Räikkönen – champion of transparency

source: Autosprint 2019; special edition about all Ferrari champions

THE PORTRAIT OF KIMI, THE LAST WORLD CHAMPION WITH FERRARI, MADE BY STEFANO DOMENICALI. “HIS GREATEST TALENT? NO POLITICS, HE’S A DIRECT PERSON, WITHOUT ULTERIOR MOTIVES…”

21 October 2007, Interlagos. The Brazilian GP, which ends the World Championship, has just finished. There on the podium, while confetti is raining from the sky, Kimi Räikkönen celebrates the conquest of his first (and only) championship title in the first season with the Cavallino. It’s the last signature in the Formula One World Championship Hall of fame by a Ferrari driver. Stefano Domenicali was the sporting director of the Prancing Horse on that day twelve years ago and he still has certain scenes in front of his eyes and also forever imprinted like tattoos on his skin. The current president of Lamborghini tells us: “As you can well imagine, back then (that time too) the celebrations at Ferrari were very intense. I don’t remember his phrases in particular, but I can never forget his way of doing and his tone in saying things on occasions such as these, which only those who know and appreciate him can fully understand. As a result, his hugs when he lets himself go are very particular. From this point of view, I have to say that Kimi Räikkönen doesn’t let the people who have been closest to him lack anything from every point of view. So he is absolutely transparent and I think this is one of the best characteristics that sets him apart even among today’s drivers”.

I understand that in your long experience in Maranello also Kimi Räikkönen has really remained in your heart. Or am I wrong?

“Kimi Räikkönen is currently the F1 veteran and has always had one great characteristic: to be what you see. In short, not a person used to doing politics: all he does is what he feels, without further filters and no kind of behaviour related to an unknown objective. And so the transparency and correctness that has always distinguished him, especially in personal relationships, is a great characteristic. A guy who, beyond the fact that he has been nicknamed Iceman, has a great sensitivity like all people who have this kind of attitude that when seen from the outside seems very cold, or rather detached. Kimi is a very sensitive person, with a big heart, but you can only discover the intensity in the relationship if you are someone he considers a friend. It should be stressed that entering into a relationship with him is not easy because he has a tendency to have a barrier, not because, as they say in slang, he pulls it. No, that’s just the way he is. But when you enter his personal sphere I must say that you get to know a very, very helpful, generous person who is obviously different from what public opinion has always made of him.”

What’s your assessment of the driver?

“As a driver Räikkönen has always been very fast and in his career he could have collected also a lot more but from the point of view of his characteristics I have to say that his sensitivity in tyre management, especially in the race, I think you can position him as one of the best from this point of view because his ability to manage the durability of the tyres as long as possible has always been known. Kimi has a very clean driving style, very conservative as far as the rear tyres are concerned. He is very good at retaining the rear of the car even in really difficult conditions.”

Tell us about his relationship with his team mates…

“Again, very direct relationships. Zero politics. He has always suffered from unclear situations and when he felt that on the other side there wasn’t the same fairness that was reciprocated. But Kimi has always been like that in general also with other colleagues in Formula One. His way of being transparent and direct in my opinion is the best feature of the Finn. In this respect he is the driver who stands out most of all…”

But you’ve heard him say a few words in Italian at least once since he never even said ciao in public?

“Yes, I certainly heard Kimi say a few words in Italian, especially when we were doing the famous pre-season events in the mountains and we went to our friends in Val Gardena he would say a few words in our language. But let’s be clear: not many, eh! The fact that he didn’t speak Italian is a bit part of his character and then talking to everyone in English didn’t deepen his knowledge of Italian. He has never been the type to go deeper into topics that are not fundamental for him.”

What differences did you notice between the single Kimi and the family man Kimi?

“From this point of view I saw him very consistent with his way of being always. The nice thing is that now he talks about his children as before I didn’t think he could talk about them. Honestly I know he’s very involved in the family life. But the real theme now is that I see his son Robin with a head already focused on speed, on the world of racing, cars and motorbikes: I’ll say one thing, soon we’ll see a Kimi in another guise, busy with the son whom I see as having a talent. He looks like his father: no fear in facing danger.”

