Icon (El pais) July 2019, translation by Whatever
Two days prior to our encounter at the Montmeló Circuit, Kimi Räikkönen, the most veteran driver of the actual F1 grid, finished 14th at the Spanish GP. A step back on a season that started very hopeful. After his second stint at Ferrari, the 39 year-old Finn has landed at Alfa Romeo – the team that has the Carrera glasses brand as one of their main sponsors – conscious that he was facing a totally different challenge. The Italian company returns this year to the big competition. In the season’s first race, in Australia, Kimi gained the first points for Alfa Romeo in 35 years. “Coming here was my decision, it’s a nice challenge. I’m here to try to improve things. I like that. If I don’t achieve the goals I want, it’s OK, there’s nothing more I can do”, says the driver in Alfa Romeo’s hospitality on Circuit de Catalunya, where the team, as the others, has stayed a few days longer to do some testing prior to leaving for the next race. “We have to keep improving. Last race wasn’t a good one, we were too slow. I’m still trying to figure out what happened. But if I don’t find out, it’s ok”, he says. “We’re going to keep trying to improve and enjoy at the same time.”
There’s something disconcerting and at the same time refreshing about Kimi Räikkönen. In one universe, the sporting side, marked by efficiency obsessed athletes, sacrifice and messages that seem taken out of self-help books, or by school text books, his relaxed ways in which the Finn lives his profession is totally countercultural. But Kimi has always been like this. During a GP, he cut off the radio with his team because he was fed up of being given instructions. “Just leave me alone, I know what to do”, he told his team members. Another time, he said that partying actually made him a better driver. And only a few days after our encounter, he’ll make the news again for cancelling all the celebrations that have been prepared prior to his participation on the Monaco GP, for being his 300th race on Formula 1. “There’s nothing to celebrate. Besides, I don’t like Monaco. It’s not a good GP. It’s terrible for the mechanics.”
Kimi has come wearing his driving suit and for a second there, he gave us a smile. Then he put on his Carrera glasses. And that was it. After that moment all communication with him has been reduced to indicate, from everything that was being asked of him, what things he wasn’t going to do. “I take races as a challenge. All the other things that surround this business, I don’t care at all”, informing us what we had already sensed. “There’s nonsense around all this that bothers me, but at this point, I know I can’t eliminate them so I have to live with them.” And after 5 minutes sitting down barely moving, he waves his arms like a helicopter, giving us a big scare. His PR guy, sitting across the room, doesn’t even flinch. It seems as he can predict when the Iceman will show some humanity. “Nothing you can do but to learn to live with it. It always repeats itself: the same duties, the same people. I know it by heart. If you had a good day, it doesn’t bother you too much. If not, it annoys you and it doesn´t improve your opinions on the things that you already know you don´t like.”
Räikkönen has this strange ability of being interesting when he talks about the things he doesn’t like. On the contrary, if you ask him about something he should remember fondly, he sinks even further in his chair and he doesn`t even snuffle because it must make him lazy to exercise expressions. This is what happened when we asked him about that last race in Brazil, 2007. When he became World Champion against all odds. The war between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in McLaren led to an unexpected finish in which the least expected driver ended up winning the title. “People still ask me about that race… and I like it a bit. I don’t know what to tell you. It was very odd. Situation was strange. We knew the car was fast at the end of that season. We needed a win, or at least a second place. The rest we couldn’t control. During the race, a lot happened, but it all turned out fine. Almost nobody believed it. Not before, not after. I think they didn’t even give us a 20% chance of being champions. In any moment of the GP we talked about this. When the race ended, we were still making calculations to see if we were champions or not. Once we knew, it was wonderful, the year ended very well”, he remembers in a monotonous way. Anyone could think it doesn’t make a difference to him. We mentioned this to him. “People who say this about me, are the ones who spend their days watching their computers and analyzing God knows what”, he says. We’re about to laugh, but with Räikkönen it’s a little bit like in The office: you never know if it’s a joke or not. We shut up. “Things don’t work like that. What works for me doesn’t work for another and vice-versa. If I see a driver does certain things and I want to copy them, it won’t work, we’re different. You should be happy with yourself. If someone tells you what to do every day, you’ll end up hating it and the other person too. I think I’ve always been demanding with myself. The rest can say whatever they want, but this I know. Look, I can’t judge if you’re good or bad based on this talk. Races are important because I dedicate a lot of time to them, but, luckily, I have other things in my life”.
In 2009 Kimi ended his first stint with Ferrari. The Finn, who had landed in Formula 1 8 years before, skipping most formulae a driver must go through before getting into the mother of all competitions, had announced that the following year he’d be participating in the World Rally Championship. With Citroën’s backup, he raced for two seasons in that discipline. “Rallying is complicated”, he explains with a mix of excitement and laziness, a recipe of emotions we believed impossible before meeting him. “But I needed to try it. On TV it looks easy, but it turns out being complicated. You learn a lot. You can’t put all your focus on driving because you have to listen to the co-driver. In Formula 1, you know where every corner is. If you get a corner a little bit wrong in one lap, you can get it better next lap. In rally, if you miss a breaking point, it’s very likely you hit a tree.” Räikkönen has also tried NASCAR. And he liked it too. “I hope to come back someday. It’s very exciting. There are cars everywhere. There is only work on the weekends and there are parties. I don’t know, I like it. It was a shame my team had trouble with the payments, I would have liked to stay longer.”
Days after our encounter, Kimi ended 17th at the Monaco GP. He had already warned, he didn´t like it. But in the next races he recovered, even reaching a very good 7th place at the French GP. There, in the ending stages of the race, he did something that must give him immense satisfaction: to overtake a McLaren. On that occasion, it was the rookie Lando Norris. The next day, Kimi participated in a homage to Jackie Stewart and posted on his Instagram a pic of the event, sitting on a low chair almost like in a squat, wearing an old hat like the ones the mythical British driver used to wear all the time. Norris commented on his post: “For a minute I thought you were driving a tiny car”. “I thought the same thing about you yesterday…”, responded the Finn.