Kimi Raikkonen interview: F1's quiet man suffers for his art
Much has been made of the few words Kimi Raikkonen, the quiet man of Formula One, does in fact say.
He’s admittedly a man prone to short sentences and, when he does speak out, it is often blunt and to the point. Take last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix for example where his in-car musings became the stuff of Formula One folklore.
As the team tried to communicate with him over the race radio, he simply responded “just leave me alone, I know what I’m doing”. More instructions following to which he replied, “Yes, yes, yes. You don’t have to remind me every second”.
Other drivers at other teams would most likely not get away with it. If Lewis Hamilton were to do it at Mercedes or Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull then there would be a certain amount of furor.
But then Kimi is, well, Kimi and he has always chosen not to conform to the expectations of a modern-day F1 driver where endless media appearances are the norm. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a more closely-guarded sports star.
Sometimes, it’s what he doesn’t say rather than what he does that is so compelling. He rarely if ever talks about other drivers, he won’t be caught in the sort of media slanging match enjoyed by some of his grid rivals. And don’t expect that to change any time soon. He hits back at suggestions he does not play the game.
“I’m doing an interview right now aren’t I?” he says, ahead of this Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix, before adding. “I know I have to do this stuff for sponsors but I won’t do anymore than I have to.”
There is a definite shyness to Raikkonen. He would rather not talk shop or divulge issues about his private life. He hates it and the craving for every tit bit of information is a big reason why he walked away from the sport altogether in 2009.
But Raikkonen the racer was not satisfied. The 2007 world champion wanted to return and last season Lotus took an almighty gamble in signing him. In 2009 at Ferrari, he had looked sluggish, appeared to have fallen out of love with racing.
What Lotus was doing was akin to putting everything in the casino on red, a decision that paid off in some style. Last season, he was the model of consistency, finishing every race and winning one of them, the aforementioned Abu Dhabi GP.
What highlighted his impressive pace even more were the struggles of fellow returnee Michael Schumacher, who never quite delivered following his own sabbatical.
From the moment winter testing began, did he ever have doubts in his own abilities? The short answer is not particularly.
“Ok, there is a bit of worry, of unknown as you’ve not done it for a while,” he admits. “But I’d done Formula One for much of my life and the same people were there and not much had changed. It maybe took a few laps to get up to speed.
“The bigger worry was about the car. The thing is that in winter testing you know very quickly if the car is going to be s***. And if it’s s*** you know you’ll be wasting your time for the season.”
Thankfully for Raikkonen, his Lotus last season and again this looks competitive. He won the season opener in Australia and now lies second in the championship just four points behind Sebastian Vettel.
He knows the team need to improve and don’t have the luxury of throwing as much money at their upgrades as the likes of Red Bull or Ferrari.
He adds: “We need to be faster, we need more downforce. It’s that simple. But we have a budget and we have to work within that.”
An uncertain future
The team’s cause has undoubtedly not been helped by technical director James Allison’s departure. He is currently on gardening leave before an anticipated move across the grid to Ferrari.
Mention of Allison’s exit merely leads to a shrug of the shoulders but it may be a key fact in his decision-making over his future. His current deal runs out at the end of the season and no talks have begun about renewing it.
“I’ve no contract for next year,” he says. “There’s talk about this and that but, in the end, I have to make a decision.”
The decision seems to be either to stick with Lotus or move to Red Bull, where he has been touted as Mark Webber’s replacement.
Team owner Dietrich Mateschitz has made no secret of his admiration for Raikkonen but the Finn himself insists: “I haven’t even talked to people about it. There may be some options I don’t know.”
That decision may rest on how much Lotus can push their in-season development. If they fall back, Raikkonen may feel he has no option but to look enviously at the Red Bulls in front of him. As rapid as his return to the sport has been, his exit could be similarly swift.
“F1 is not my life, I just love racing,” he says. “And I could stop tomorrow... if I lose that love. I just don’t have a plan for the future. I have a World Championship, which was my goal from a young age as a driver. If I retire tomorrow, I’m happy. I’ll just go off and do normal things and escape all the bulls***.”
In his remaining time in F1, he has no plans to change his approach to work and life. Lotus talk of a humorous employee – after all post-Abu Dhabi he handed T-shirts out with the slogan “Leave me alone I know what I’m doing” to the entire Enstone team. But he again shrugs his shoulders at the idea that he should change.
“People have their opinions of me and that’s fine,” he says. “This is my work and I’m sure most people are different at work and at home. I’ve a life outside F1 that’s just different.”
The world according to Kimi Raikkonen certainly seems in contrast to the rest of his peers. If he never had to do another interview, he would be a happy man. But he does them – admittedly begrudgingly – as that’s the price he has to pay to pursue his first love.
KIMI'S BEST FIVE DRIVES
1. Brazilian GP – 2007
The most important of his career. He lined up on the grid seven points behind Lewis Hamilton in the championship but took the win and his solitary world title.
2. Japanese GP – 2005
Engine trouble had left him languishing 17th on the grid but he worked his way up the field and pulled off a bold move on the last lap to overtake Giancarlo Fisichella and win.
3. Monaco GP – 2005
Leading after a safety car period, the frontrunners pitted but not Raikkonen after an email from McLaren HQ advised otherwise. He built up a big enough lead to pit safely later in the race to win.
4. Australian GP – 2007
Became the first driver to win on debut for Ferrari since Nigel Mansell 18 years earlier. Later admitted he should have won by more but didn’t because he got bored.
5. Abu Dhabi GP – 2012
His first victory since his return to the sport after a two-year sabbatical. He profited from Lewis Hamilton’s retirement but it highlighted an already impressive F1 comeback.