Un freddo dal cuore caldo–26/10/2013
Formula One warms to Kimi’s icy indifference
Abu Dhabi 2012, lap 22. Lotus-Renault’s race engineer, Simon Rennie, crackled to life in the ears of the race leader, Kimi Raikkonen. "Okay Kimi, the next car behind you is Alonso," Rennie said. No answer. "Alonso is five seconds behind you," Rennie said again, hoping to draw a response from the Finn. Again, silence. So Rennie gave it one more shot. Today, he is perhaps the only one wishing he hadn’t.
"Five seconds Kimi, five seconds," he said, praying to drive his point — the gap between Raikkonen and second-placed Fernando Alonso — home. Still, silence. "I’ll keep you updated on the gap. I’ll keep you updated on the pace. I’ll keep…" Unable to take any more of it, Raikkonen cut in. "Just leave me alone," he said. "I know what I’m doing."
The rest is Youtube history.
That day at the Yas Marina Circuit, Raikkonen clearly knew what he was doing. To clinch the top step of the podium, he pulled past the chequered flag with a 0.8s lead over Alonso’s Ferrari. It was his first win after making a long awaited comeback to the sport earlier that season. But right until the very end, he wasn’t left alone.
Just 20 laps before the end, Rennie’s voice had filled the space between Raikkonen’s ears. The race engineer said: "Okay Kimi, we need to keep working all four tyres, please. all four…."
"Yes, yes, yes, yes. I’m doing that all the time. You don’t have to remind me every 10 seconds."
Even if the advice didn’t, the win clearly meant a lot to Raikkonen. For when Maamme, the Finnish national anthem, played at the presentation ceremony, Raikkonen was found blinking back a tear. A rare melting moment for a man who has ‘Iceman’ tattooed on his left forearm.
Looking to tap into this raw show of emotion, David Coulthard, Raikkonen’s former McLaren teammate turned TV pundit, asked the victor what the triumph meant to him. "Your first victory since the Belgian GP in 2009. What emotions are you feeling right now?" asked Coulthard. Raikkonen, hugging his trophy and moist-eyed, shrugged and said: "Not much."
There is perhaps no other driver in current day Formula 1 who makes his utterances as remarkable as the thrill of winning itself. It’s funny, considering that the less Raikkonen speaks, the more enthralled his followers are. It’s the same with the press. It happened at the Buddh International Circuit on Friday, with Raikkonen delivering another answer that will slip into the ‘Classic Kimi’ archives.
"Kimi, given the way Lotus has been performing this season and how the Ferrari has been struggling of late, how do you feel about signing up with Ferrari next year?" asked a journalist. The 34-year old driver scratched his forearm, adjusted the peak of his cap and said, deadpan: "Good." Everyone, including the questioner and the five other drivers seated on the dais, laughed. Only Raikkonen remained dead serious.
"Formula 1 was poorer without him for those two years, 2009 and 2010, when he left for WRC," says Martin Brundle. The former British driver missed him more than most, considering that a year before Raikkonen became one of the highest paid sportspersons of all time with his $51million-per-season deal with Ferrari in 2007 (a salary he backed up with his maiden world championship at the end of the season), he gave Brundle a sound-byte to remember.
Just before the start of the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix, Brundle, with a TV crew by his side, asked the then McLaren driver just why he had chosen to miss a ceremony where Pele had presented Michael Schumacher with a lifetime achievement award. Raikonnen, adjusting the zipper on his jump-suit, looked into the rolling camera and said: "I was having a shit."
"So much for being diplomatic," says Brundle, chuckling seven years later. "I have had about a thousand moments I consider memorable once I moved to the other side of the pit-lane as a presenter. But that has to be a high point. It typifies Kimi’s attitude and approach. It also typifies just why his fans love him."
And few love him more than the man who has witnessed every interaction between Raikkonen and the media since his comeback, Lotus’ press officer Andy Stobart. If Brundle missed his presence during those two years, Raikkonen’s colleagues in the Lotus garage like Stobart are already gearing up for his absence next season.
"To celebrate the Abu Dhabi win, he got 650 tee-shirts printed with the words: ‘Just leave me alone, I know what I’m doing.’ It was a great touch to cut the tension," Stobart says. "I mean the man is only human. If someone repeats the same thing over and over again, like you journalists do during question hour, he is going to be straight as an arrow with his words."
Someone who has seen plenty of that is Bob Constanduros. A man who has compered the last 550 or so press conferences in Formula 1. A man who considers Raikkonen, and getting him to talk, as one of the stiffest challenges in his career. "It’s a problem, isn’t it? The thing about Kimi is, what you see is what you get. There’s no complications. He says it absolutely like it is," Constanduros says.
So what was his favourite Kimi moment? "Well, all of them actually. But during the FIA Awards last year, a very pretty girl hugged Kimi and kept telling him how she met him in Belgium and how she told him he would win and he did. Then she asked him, ‘Now do you remember me from four years ago?’ Kimi, not one to mince his words even with lovely lasses, said, ‘No. I don’t remember what happen yesterday.’