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Kimi Räikkönen: The Iceman Thaws

Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan. Saturday 18 June 2016. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, exits his cockpit in parc ferme after qualifying. World Copyright: Steven Tee/LAT Photographic ref: Digital Image _X0W1108

In a rare interview Kimi Räikkönen talks about family, Ferrari and why he is confident that staying at Maranello in 2017 is the right thing to do

Interview by Luis Vasconcelos        Words by Dan Knutson

Kimi Räikkönen has a reputation of not saying much, especially when it comes to talking with the media. He is well known for his curt one-liner answers to questions, and for relishing his privacy.
Yet when he is in a relaxed atmosphere, The Iceman thaws and becomes downright loquacious. Some of this is to due to the fact that he is now a father and a family man. Some of this is due to the fact that Ferrari has extended his contract through 2017, and he enjoys the atmosphere inside the Scuderia and the open relationship with teammate Sebastian Vettel.
And some of it has been as it always has been when he talks, he talks. In this interview he starts by talking about his relationship with Ferrari. Räikkönen made it clear that it was Ferrari or nothing for him in Formula 1. What gives him this belief in the team and where does his passion for Ferrari comes from?
“I like what we’re doing,” he replies. “We have a good group of people. The steps that we’ve done last year and even this year – even if people say we’re worse than last year, that’s not true – for sure we made big steps, but maybe the other teams did bigger steps. I believe we’re going in the right direction, and we’re still not where we want to be. But I believe we’ll get there. How the team works, how the atmosphere is here, the only thing that is missing is winning the races – everything else is done the right way and we’re doing the best possible job.
“Obviously I have a history with Ferrari, winning the (2007) championship here – people might say many things but it doesn’t matter – we always had a good relationship. I want put Ferrari where Ferrari belongs – as simple as that. I have a lot of belief in Ferrari and I also want to help them.”
There’s been a bit to turmoil at Ferrari with the departure of technical chief James Allison.
“I don’t want to get involved in it, but I don’t know,” Räikkönen says when what kind of effect the change of technical leadership midway through the season might have for the team.
“Maybe in the short-term it won’t change a lot, but in the long-term who knows? It depends on many things, but I’m here as a driver, and it is not my job to discuss these things. I have a lot of respect for what James has done in the past with me, with me (at Lotus) and for Ferrari, so I wish him all the best.”
The atmosphere within the team remains excellent.
“When everybody is working together it’s a very open environment” Räikkönen notes.
“I’m sure it’s much easier for anybody to be at their best. When there are no funny things going on, it’s more relaxed, it’s just a different feeling. It’s more open, more normal and how it should be. I think it’s the only way you can get somewhere, and the team has grown a lot in the last two years. The way we are working together is definitively good, but now we’re still not getting the results that we want.”
Does being father help in this situation? He and partner Minna-Mari ‘Minttu’ Virtanen have a son Robin, who was born in January 2015.
“It doesn’t change my racing side,” he replies, “but it’s nice when they are at a race, because even if it’s not a lot of time, we can spend some time together. At least they are here at the track and I enjoy it.”
So is he now split 50/50 between family and racing?
“I don’t know half and half but it’s obviously different when you are home, for sure it’s different there. On the racing side it doesn’t change anything, but for the big picture it does.”
Räikkönen still wants to keep his private life private, and he enjoys living in Switzerland where he can move around freely even though people recognize him. This is true even when he goes to watch an ice hockey game.
“In Switzerland the people are a lot different,” he says.
“If I compare with Finland or something, in Switzerland even if they notice you, they are still okay, maybe they say something but that’s it. In Finland it’s different, so I always liked it in Switzerland as people live their own lives and let you live yours.”
He is a supporter of EV Zug, a professional hockey team in Switzerland, and sometimes trains with the players. He has lived is Switzerland since 2001, the year he made his Formula 1 debut with Sauber. At first he had a place near the Sauber factory in Hinwil, but now he lives in Baar, a town with a population under 25,000.
Speaking of teams, would he ever get involved in the management side of a racing team?
“Driver management? Only if my son asks me for it, apart from that no.”
So in two years he’ll be karting…
“Who knows, hopefully not,” says the father.
“Management of a team? I don’t know. I mean, I have my motocross team but I don’t run it on a day-to-day basis. But I’m involved with it almost every day. I like it. In a way, for me it’s nice and it’s something that is a passion for me and when you have passion or if you like to do something, it is fun. And with the people that I work in the team that I have it’s always good fun.
“Would it be nice to be in Formula 1 and do something? I don’t know, you never know about the future. But I think Formula 1 should go somewhere more normal, with not so much politics. I like motocross because it’s pure racing. Every sport has politics but I think Formula 1 is a special place where the level of politics is very high.”
Räikkönen created his own political controversy when he arrived in Formula 1 with Sauber in 2001 at age 21, having competed in just 23 car races in the junior Formula Ford and Formula Renault series. Then FIA President Max Mosley insisted that Räikkönen had not fulfilled the requirements to qualify for a F1 super license, but eventually the Finn was allowed to race and immediately proved he was capable of competing in the big leagues.
Now at age 36 Räikkönen is Formula 1’s senior statesmen – some 10 months older than Jenson Button – and he has to deal with the upstarts that he once was. There was his clash with teenager Max Verstappen in Hungary where Verstappen put up a spirited defense. Räikkönen complained over the radio and after the race that Verstappen had broken the “only one move to block” protocol.
“In the end it’s racing,” Räikkönen says now.
“Obviously sometimes you complain about something it’s not correct for you, but it was not against him. I’m not against him or anybody else. We have the rules and should apply the same way. The same rule should apply to everybody – it’s just that. When you have 10 races and you have 10 incidents, things are not consistent. Like when Sebastian (Vettel) was penalized in Silverstone as he got sideways, but he didn’t even touch with Felipe (Massa). He got sideways and got a penalty – there you see how much things vary. Then people can touch each other and nothing happens.
“I’m not saying this against Max (Verstappen) or somebody else, it’s just the rules should be applied in the same way all the time. Then it would be easier for everybody to know what you can do and what you cannot do. It should be more simple and less of these stupid discussions after the race.”
Having seen what happened with Verstappen in Hungary, does he battle every driver in a different way?
“Obviously there are small differences,” Räikkönen says, “because everybody behaves slightly different. So you get to know: this guy might do this and that and you could guess a bit. If you ask if it changes the way you race against them, in a way it does, a little bit, but you still want to overtake or keep them behind. But every driver is slightly different.”
Looking ahead, Räikkönen and Virtanen are going to get married. He would only reveal that the wedding would be sometime in August and somewhere in Italy.
But when it comes to talking about his future in racing, The Iceman thaws. Does he still get the same pleasure out of driving? And does he feel he is still at the top of his game?
“I’ve said that I feel I’m driving as well as I’ve ever driven,” he replies. “People are allowed to say whatever they think, but I know that if I felt I wasn’t driving well, if I thought I cannot do what I did before, I would stop. I’ve always said to the team, to the bosses, I don’t want to be here wasting their time and my time. I would say it immediately if I thought I could not do it anymore – I would go and do something else.
“But this is not the time yet and I feel that we’ve been doing okay. Not as well as we wanted to, for sure, but I think that the drivers are doing pretty okay. Of course there have been cases where we haven’t been happy, but that how life goes.”
And that brings an end to this talk with the thawing Ice Man.