Marathon man

source: Autozeitung, Nr 25, 11. Nov. 2020

At the Formula 1 race at the Nürburgring, Alfa Romeo star Kimi Räikkönen equalled the record for the most GP entries. Reason enough for us to take him for a befitting spin through the region.

by Gregor Messner

Actually not a good idea from the boss: “Mr Messer, on Thursday you have an appointment with Kimi Räikkönen at the Nürburgring. Make a nice story out of it.” Interviews with Formula 1 drivers are challenges, they can be real divas, but Räikkönen is feared. Listless, taciturn, monosyllabic, annoyed – these are the characteristics attributed to him. Make a nice story out of this meeting? Let’s see. The prerequisites for a cool story are basically given: I’ll travel to the Eifel in the befitting Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio. He will come with a Stelvio Quadrifoglio, they say. Sporty high-performance limousine and its counterpart as a noble SUV, both driven by the same power source: pleasantly grumbling six-cylinder technology with biturbo, plus a smooth eight-speed automatic, which together provide outrageous acceleration and a great top speed.

But the cold steady rain is lousy, plus Räikkönen’s press adjutant immediately blocks off: “Kimi will stay in the car. And he won’t take off his mask either. He’s serious about the corona virus.” Ten minutes later, the Finn arrives at the car park on Ring Boulevard. No sooner has he parked his Stelvio than he gets out of the red luxury SUV. Without a mask! That’s how Räikkönen is, that’s how he’s always been: the cult driver has never seemed really predictable.

Without having talked, we get back into our cars, take the usual car-to-car shots, stream along the small country road next to the Döttinger Höhe, his Stelvio on the right, my Giulia on the left, then venture down the steep serpentines to Breidscheid and up again until we park at the Brünnchen.

After the distant greeting – “Hi, Kimi” – and some small talk from the long ago early days of his career, we immediately go in medias res: “A mega car, the Stelvio, isn’t it?”, I ask, and he nods silently.  Great conversation, I think, but then his always unagitated, rasping voice kicks in – and the otherwise reserved Finn reveals himself to be an easy conversationalist: “I like the Stelvio, it’s a very nice car. I always have one available at the races, and I also have one privately.” Besides the SUV, fast up to 283 km/h, Räikkönen has parked three Formula 1 cars from his long career in his garage, a McLaren and two Ferraris: “It was very nice of Ferrari to give me my last winning car from 2018.” Speeding, however, is not possible for him in Switzerland – because of the strict speed limit. “Never mind,” he says, grinning mischievously, “I don’t drive the car much at home anyway. To the airport and back, sometimes to Hinwil to the team. Often I take the bike.”

It’s the shape, the design and the lines of the two Quadrifoglio that excite him: “Very nice,” Räikkönen says, “the design makes the biggest difference to other manufacturers. Alfa Romeo has always made beautiful cars, hasn’t it?” Räikkönen even falls slightly into the philosophical in his praise: “I have been travelling around the world for over 20 years now. And I always have the impression that the cars that come onto the market look more and more alike. You can hardly tell them apart. But Alfa Romeos have a clear design language.” And what about the power in the 510-hp macchina? “It’s good,” he says, a typically reduced-to-the-point Räikkönen response. The 41-year-old is one of the great characters of Formula 1, so cool and hard-boiled that he has taken such a liking to his nickname “Iceman” that he has had it tattooed as a word mark on his left forearm.

On the track, the 21-time GP winner is one of the hard workers. His contract with Alfa Romeo was extended for another year. At the Ring, he equalled Rubens Barrichello’s record of 323 Grand Prix starts to date. Räikkönen only says: “So what? All records are broken at some point.” The age of 35 is considered the sound barrier for Formula 1 drivers. Now he is 41, but his fire is still burning. Wasn’t the one title in 2007 with Ferrari too little? “No,” he insists, “I’m happy.” Räikkönen wouldn’t be the “cool sock” that he is if he didn’t look back with Finnish equanimity: “That it was only one title didn’t change my life.” Maybe his kids could. Son Robin, 5, is already practising karting. “Today it’s karting, tomorrow he likes motocross. It changes every day,” says Räikkönen and chats on and on: about Formula 1, career and future. Maybe it was a good idea to meet the great silent man at the Ring after all …

The entire interview was published on autozeitung.de :

“Mostly I cycle”

In this Formula 1 season with 15 races, you complete around 12,000 kilometres on the race track. How much do you drive on public roads in your private life?

Significantly less, that’s for sure. I do most of the driving to and from the airport. When I’m at home in Switzerland, I don’t use the car that much. Well, when the races are in Italy, like three times this year, I drive these distances by car. It’s shorter for me to get to Hinwil, where the Alfa Romeo team is based, than to the airport in Zurich. In my normal life, most things happen within a radius of two kilometres. In other words, short distances. I cycle most of them.