AutoSprint.2019.08.24.Speciale.PDF.Italian Kimi1

THAT TITLE WITH THE FIRST SHOT

Now, let’s go back to those days. And let’s go over Kimi’s entire journey. Who arrives in Maranello after his experience at McLaren where he was twice runner-up. Räikkönen hits everyone as soon as he arrives. It is a story that begins in Vallelunga, one day in January. It rains and the Finn drives mostly with the “old” 248 F.1. But there is something that immediately strikes the Ferrari technicians. Andrea Stella, who later became the vehicle engineer of Räikkönen for the whole season, told Autosprint in those days: “In a certain type of corners, which we could define as medium-fast, Kimi was very good at gaining time. His main characteristic was to be able to bring speed in, once you let go of the brake, and keep it up till the middle of the curve, gaining on the entry and trying not to lose too much on the exit. Something similar to Schumacher but with a different driving technique.” This is because Kimi, unlike Schumi, doesn’t use the brake pedal and the throttle at the same time: first one, with the left foot (in the Nordic rally style) and then the other. Michael, on the other hand, kept the engine in tune by controlling the car with the brake.


SIX VICTORIES AND THE TITLE

2007, the Finn’s first year as a Ferrari driver, begins and ends in Bermuda shorts, from Melbourne to Sao Paulo. Six wins, more than anyone else: sixty points in six races and only fifty in the other eleven. It happens, with a couple of retirements (in Barcelona because of the alternator, at the Nürburgring because of the hydraulic system) and a resounding mistake, the one in qualifying in Montecarlo. However, if the first half of the season stalled a bit after the first flash of Melbourne, the second one is all in crescendo. From Hungary to Brazil, an average of 8.28 points per race, always on the podium. Could one have done more? Certainly not at Monza, the most difficult race for Ferrari. Maybe on other occasions, though, yes. In the North American races, in Turkey, perhaps even in the downpour in Fuji. Not to mention the final yellow at Interlagos, when Hamilton jumped ahead of him coming out of the pits and hampering his qualifying lap. The Ferrari telemetry reports – for once officially or almost – a loss of three tenths. Lewis went to apologize, Kimi shrugged his shoulders and didn’t even consider it. Then, however, he will say, “It doesn’t matter after all. ” He skips the possibility of taking the front row, everything becomes more difficult: but he seems resistant to tension, what is fundamental for others, doesn’t change his life. Looking at the standings of a world championship played until the very end and beyond, a doubt is worth to put: and what if he was right?


KIMI AS TOLD BY THE TECHNICIANS

And Räikkönen the man? Sometimes he seems so abulic, detached, that it’s hard to imagine a decent level of interaction between him and the men in the box. Yet even here the symbiosis works. “Don’t think that even with Schumi it was easy from the beginning – warns in those days Luca Baldisserri, the head of the track technicians – Kimi is different from Michael. He speaks much less, he is more synthetic,” recalled Stella at the beginning of the collaboration. “More than indicating the area of intervention, he explains the problem. Not “let’s change the suspension” but “there I need better entry”, so to speak. And he’s ready to review his ideas.” More. “Kimi is a guy who hates to make excuses,” Stella reveals. After the GP of Canada – fifth, 13 seconds from Hamilton – one of them revealed: “Kimi could have blamed a million things. A piece of Kubica’s car got stuck under his wing, for much of the race he had no front end grip and at one point had to pump on the brakes because of a system problem. Yet he didn’t complain about anything.” If he speaks little when he loses, even when Kimi wins he is not prodigal with compliments. “He’s not like Michael or Massa was, of course. You don’t expect a lot of words and pats on the back from someone like that. But when we saw him with tears in his eyes, in Brazil, we understood that Kimi Räikkönen is one of us.”


HIS GUARDIAN ANGELS

Every driver has two guardian angels. One is his race engineer, the other the vehicle engineer. The first “listens” to the car from the driver’s words. The second “reads” it by analysing the data. Kimi Räikkönen’s two guardian angels are called Chris Dyer and Andrea Stella. After working at Arrows-Yamaha with Damon Hill (1997) as data analyst, Dyer moved to Ferrari in 2001 to work with Michael Schumacher. First as a vehicle engineer and then as a race engineer. A position he then kept on Räikkönen’s car. Stella is perhaps less well known, but after specializing at the University of Rome he joined Maranello in 2000, to be part of that generation of “young and talented” technicians to which Montezemolo referred by calling them “the basis on which to invest, always in the stability of the staff. Without revolutions, which we don’t want.”


