I am probably in a minority (again), but I am not a big fan of the Top Gear programme on BBC television.
I am, however, a big fan of racing driver Kimi Räikkönen. So I was keen to see Kimi out on their test track last week in what they call a reasonably priced car. A conversation with Mr Jeremy Clarkson was also promised and that, I thought, just had to be seen.
I was not disappointed. Rarely have I seen Kimi in such good form in an interview situation. Never one to use 10 words when five will suffice, like the majority of Finns, Kimi doesn’t really do interviews. He is not known among journalists to be what’s called a ‘good talker’. He prefers to keep his part in the proceedings to an absolute minimum. This is fine by me as the man has a nice wry sense of humour and is the master of the understatement. Kimi is refreshingly free of the platitudes that have become common parlance in 21st Century Grand Prix racing.
The conversation with Clarkson came first, as a build-up to the 2007 World Champion’s lap of the track. Kimi ambled on, blue baseball cap, blue shirt, blue jeans. Not a logo or sponsor in sight. These days that is rare indeed. How did it feel to be back?
“Very normal. Cars are the same, people are the same. Same story.”
Asked about the car he is to race this season, Kimi seemed a little unsure about its pedigree. Is it a Lotus or a Renault?
“Well it’s, er, it’s not a Renault. Lotus is just a sponsor. I mean, the Renault factory built it, so…”
An anti-dandruff shampoo is also a sponsor. Was that good?
“It seems to be working… maybe you should try it.”
What about those F1 press conferences? Why are his answers so brief?
“You can make it very complicated, but you can also be straight and tell the true story, that’s much easier.”
And his comments about the special meaning of helmet designs for drivers?
“It protects my head.”
Next, the subject of modern circuits. What about Abu Dhabi?
“The first bit is OK but the rest of it is s***. I mean, it’s very twisty in the middle part and you cannot overtake. It’s not just Abu Dhabi, it’s many other new circuits also.”
So, how does he see the season ahead?
“I don’t know, nobody knows where everybody is, it’s complicated to say from testing, but we will see. Our car is not too bad.”
Was he training hard for his return to the grid?
“Little bit harder than normal, should be OK.”
Has he given up drinking?
Is it true he was asleep in his motor home 30 minutes before his first Grand Prix in Melbourne in 2001?
“Not in the motor home, I found a nice place under a table. It’s normal, I always sleep before the race, there’s a little bit of time. I like sleeping.”
Finally, the snowmobiling. Did his Ferrari contract allow him to do that?
“I didn’t really ask them. It was a very strict contract, but as long as you don’t get hurt too badly, it’s OK.”
Is that big scar on his lower left arm a result of a snowmobile accident last winter?
“It’s a scar yes, I had a good doctor to fix it, so…”
Did he break his arm?
“A little bit, yes.”
My wife does not watch Top Gear but she wanted to see Mr Räikkönen, about whom she has heard me speak. “He has a lovely smile,” she declared. So now you know. Thanks then to BBC Top Gear for this enlightening pre-season conversation. The lap, in a Suzuki Liana, was neat and quick. Clearly bored by a lack of speed on the straight, Kimi took a long look at his surroundings. What had caught his eye? “There was a very nice helicopter,” he told us.
So there we had it, Raikkonen relaxed and unplugged. His modus operandi is an acquired taste but he is far from dull, and that’s OK by me. And yes, you’ve guessed it, I am also a fan of Mika Hakkinen. By the time you read this Kimi will be out in the Lotus in Melbourne. If the car is half-way good, he will be right there amongst the other World Champions.