Räikkönen: “In isolation I never get bored. I don’t think about stopping racing.”

The Finn and his days with the family: “Virtual races? I’d rather wait to get back on the real track. Vettel and Giovinazzi two real friends.”

Corriere by Daniele Sparisci

Kimi Räikkönen has always thought about keeping some distance with the world. Especially towards that part of Formula 1 that never went down well with him: interviews, appearances, press conferences. The days of wild parties are far away, the latest Ferrari world champion is a role model dad. His wife Minttu, little Robin and Rianna who are racing on tricycles, lockdown in the family. In the Finnish woods, on his estate, where he also had a motocross track built. Mud and jumps, he shows no cracks after weeks of isolation. On the contrary, he says he can enjoy the children more and that little has changed since before. At the age of forty he is the oldest driver in F1, the forced stop has interrupted the hunt for the race record: he is at 313, Rubens Barrichello is at +10, the pass may be completed if the season starts on July 5 in Austria. But he doesn’t give importance to numbers.

Kimi, how are you spending this period? Are you bored?
Pretty normal, pretty much the same as before. I spend all my time with the kids, we are lucky enough to be outdoors most of the time. We do a lot of hand work and a lot of activities. My days pass very quickly.

Let’s go back to two months ago, to the chaos of the Australian GP. You were on the plane back before the race was officially cancelled. Did you really not know if you were going to race?
Maybe I did or maybe I didn’t. But what does it matter now? It’s gone now. I just think canceling the race was the right thing to do. And so it was.

How do you feel about racing on circuits without spectators?
We will resume when the F1 and the FIA decide that it is possible to do it safely. It’s not our decision, I’m sure they will evaluate the picture very carefully. We will race at the right time, even without an audience.

Can this situation change your plans for the future?
No. Let’s wait until we find a way to start the season and finish it. At some point, I’ll see what’s going on and I’ll sum it up. Nothing changes for me at the moment.

How long do you want to continue in Formula 1?
As long as I have fun and motivation. Now I feel more motivated than ever.

You returned to the team with which you started in 2001 (Sauber, now partnered with Alfa), how is the atmosphere?
Good. In the second year we know each other better: they know what I want and I know what I want from them.

What do you think about online racing? A lot of drivers take part.
I don’t care, I’d rather wait until I can get back to a real track.

Neither did you like to drive the Ferrari simulator.
It’s not that I didn’t love it. Let’s say that flying to Italy to get in front of the simulator wasn’t exactly why I chose this job. It’s a different thing to drive around the track. And anyway, those simulators are completely different and extremely more complex than the online racing ones.

For a driver it must be strange to think of a season without the Monte Carlo GP, isn’t it?
It’s not up to us, and it’s not just that race that’s cancelled. We won’t be racing in Australia or anywhere else we would have liked. Unfortunately, that’s the situation.

With such a long break you don’t risk getting rusty in your body and mind?
I don’t think it’s much different from the traditional winter breaks since we’ve been back at the tests in Barcelona. This time I think we’ll go straight to the first race, I don’t see any particular problems.

Is it possible to make friends among the other drivers?
For me Sebastian and Antonio (Vettel and Giovinazzi) are friends. Apart from them I don’t have many.

You have been a protagonist of the last twenty years of F1. If you could travel back in time, in what era would you compete?
You can’t go back. I’m happy with where I am, when I started and what I achieved. But if you could, I would take a look at the F1 of the 70s and 80s.

Kimi Räikkönen: It’s a rude awakening for everyone, not just Formula One.

The 2007 world champion chose to live in his home in Porkkala, southern Finland, where he lives in isolation with his wife Minttu and children Robin and Rianna. A family life that he was kind enough to share with AUTOhebdo for the time of a phone call.

Interview by Jean-Michel Desnoues, in AUTOhebdo Magazine No 2260, 1. April 2020

Hello Kimi, how’s your isolation in Finland?

Pretty good under the circumstances. We’re fortunate to have this house with a large garden. Except for the fact that we’re staying at home, it’s a pretty normal family life.

Not too hard with two kids at home?

Not ideal, but we are lucky to have this big space outside where they can get some fresh air and let off steam. We play a lot of games. They’re also happy to have their dad a little more available than usual.

Do you remember the last time you spent this much time at home?

It hasn’t been that long, actually, since the winter break was only a few weeks ago. We were just getting out. We live the same way. We probably would have seen more friends if it wasn’t for this outbreak, but there’s not much difference.

Does this experience give you a chance to make things that weren’t so important to you anymore?