THE WORDS OF MONTEZEMOLO

At the end of the season, President Luca Cordero di Montezemolo analyses: “The 2007 World Championship was full of poisons. At the beginning of the year there were so many expectations and worries because we no longer had a great driver in the team like Schumacher; we didn’t even have a reference figure in the team like Ross Brawn, both as technical director and as a strategy man at the pit wall. We had a year of great transition ahead of us. We decided to give a boost to a strong internal growth by trusting a young and Italian management team: Almondo, Domenicali, Costa, Baldisserri, with Simon at the engines, who is French but is actually half Italian since he has been with us for 15 years and has been Martinelli’s number 2 for a long time”. Then the president also takes a few pebbles off his shoes. And he attacks: “Schumacher had recommended Räikkönen. Many journalists criticized that Kimi joined the team. I have suffered with nervousness the constant references to Alonso during the season. To those who criticized us because we were not looking for the Spaniard I reply that we did not look for him because we have two drivers under contract and we respect the contracts. But now I can say with certainty and serenity that we have the two best drivers in the world. Räikkönen is brave, loyal, dedicated to his work; he creates sympathy, suffice to say that everyone, really everyone congratulated him after his victory, including Alonso, and it doesn’t happen with all drivers. We chose Kimi because he seemed the most suitable. He won the first race on his debut with us and the world title in the first year. I couldn’t ask for more: not even Schumacher in the first year had proved so effective. Massa took more poles than anyone else in 2007. I personally decided to extend his contract until 2010 because he can grow further and because we didn’t want other teams to approach him. This year, after all, apart from the red light episode not respected in Montreal and its disqualification, he didn’t win only when we couldn’t give him a winning car. That’s why I won’t change Massa with anyone”. And then a clear, dry statement. To reiterate that internal fights like at McLaren he would have stopped earlier. “As long as I’m here, I’m interested in a Ferrari winning, not a single driver. Whoever accepts, fine; if not, go elsewhere.”

Kimi, the unadulterated

by Mario Donnini

source: Autosprint no.2 2020

AT THE AGE OF 40 RÄIKKÖNEN REMAINS AMONG THE MOST LOVED AND SUPPORTED CHAMPIONS. AND THAT, IN FACT, SOUNDS LIKE A CLEAR ACCUSATION AGAINST THE SYSTEM OF DRIVERS TREATED AND BRED LIKE BATTERY CHICKENS.

Years and decades go by and Kimi Räikkönen remains proportionally among the most loved and supported F1 drivers. Certainly the most likeable one, the champion most exploited by commercials, advertising, the most caressed by memes in social media, the most brought up in anecdotes, alcoholic mythology and occasional aphorism fed by his short, surreal and fulminating statements, which now make up the sweet and fragrant part of the character.

A different and twisted icon, compared to all the others. Out-of-system, absolutely autonomous and ungovernable. Irreducible, as well as alien to any form of bootlicking, servility and opportunism.

Kimi is Kimi, period. He has his flaws, but nothing like those of certain, many, too many colleagues. He can be rented for a commercial, of course he can, but he’s not for sale. On the contrary, right in the “Iceman” commercials, in some ways from a media point of view, he manages to give his best, even dressed as Santa Claus, or around Monte Carlo with the Alfa, ready to tell the woman of his life, as a perfect and enjoyable smartass, that his delay is due to the lack of knowledge of the streets of the Principality. More. This winter precisely Kimi, advertising in hand, turns out to be the most visible, talkative and captivating driver of all, since the others, among other, have practically all disappeared, for their stories, waiting for Formula One to start roaring again. However, at a time like this, in which in fact motoristically speaking it does not happen a shred of nothing in the Circus, some considerations come spontaneously.

The first one. To begin with, Kimi Räikkönen as poster boy is much better exploited by Alfa Romeo than by Ferrari. Of course, the Reds don’t sell themselves with commercials, scrapping or eco-incentives, they’re so desirable that it wouldn’t make sense to pay someone to make them want more, but the basic feeling is that within Alfa Romeo Racing and alongside the glorious Biscione Quadrifogliato brand at this moment in his life, as a new forty-year-old, the slightly non-alcoholic and very blond man is much more at ease with the light-hearted aplomb that is required of him compared to team orders, the tactical-political ties and the harnesses he was wearing before. When he performed at the side and, much more often, behind his dear friend Sebastian Vettel, in the shadow of the Prancing Horse.

