Getting inside The Iceman

He might be an individual of precious few words, in public at least, but Kimi Räikkönen’s new authorised biography extends to more than 300 pages. Here, the writer offers an insight into the project’s genesis – writer Kari Hotakainen

It might seem odd that I should have been chosen to pen the first official book about Kimi. Although I have worked as a writer for about 36 years now, I started out composing poetry and then moved on to children’s stories, novels, radio plays and film scripts, but had never written a single word about motor sport.

If I’m honest, I knew very little about Formula 1. I was aware that Keke Rosberg, Mika Salo and Mika Häkkinen had all competed, and then Kimi came along. I used to watch on television sometimes when Mika Häkkinen was winning in the late 1990s, but not all that often – I wasn’t all that interested because the cars were so different from the ones we use every day. I found it easier to relate to rallying, which has always been popular in Finland. As a youngster I used to live in the countryside, so would go out to watch local rallies, but F1? I had no idea!

I suppose it was seven or eight years ago when the idea first occurred. I started thinking about the fact that I had written only fiction and decided it would be interesting to take a different approach and tackle a real subject about which I knew absolutely nothing – and Formula 1 was eminently suitable.

And I thought Kimi would be interesting, because he is in a very unusual position: he is incredibly famous, yet very few people know much about him. I was aware that he didn’t like giving interviews – he’s interested in race driving but hates talking about his job – and I could absolutely relate to that. I’ve never really enjoyed talking about my work – I just love writing! – so I knew we had at least one thing in common.

I was sure it could be a good project, followed my instincts and approached his management for the first time in 2011, although at first I didn’t hear anything back. I knew other writers and publishers had approached Kimi about doing a book, so I thought maybe I wouldn’t ever get the chance, but in March 2017 I was very pleased to receive a call from Sami Visa at Kimi’s management company.

He explained that they wanted to publish an authorised Kimi biography and were searching for an established writer who worked outside the sport, to avoid any preconceptions, so I fitted the bill. There are many other writers like me in Finland, though, so I’m not really sure why I was chosen. In the beginning I told Kimi I knew nothing about F1 but that I did know something about human beings, so perhaps that’s why he was happy to work with me. I got along very well straight away with him and Sami, so things progressed quickly. Kimi certainly hadn’t read any of my work before – I was totally unknown to him.

I realised immediately that Kimi came from a different planet to mine, but he surprised me completely. Although he often appears shy and introverted he is at the same time a funny guy, a dedicated family man and actually quite talkative away from the Formula 1 environment.

One thing that struck me – and became quite an important element of the project – was Kimi’s vocabulary. The two words he used most frequently were ‘loyalty’ and ‘truth’, which I think tells you something about him.

Sami helped me a lot, because he advised me to interview Paula, Kimi’s mother, Rami, his brother, other close friends and all of the Ferrari people with whom he has worked. That helped me to build a broader picture of the real Kimi.

I was given very good access, too. I stayed at his home in Switzerland four times, and each visit lasted several days, plus I attended winter testing in Barcelona and also the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix. I also spent a lot of time with him in Finland during a Christmas holiday period.

Coming in to the F1 environment as a complete outsider, I found the whole thing incredibly surreal. I can understand why Kimi finds elements of it frustrating, because he is from a very normal, working-class background – very different from the F1 world. He loves the time he spends behind the wheel, but that’s it. Away from the driving I think he finds it quite difficult to understand the politics and all that kind of stuff. When he’s at home he talks very little about F1 – I asked him whether he watched any Grands Prix during the two years he was away doing rallying, NASCAR and other things and he told me ‘Never’!

But the Kimi I met at his home had very little in common with the Kimi I watched in the F1 paddock. They are two totally different people. Away from his work he is truly a family man, in a very settled relationship, and he seemed quite relaxed throughout the time that we were collaborating.

I noticed straight away that he’s very good with kids – a doting dad like any other. I have no idea whether his new F1 contract [with Sauber] will be his last, but I have the impression that he is really looking to a time when he is free to spend time as he pleases, with his family.

In terms of our discussions only his first marriage and subsequent separation were taboo subjects, but he was very open and very honest about everything else. From what I’d heard about his reputation as the silent guy I had been scared that this might turn out to be a two-page book, but the reality was very different.

I knew things would work out OK after I’d written the first 40 pages or so. I was apprehensive when I sent the first few chapters to Finland, because I know Kimi isn’t by nature a reader – literature isn’t his thing – so I wondered how he would respond to my writing style, which can be quite ironic, but he received it very well and it transpires that he has a very dry sense of humour, a bit like my own.

It was very much a collaborative process, too. It took about 10 months to complete the text and Kimi and his wife Minttu were very involved with the proof-reading. I would write one chapter at a time and then email them to Switzerland and he always checked and returned them very quickly. He was very enthusiastic about the whole process.

Will the experience inspire me to tackle other non-fiction projects? I don’t yet know. Recently I’ve been flat out promoting the book, which has been very well received in Finland, so I’m going to enjoy the moment for as long as it lasts and am really not sure what I’ll do next.

Whatever happens, I will retain fond memories of my time working with Kimi. I can also tell you that he’s not a bad cook, though he did serve up pasta and chicken almost every day…