Räikkönen. Everything, and more

A (hopefully) bit different portrait of Kimi who says goodbye to F1

by Alberto Antonini, 2. September 2021, formulapassion.it

“Don’t give me options!”. If there is one phrase that has stuck with me, of the few that Kimi Räikkönen has uttered intelligibly, it is this. Don’t give me options, don’t make me choose. We were at the beginning of our joint adventure in Ferrari and, while preparing an event, I had proposed to him, as a trivial form of courtesy, to choose between different possibilities (I wish I could remember what it was about, but it is not important). He pronounced the phrase – one of his trademarks, along with “more worse” and other very personal interpretations of the English language – in a peremptory, but not annoyed, tone. We were measuring each other and he wanted to make things clear. Choosing never appealed to him when it came to these things. At the launch of the 2018 single-seater, the SF71H which was also his last Ferrari, we had prepared a series of short descriptions to introduce all the circuits of the season. He read his texts like a dyslexic robot and at one point he said to me: this stuff doesn’t make sense. I replied that since I was not a driver, I had asked Marc Genè, who knows a lot about tracks, to collaborate with me; but if he didn’t like what was written, he could improvise on his experience. The answer was obvious and immediate: nah, let’s get on with it. Don’t give me options, indeed.

At some point it’s life that leaves you with only one option. Maybe after twenty years, perhaps, including those spent trying to convince himself that rallying was his way. This is not one of the many goodbyes of Kimi-Matias to Formula One: this is the definitive farewell. And I don’t think it’s by chance that nowhere in the world has anyone said ” thank goodness”. With his way of doing, his askew personality, the absolute idiosyncrasy to accept compromises as well as options, Kimi has managed to be loved by practically everyone. When he left Ferrari, in November three years ago in Abu Dhabi, there was the classic farewell party at the hotel. He, Minttu, Robin, Rianna, the nanny and the whole racing team were there. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so serene, a wonderful father affectionate towards his children. His engineers had prepared a surprise for him: crossing the finish line of his last GP in red, a greeting and thank you message should appear on the steering wheel display. For one of those cases in which life really seems to do it on purpose, an electrical blackout knocked him out after just six laps and turned off the entire car, steering wheel included.

The guys in the box felt terrible. And I’m talking about people who didn’t hesitate to tell you how Iceman, in technical briefings, was sometimes grumpy and surly to the point of offense. The fact is that his armor was too transparent not to let you see what was behind it. Namely the desire to close himself off from the complications, the hypocrisies that fill a paddock more than the noise of the engines. Each of us wears an armor, more or less robust, more or less obvious. His was so obvious that you ended up forgiving him for everything. Especially when you found out that far from a circuit (or rather: far from everything that surrounds a circuit) he was, or rather is, a different and definitely interesting person.

Who knows how many times he had already thought about quitting. Even if in the end he didn’t disdain the Alfa Sauber contract, initially worth about ten million a year. Once, back in his Ferrari days, he confided to Stefania, his faithful companion of many years in many paddocks, about the fact that sometimes he didn’t feel as fast as he used to. “Maybe I really should retire,” he grumbled. He didn’t that year or the next. In the summer of 2018, Sergio Marchionne would have liked to sideline him right away to make room for Charles Leclerc. Instead, Kimi stayed for the whole season, won fantastically in Austin, started boozing in the hospitality and continued throughout the evening, deserting the party in his honor for the simple fact that he couldn’t stand on his feet. Perhaps, with the years, he had lost a little speed (or rather consistency), but certainly also the habit of alcohol in industrial quantities. He had changed a lot, compared to the taciturn kid with the bespectacled girlfriend (the one at that time) who told me one day “I did military service, like everyone else, but I didn’t like it. I didn’t like people telling me what to do” (if you can find it, though, enjoy the video of Kimi as a soldier teaching recruits). He was also different from the disheveled, listless young man they had dragged out of bed one morning, forced onto a plane, and flown from Switzerland to Woking to meet with a group of journalists. Punctuality has never been his strong point, not even in the days when his boss was Ron Dennis at McLaren. The days when he was a young up-and-comer and ruthlessly fast, able to come back from the bottom at Suzuka 2005 as I’ve seen only few other drivers do. The time when he already had a contract with Maranello in his pocket and, although he couldn’t say it, he couldn’t help but make us understand, one afternoon in Stuttgart.

I remember an interview with Andrea Stella, his race engineer for years. He told me about when he got out of the car at Interlagos 2007, at the end of an incredible race. He started as an outsider and became world champion. When he took off his helmet and balaclava, there was an unmistakable glint in the corner of his ice-coloured eyes. His emotion, the sign that is worth more than a billion words. That’s the way he is, Kimi, with his gestures, his grimaces and his monosyllables. That is his way of communicating. For years I tried in vain to convince the sponsors of the Prancing Horse not to make him speak, and I’m happy that, in the end, Alfa Romeo understood this too. The gesture with which, in the commercial that we have all seen, he signals to the driver in the black coupe to pass is a masterpiece of body language. At times his personality would take on unintentional but still very effective comic turns, as after a victory in Spain: “Yes, I saw your king… He’s a nice king”. Other times he would vent in team radios that aren’t even worth talking about, so iconic have they become. In a few months, Kimi Räikkönen will definitely be exiting the scene as an active driver. I’m sure he’ll still be able to enjoy life. He’ll be with his family, he’ll go around barefoot, maybe with the electric bike that has also conquered him. He will do motocross, see his old friends, and every now and then, after a training session or any race, he will jump into the tub full of ice to regenerate.

Because that, more than anything else, is the habit that has earned him his enduring nickname, Iceman. Did you know?

Ten unforgettable things about Kimi Räikkönen

Leo Turrini’s blog, 1. September 2021

Now that Kimi Räikkönen has formalized his retirement from Formula One at the end of the season, I will mention in no particular order ten things about him that, in twenty years!, have caught my imagination.
The first would be the last. It is the whatsapp text that KR7 sent me last night. Here it is: life is much much more important and has always been for me.
I don’t think a translation is needed.
The second is the 2009 victory at Spa, with a Ferrari whose second car on the track finished in last place. A gigantic feat, carried out knowing that he had already been fired, not for demerits (Maranello had won three world championships with him in two years) but in the name of a business wanted by many and then resolved in an epochal failure.
The third. In a very long career, Kimi has never once been suspected of having voluntarily committed an impropriety on the track. Never once.
The fourth. That day in 2001 at the barriers of the Paddock in Melbourne, he was at his absolute debut, he had forgotten his pass and the staff didn’t want to let him in because they didn’t know him and I was behind the line laughing like crazy.
Fifth. The pole at Monza in 2018, a crazy lap in record time to an unheard of roar from the crowd and it was the final burial of the detractors on permanent duty.
The sixth. 2007 Interlagos. A lot, why am I telling you?
The seventh. Leave me alone, I know what I am doing. His team radios have become a cult, especially when he was in Lotus, because Räikkönen also won with Lotus, eh.
The eighth one. The cell phone thrown into the sea when he finally had the certainty, one summer day in 2013, that Ferrari had realized they were wrong about him.
The ninth. The victory at Spa in 2004 with an unpresentable McLaren. Because on the Ardennes there are also those who have never won.
The tenth. The story of a man who was able to fight his demons, including alcohol. In Hotakainen’s beautiful book, published in Italy by Minerva, he has accepted to tell about his faults, mistakes, existential disasters.
Kimi Räikkönen is my brother.

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