Second point. Kimi Räikkönen’s consistently high popularity index must be received with pleasure, sympathy and warmth by fans old and new. But it also indicates a little something a little uncomfortable. And that is that, on average, the big winners, the top guns, the still green, very green Formula One rookies, compared to him, have not managed to gain a gram of pleasantness, media appeal and – I add – not even half a centimeter of breach in the hearts of the fans. I remember an “all time” poll in 2017 in which “Iceman”, although very far from the years in which he often won on track, even ended up behind only Michael Schumacher, voted as the best Ferrari driver of all time, in an authoritative poll, ahead of Gilles Villeneuve, Juan-Manuel Fangio, Niki Lauda and Fernando Alonso. Yes. You have to accept it. From the human point of view, from the point of view of sympathy, from the ability to be close to people, to shoot jokes, even to show little enthusiasm for journalists, to bland interviews or silly promotions, nobody can rival Kimi’s disarming authenticity. The dirty truth is that he, by now the last of another era, except for a possible but not probable return of Alonso to F1, is the clear demonstration that everything from the human point of view that characterizes the most recent Circus excites little and much less, being punctually more plasticized, fake, lined up and limp. Worse: as exciting as a bad joke.

Not that Stefano Benni writes Räikkönen’s texts or that his stage times are dictated by Garinei & Giovannini’s scripts, but, if anything, when someone like Kimi Räikkönen speaks or keeps silent, well, you trust him very much. Because that the F.1 has already wrecked it in unsuspicious times, at the end of 2009, except to come back invoked and regretted, because even today it’s a very able to say goodbye to the company from one moment to another and forever, to come back to blow his beast in one of the special stages of the Finland rally or in the WRC world championship or who knows where.

Because Kimi Räikkönen is a righteous person and a real one. Well, woe to lump everything together but the immortality of his appeal among the people is the most obvious demonstration that the great plan of the Formula 1 gentlemen from the third millennium on, aimed at creating as much as possible a whole generation of young drivers more or less humanly colorless, cunning and able only to talk to microphones even whole days without saying a damn thing, completely or almost devoid of the verve of dialectical verve aimed at making a witty joke or at putting into practice arguments capable of going beyond destabilizing noises such as “yesterday didn’t go badly, today I’m not complaining and I remain optimistic for tomorrow”, well, I was saying, the overall plan to clone a mega-generation of plastic pseudo-babies – is only partially successful, because there are some intelligent and valid guys, today in F.1, everyone declares his favorites -, yes, this diabolically perpetrated plan, did immense damage, disgusted millions and millions of fans, even drove away a whole generation of possible fans, because, come on, let’s face it, motorsport enthusiast are more and more people over 40, with a beard and belly.

And so, the charm and the fascination without remission towards Kimi Räikkönen are also the proof of a profound and fundamental discomfort, of a generational change in a mythical area imaginatively lacking, of a reclamation wanted from above that has produced infinite horrors, on the human level.

And so Kimi Räikkönen ends up also becoming a symbol of something more than what he wants and knows he is. And so cheering “Iceman” becomes a form of rebellion against the flattened and bromide system, to rejoice for some of his dreamy, twisted and half-bright phrases, interspersed with wonderful “Bwoah”, means howling in the face of the well-thinking owners of the steam of this F.1 a last cry of freedom, ramshackle and hippie.

How much longer can Kimi Räikkönen run in the GPs? Reasonably, another year, this one, and then who knows. But let’s cherish him, because to this day, willingly or not, he remains the last testimonial, philosophical bulwark, standard-bearer and beautiful and residual icon of an ancient civilization of champions for better or for worse spontaneous and such as to make you proud to put their face on the wall of your eternal boy’s bedroom, because inspirational enough to deserve to be on a poster.

You want the dirty, horrible truth? Maximum respect for those who love Hamilton, for those who believe in Leclerc or hope in Vettel’s resilience or, I don’t know, pining for Bottas’ fascinating and amazing dialectic or Stroll’s Franciscan frugality.

But Räikkönen’s eternal permanence among the most enjoyable, beloved and cheered drivers – even if his chances of winning a Grand Prix are nearer and nearer to zero – unequivocally means that whoever wanted to make F.1 the stupid paradise of Houses and sponsors, where real men and spontaneous guys are uncomfortable, maybe imposed himself, but, eh yes, has broken his balls a bit.

And so, long live the driver Kimi Räikkönen, dressed as a monkey at parties and down with what all the owners and the rich guys of Formula 1 dream of, that is, day by day and Grand Prix by Grand Prix, to make the party at the circus trying to create a bunch of monkeys disguised as drivers.