Kimi on the F1 world – from The Unknown Kimi Räikkönen, published by Simon & Schuster
Kimi Räikkönen is famous for his reticence. Silence wasn’t invented by the Finns, yet all the same they have processed it into several successful products: taciturnity, pauses, three-word sentences and half-minute silences – traps for an outsider to fall into, as they wonder what is happening now that nothing is happening. And then the Finn carries on as if the silence had never existed.
In Kimi’s official job, his loudest silence is provoked by a question that’s stupid enough. In the noisy and verbose media environment, silence may be the best way of attracting attention. In Kimi’s case, taciturnity springs from a combination of shyness and intelligence: if the questions are platitudes, he answers with two words and by scratching his neck.
Kimi had no chance of getting used to the Formula 1 media climate. He plunged headlong into a hole in the ice in 2001: hundreds of reporters and TV channels attended the opening race at Melbourne, where 10 microphones were shoved in his face. In his previous life, in Formula Renault, there were only occasional interviews.
Then everything changed in an instant. The young man speaking in fractured, broken, halting English was in deep shit, but positively so. A miracle had taken place: he had got into F1, a world that only a year ago loomed in the far distance.
Kimi’s old friend Teemu ‘Fore’ Nevalainen has an interesting theory: “If the journey to fame had been longer and he had been given more time to prepare, I bet it would have resulted in a different Kimi from the one we’ve got. A more boring one, I’m quite sure. He would always have given the answers people wanted to hear.
“Now he says more in three words than the others put together.”
Kimi isn’t the first Finnish sportsman to shun the microphone, or to fear it. But he’s the first one whose reticence has become an international brand.
He struggles to cope with celebrity; it’s a bitter pill to swallow, a necessary evil. “It would be brilliant to drive in F1 incognito,” he says, and I make sure the Dictaphone stores this first sentence. And when he says it, Kimi knows that no such world exists or will ever exist. It’s possible to move a razor, or drive a lawnmower incognito, but not a racing car worth seven million euros.
“There weren’t that many interviews in karting, perhaps the odd one if you got to the podium. And that was true of Formula Renault, too. It didn’t feel that awkward in F1, but the interviews irritated the hell out of me. I think they’re pointless. It’s just the same questions day in, day out.”
I pause to think about Kimi’s relationship with the PR part of his job. Ferrari’s annual budget exceeds €400 million. The sum is off the scale and carries with it sponsors’ requirements and requests, fantasies and figures of speech. No one sees the bigger picture; everyone views things from their own angle, through a keyhole. And all you see through that hole is two drivers. One of them grants, reluctantly, a sentence or two, and scratches his ear.
Hublot, the Swiss manufacturer of luxury watches, contributes €40 million. Kimi’s wrist is bare. I ask about it because I’m interested in the visibility of the massive investment. Kimi says he can’t wear watches; they inflame his rash. I wonder what might inflame Hublot’s chief executive. Kimi says he carries the watch in his rucksack if there’s an event where it has to be on show.
“You’re famous for not being known,” I say. “You’re famous for not saying a lot. Is your taciturnity prompted by identical questions, or do you find it disagreeable to talk to strangers?” Kimi doesn’t answer but says instead, “Everyone thinks that if you didn’t win, it was a bad race. Over the years there have been lots of races when you’ve started from some shitty place on the grid, and then you’ve been fifth or fourth, and you know that no one could have driven any better, but no one seems to get it. You’ve only done well if you come first. It doesn’t make any sense. People think that number one is what matters, though everybody in the team knows that fourth place might be really good in the circumstances. But there’s no point in explaining these things if people just want to see who’s on the podium. The end result is all they look at. I can have good memories of races I didn’t finish because everything was bloody great until the engine blew up. In 2002 I suffered a lot of engine failures, but I learnt a lot even though everything didn’t go well. People watching can’t possibly understand it.”
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