I haven’t been confined long enough to begin asking myself these kinds of questions. It may come, but for now, really, we’re living the way we’ve always lived. We’re doing things the way we’ve always done them. Of course, what’s going on in the world is anything but normal, but at home, nothing has changed. There are no things that I thought were unimportant yesterday that suddenly become essential.

What kind of confined person are you? Worried, who’s permanently connected to the news channels, or rather fatalistic?

I don’t watch a lot of TV news, I don’t read many newspapers either, but I check the news on my phone during the day to keep myself informed about the spread of the Coronavirus. I’m not obsessed with it, if that’s what you’re thinking. Besides, even if I wanted to watch more TV or read some more newspapers, I couldn’t do that so much, the kids are hogging me. It’s a full-time job. At night, I watch TV. It’s pretty terrifying everything that’s going on and nobody wants to get this virus, but the worst thing you can do is panic. We have to do what we’re told: stay home!

How do you stay in shape? Do you have a gym at home?

Yes, I’ve set up a small room, but there’s enough room around the house for me to do my daily exercises. As it’s away from everything, I can also continue to do my motocross! So it’s not a problem. I do more or less what I do in the pre-season or between races. It hasn’t really changed.

Are you in regular contact with your engineers?

I have been quite a lot in the week after I got back from Australia, but now that the factory is closed and we are on “summer break” until mid-April, there is no need. We went through everything after the winter tests, and since then we unfortunately haven’t had the opportunity to drive. We send each other messages to check up on each other, but nothing work-related.

Do you talk with other drivers via a WhatsApp group or something?

No. I haven’t spoken to any of my colleagues. I don’t usually do that anyway. I got a message from Antonio (Giovinazzi) who wanted to know if everything was okay for me and my family, but that’s all.

Did you support the decision not to drive in Melbourne?

There was no other solution. I just regret that in view of what was happening in Europe, it was more than likely that such a scenario would happen. Perhaps the decision could have been taken earlier. All the people in the paddock, and that’s a lot of people, are travelling from Europe, and there was a good chance that someone would be contaminated in an airport, on a plane or whatever. That’s what happened. We should not have gone, but it was not our decision. We drivers follow what the FIA and F1 decide. If there is a race, we go. Even at this late stage, it was better to cancel rather than take risks for the F1 staff and spectators.

Before the crisis began, what was your state of mind when you arrived in Australia? Did you think you were in a position to fight for points?

It’s always difficult to estimate where you really stand in relation to others after the winter tests. You try to guess, basically. For our part, we’d done everything we had to do and we were ready. We were going to fight for points at the top of the midfield, but it wasn’t guaranteed. I wasn’t optimistic or pessimistic, I was just waiting for the first qualifying to find out a little bit more. The situation means that I will have the answer at some point in the season. As soon as possible, I hope.

For F1, which often lives in its bubble, isn’t this pandemic a rude awakening?

It’s a rude awakening for everyone, not just for F1! What happens is… For the moment, the most important thing is for people to stay healthy, but once the pandemic is over, it will be time for questions. I hope that something positive will eventually come out of all this, but for the moment we can only endure and protect ourselves.

Are you worried about the increase in postponed or cancelled Grand Prix?

There’s no point in worrying about something that’s out of control at the moment. Everyone is working hard to try to put together the most solid schedule possible, with a return as soon as possible, but the reality is that no one knows when we will see the end of the tunnel. The situation is different in different countries and we are travelling around the world to drive. There is no alternative but to leave it to the FIA-FOM to decide when and where we can race safely for us and the spectators. I am not worried. I hope like everyone else that the championship can start as soon as possible.

The second half of the year is going to be extremely intense with 15 to 18 Grand Prix in the space of a few months. Is it going to be an even more complicated period for the midfield teams?

We’ll take a look at race 1! Only then will we have a better idea of how many Grand Prix will finally be possible and at what rate. I hope we’re going to be busy because that would mean the situation is much better everywhere. As for whether medium-sized teams like Alfa Romeo will be more impacted than others, the best thing to do is to ask Fred (Vasseur), although I don’t know what the answer is. With more resources and personnel, the big teams will be in a better position to meet the demand in terms of parts and will be able to continue to make upgrades at each Grand Prix, even if there are three in a row. I’m sure we will also be able to bring upgrades, but probably not at every race. With less money and fewer people, we will soon be overloaded. We’ll have to do the best we can under the circumstances and see what can be done. Nor should we underestimate the reaction capacities of small teams that, even in normal times, are struggling on a daily basis. They are familiar with the exercise.

