Finland’s rally-crazed and Kimi-blinkered youth, however, are loving it. Through the streets of Jyväskylä, where rally HQ is based, a blue-and-white body-painted throng creates a dense daily bustle that’s a rich visual accompaniment to the burble-pop-rumble soundtrack of rally machinery returning to, or venturing from, service. It’s clear that even in this rally-mad land that pops out winners like Smarties from a tube (Tommi Mäkinen, Marcus Grönholm, Juha Kankkunen and Markku Alén all stroll through the lobby of the rally HQ hotel during one 10-minute spell), a certain Mr Räikkönen is held in particular affection. One of those enjoying the weekend’s festivities, Lina Virtanen, offers her thoughts on his appeal: “He’s the most famous sportsman in Finland,” she says, “and people think he’s more relaxed now. After his first rallies the papers were punishing him like crazy because he wasn’t finishing. But that’s gone away because they can see how hard he is trying and that he is working to get better. He has fans who are adults and fans who are kids. You’re English, right? Maybe he’s a bit like David Beckham for you.”
As the lissome Lina talks, she is good-naturedly accosted by a group of lads of the type you’d imagine would make up a Räikkönen barmy army. “They’re typical,” she says. “They get wasted on the Thursday, sleep for a couple of hours, come out to a stage, then drink some more.” She translates a snatch of their conversation: “They’re saying, ‘We don’t know how we got home last night. We don’t even know where we’re staying, but we wanted to see Kimi.’ They asked me to go with them to the next stage. Er, no thanks.”
Such is the level of Räikkönen fever in these parts, the degree of success achieved seems almost academic. His being here, a champion on his home event (something never possible in F1 owing to the non-existence of a Finnish GP) is reason enough to celebrate.
The man himself, however, is predictably underwhelmed by the hoopla. With a hint of a half-smile cracking the right side of his mouth, he notes: “Ach… you know I never really had any interest if it’s home or whatever. For me it doesn’t matter. In the end the things are the same. Even in Finland… You know how things are in Finland [he rolls his eyes and smiles, laughing at his famously crazy fans].
“In F1, whether you were in China or in France… it made no difference. You do the same things at the same time. You go to a foreign country so the culture is a little bit different, but in the end it all becomes the same.”
“In F1 I didn’t have to think, everything was just natural. Now we’re not at that level of ‘not thinking’”
Get the feeling Kimi is a hard man to impress?
He’s not immune, however, to his fans’ loyalty and passion, and in his own cool way seems almost touched by it: “I don’t know really what to think, but it’s nice to have support when we are learning so much and not getting the big results. It’s always important to have those people. It’s a good thing and good for the rally.”
The theme of ‘learning’ is one that pops up often in any conversation about Räikkönen’s 2010 adventure. And he admits his season is all about adapting to the varied demands of new car, new team, new countries, thumping rocks with abandon, a smorgasbord of surfaces: “On a track you always have the same road that you learn, but in rallying it’s always a new road, so it’s always difﬁcult.”
But perhaps hardest of all to get used to is the voice in his head: that of Kaj Lindström. Kimi observes: “I was used to talking on the radio in racing, of course, but the big difference is that you really have to listen in rallying, to your pace notes. Most of the mistakes are made when I have not heard something right. It’s hard to learn. It doesn’t happen immediately because it’s such a new thing.”
For a man so often dismissed in Formula 1 as incommunicative (‘The Arctic Mute’, as one press veteran would have it) Kimi is remarkably lucid on topics that engage him, such as the process of driving. And the mental, physical process of making a WRC car go faster is something that interests him – indeed, right now, is his life’s purpose.