In Switzerland, but also in your home country Finland, there are strict speed limits. How do you cope with that?

It’s no problem for me to keep to the limits. I’ve lived in Switzerland for a long time, I’m rarely in Finland. Of course, there are lots of cameras here, too. But in the past, sure, we all drove faster, we were younger, we drove with a heavy right foot. Today it’s different. 

What is your favourite car at the moment?

I also drive an Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio privately. I also have a van, which I love to drive. At the race tracks, Alfa Romeo always gives me a Stelvio. It’s a mega car.

How many cars do you have in your garage?

There aren’t that many any more. We had more, but I hardly used them. When I was younger and had just got my driving licence, I drove a lot more. We drove around at night, small, narrow roads, there was a lot of fun going on. But that hasn’t been the case anymore for years. Someday you get over that point. Today, if I have to go somewhere further away, I quickly take the car.

For many years you drove for Ferrari, now for Alfa Romeo. You know the road versions, of course. What makes Italian cars special?

I think, above all, the design. That makes the biggest difference. For years, I’ve been travelling to countries for the races. The cars I see on the roads there are becoming more and more similar. That may have its reasons. The Italians, on the other hand, you recognise immediately.

Some racing drivers collect their racing cars. What about you?

I own three cars from my Formula 1 career. Two are not ready to drive. They are just show cars: a McLaren from 2002 and a Ferrari from my world championship year 2007. They look nice. But earlier this year, Ferrari gave me the car with which I won my last Grand Prix in Texas in 2018. The SF71H is fully functional. At some point I will bring the car to the track. But I will have to call in the mechanics from Italy to start it. I have never been one to care about my former cars. But I felt it was very nice of Ferrari to give me my last winning car.

Another topic: How do you see the mobility of the future?

Electric mobility is the direction everything is going in at the moment. But it won’t happen as fast as the electric people imagine. It’s more likely to be a mix of everything. Who knows where we’ll be in 20 years. If it were that easy, everyone would switch to e-mobility. And on the other hand, electric cars are not as clean as they appear. Okay, these cars drive green. But what about the batteries when they have to be recycled? And where do you charge these cars, how often, are there enough charging stations?

Finns are known for their driving talent. You have a five-year-old son, Robin, who has already done his first kilometres in a kart. Will he continue the tradition of the fast Finns?

To be honest, I have no idea. If you ask him today, he wants to drive a kart, if you ask him tomorrow, it’s something else he wants. That’s just the way it is. He enjoys it. Unfortunately, we don’t have much time together. When we ride motocross, he says he enjoys it more. So far, it’s all just a hobby. If it stays a hobby, it’s okay. Time will tell. Let’s see how it is in two years.

You broke Rubens Barrichello’s race start record and have now competed in 325 Grands Prix. Does this record mean anything to you?

Actually, it’s just a number. Here at the Ring, it’s just a normal race weekend for me. I’m sure all records will be broken at some point. It doesn’t matter to me. Maybe one day I will be happy about such records when I have finished my Formula 1 and professional career.

Your contract was recently extended. You will continue to drive for Alfa Romeo for at least another year. You enjoy driving in Formula One.

Yes, I still have great fun and enjoy racing. It’s like in every sport, every hobby, every job: some days are better than others. Just like in normal life. I like the challenge, I always want to improve. If I didn’t enjoy racing anymore, or if it was a nightmare every day, I wouldn’t be here at the track today.

In the current field of drivers, you are the only one – and currently last one – who made it into Formula 1 without big sponsorship and junior programmes, but with pure talent. How do you see this development with drivers from academies or even those who bought their cockpits with large sums of money from their family businesses?

Motorsport has always been a very expensive sport, even when I was young. But now I hear that professional karting is about as expensive as Formula Renault was 20 years ago when I raced in that category. That’s crazy. It makes it all much harder to get into motorsport as a young person. The good junior teams today all have support from big manufacturers, teams or sponsors. On the other hand, even in professional football, the clubs have junior teams and junior academies. But that’s just the way it is in professional sport, and actually it doesn’t matter if that’ s now good or bad.

Between 2011 and 2012, you interrupted your Formula 1 career for two seasons to compete in the World Rally Championship and even in the US Nascar series. What is still on your list after your Formula 1 career?

I don’t have any plans yet. Let’s see what happens in the foreseeable future. Maybe there are some rallies I could do, maybe not. Maybe I won’t do anything, maybe I’ll look after my son in karting. At Peugeot, I once tried out the Le Mans prototype years ago. A nice car, but that wasn’t for me. I was very interested in the Dakar Rally. But this competition is no longer the same. It has changed a lot.

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