Seasons with 16-17 races, that was your annual lot when you started in F1. Staying positive, the slightly shorter seasons also had their good side…

In any case, we weren’t any worse off (Laughs)! If we can get to a calendar of 16-17 races, that would already be fantastic. Perhaps, and it’s in relation to what we’ve just been talking about, the sustained rhythm will give rise to new ideas. We’ve been talking about two-day weekends for a long time and everything suggests that we’ll probably have to test them. This unprecedented situation, which requires us to review all of our plans, will perhaps bring to light some new solutions as well. That would be good.

Abu Dhabi 2019, it’s getting out of date. Are you starting to feel the lack of competition?

Of course, four months is a long way off and it will be six months or more when we can race again. Now it allows me to spend more time with my family and that’s not bad either. At least we had the opportunity to drive in the six days of pre-season testing. It’s not much, but it’s something.

No way to do a little go-kart racing around your house?

I haven’t had time to look at where it’s possible… and if it was possible. Before we came here, we went go-karting with Robin in Switzerland, just before everything closed. To be honest, it did cross my mind, but you have to be reasonable and follow the recommendations. It’s much better for yourself and for others to stay home.

Robin discovered karting last year. Does he still like it?

Before, he used to do mini motocross, which was more of a problem for me. I prefer to see him on four wheels. I don’t have to worry anymore. If he goes off the track, it’s no big deal. On a motorbike, the fall is rarely innocent. Even on a minibike. Yes, he likes it, and I’m glad to see him driving it, too. When he drove a motorbike, I used to spend all my time telling him to slow down, to be careful. With the kart, the message is different: enjoy yourself!

For lack of being able to blow off steam on a kart, have you considered the Esport Grand Prix organised all over the net?

No. It’s just not my thing. We’ve known each other for quite some time and I doubt it’s yours too. Right? (Laughs)

When you started in 2001, could you imagine for one moment being here almost 20 years later?

Certainly not! I thought I was going to stop much sooner. I did stop anyway, but I came back. I never had the slightest idea how long it would last. I was hoping for at least a year, maybe two. Things turned out differently, but I never had a plan. I still don’t. As long as the fun is there and I’m able to do good things, I’ll keep going.

Given the extremely competitive nature of the sport, are you proud of this longevity?

Proud? Well, not really. As long as I feel that I can drive at the level I hope to be and I can do things right, I’m happy to continue. As long as racing is more important than all the other nonsense in life, I’m not going to be like, “Okay, you’ve raced so many races, and that’s awesome!” For me, it’s all about the result. Maybe one day, long after I quit, that number will mean something. Right now it won’t.

What would you like to say to your fans at this difficult time?

I’m really sorry, because for them, F1 is a party. It’s sad, but I would like to tell them that they are already taking good care of themselves and their loved ones, and that we will see each other again soon. It’s just a matter of time. It’s terrible what’s happening, and the only useful thing we can do is to stay home.

If they want to watch some Grand Prix from the past, which ones would you recommend?

I’ve raced a lot of them, and I’m starting to get them confused. (Laughs) I’m sure they’re better informed than I am about which Grand Prix are worth watching.

Perhaps they should focus on your biography, the unknown Kimi Räikkönen, by Kari Hotakainen?

If they want to (Laughs)! I’ve often been offered to do one, and I thought this time it was the right time. I hesitated, but the result is ok.

Even the chapter where it is explained that once you drank 16 days in a row without a break?

I was younger, and I was fitter. (Laughs) Seriously, I lived my life, I enjoyed it, but there’s a time for everything. I’m a family man now. I still have a drink sometimes, but it never goes very far.

What’s left of the Kimi from early 2001?

Plenty! I’m the same actually, but more experienced. As I just said, I’m also a married man and a father now, with all the changes that implies.

Does the father of the family think like his boss Frédéric Vasseur that there will be a before and after Covid-19?

I haven’t thought about that, to be honest. There’ll be an impact, that’s for sure. I’d say there’s no point in trying to guess what’s going to happen because it only amplifies the worries. I’m more likely to face problems when they come up. Let this epidemic stop already! Now I understand why Fred is thinking about this. He’s got a team to keep going, employees with families who rely on him. It’s complicated.

If I say to you: “See you at Paul-Ricard”, will you answer me maybe a little earlier or certainly a little later?

I’d like to say Montreal, but I don’t know. No one knows anything about it. I feel like saying to you: “We will see each other when we see each other!” As soon as possible. Until then, take good care of yourself and your readers.