Even before the interview it was clear to me that the 15 agreed minutes would not be enough to work through my questions completely. We’re just one-third through when the Alfa press officer taps his wristwatch for the first time. Secretly I had hoped to stretch the time a bit, because Kimi seems to have taken a liking to our conversation. But unfortunately a TV team is already waiting behind us. So we have to at least touch on the very last important topic …
Q: “The other thing I missed in the book is your relationship with Ron Dennis. He invented the nickname Iceman. But over the years your relationship has cooled down, hasn’t it?”
Räikkönen: “I wouldn’t say it like that. Our relationship didn’t break down. I still talk to him today when I see him. I never had a personal problem with him. It’s true that we argued about certain things. What to do, what not to do, and so on. But that never affected our personal relationship. Sure, he was angry sometimes, and I was angry sometimes because I should have accepted this and that.”
Q: “You’ve managed to separate the professional from the personal.”
Räikkönen: “Yes. There was never a problem between us. We were just arguing about something, and next time we talked normally again. It never became personal. Surely he didn’t agree with how I lived my life. But it didn’t suit me either that he wanted to interfere in my life. I have no problem talking to Ron. A few years ago we met and talked a bit. I think he’s a good guy. It was really all about interfering. But it was never personal. I had a great time with McLaren. There were discussions from time to time that made me angry. But that’s normal.”
For Kimi’s analysis of his past in Formula 1, his team changes, his personal relationships with bosses and team mates, there is unfortunately no time left. We shake hands at the end of the interview, I thank him and assure him that his honest answers will not be used for a moral condemnation. Kimi smiles. I have the impression that it was also one of the less bad interviews for him.