Giovinazzi will try to follow Raikkonen’s F1 driving style in 2019
Alfa Romeo driver Antonio Giovinazzi is willing to try to follow Kimi Raikkonen’s driving style this year because it would be a "mistake" for him to ignore his team-mate’s experience.
Giovinazzi has earned a full-time F1 drive at the rebadged Sauber team alongside 2007 world champion Raikkonen, who lost his Ferrari seat to Charles Leclerc.
After sampling Alfa’s C38 for the first time on day two of pre-season testing at Barcelona, Giovinazzi said he will try to drive like Raikkonen to help further the team’s development.
"I think it will be a mistake to do it a different way from him," said Giovinazzi when asked by Autosport if their driving styles were similar or if he would go in his own direction.
"Now my target is to work from him, learn from him.
"The right thing for the team as well is to go in the same way, and also it’s maybe better for myself to go in Kimi’s way, and drive in Kimi’s way.
"Just [to] make it a lot easier also for the team."
Giovinazzi told Autosport earlier this month that he felt "lucky" to be partnering Raikkonen, a veteran of 291 grand prix starts.
After two years of development work for Ferrari on the team’s simulator and various on-track opportunities with the Maranello squad and Sauber, Giovinazzi said working for himself in pre-season testing made a good change.
"It’s a different testing [experience] now," he said. "Finally I can work for me, for my car, and this is what I’m doing.
"I’m trying to take all the feedback, give it to the team and try to work a lot with the team and with Kimi as well to build a good car.
"I followed Kimi’s day [on Monday], we can do a really good job together.
"Kimi has a lot more experience than me, so I just need to listen to him and give my feedback."
Giovinazzi echoed Raikkonen’s complimentary comments about Alfa’s car, describing it as "easy to drive".
After a "positive" first day of testing, the Italian said he would do everything possible to make the most of an opportunity he is relishing.
"I waited too long, two years, but finally today I was really happy," said Giovinazzi, who crashed out of the second of two substitute appearances for Sauber at the start of 2017.
"[It felt] like I woke up for Christmas.
"I just want to jump in on Thursday, learn as much as I can and improve the car and make sure in Melbourne everything works well.
"I know this will be my [first] full season, so I just need to do a lot of work.
"When Melbourne starts, everything will come really fast."
F1 testing: Morning time keeps Ferrari’s Vettel on top on first day
Sebastian Vettel’s morning time ensured Ferrari ended a strong opening day of Barcelona Formula 1 testing on top, as he beat McLaren driver Carlos Sainz Jr to the fastest time.
Vettel set a 1m18.161s in the morning session on the C3 tyres – the middle compound in Pirelli’s testing range – to end up 1.783 seconds quicker than his nearest rival, Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.
While he did not improve on that time in the afternoon, Vettel did extend his lap count to 169 by the end of the day, which also left him comfortably ahead in that tally.
Vettel’s advantage over the field was reduced in the afternoon.
Haas’s Romain Grosjean was the first driver to get within one second of the benchmark time, with a lap on the C3 tyre in the last half hour of the session helping him snatch second from Sainz.
But Sainz took the position back with an impressive 1m18.558s lap to end the day 0.397s slower than Vettel.
Sainz had earlier brought out the first red flag of the afternoon when he stopped at the exit of the pitlane at the beginning of the afternoon running. He blamed a loss of power for the issue, but the car appeared to run smoothly thereafter.
Grosjean had to settle for third, but Haas had a much better afternoon than the morning. Grosjean’s car had ground to a halt entering the final chicane with fuel pressure issues earlier in the day.
After a slow start to the first test, the beginning of the Red Bull-Honda relationship received a boost in the afternoon as Max Verstappen took his tally up to 128 laps and set the fourth-fastest time.
Kimi Raikkonen kept Alfa Romeo in the top five, having set the fourth fastest time earlier on in the day. He ran C2 and C3 tyres and had been as high as second, but was shuffled back later in the afternoon.
Alfa Romeo was still one of six teams to complete more than 100 laps, despite Raikkonen’s visit to the gravel bringing out the first red flag of the morning session.
His car then stopped with just over a minute left in the afternoon, bringing out the red flag.
Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat and Perez set the sixth- and seventh-fastest times respectively, but both teams would likely have wanted more running.
Kvyat needed to bolt the C4 tyre on to set his best time, while Perez only added 10 laps to the 20 he completed in the morning, with his team finishing bottom of the laps-completed order.
After taking over the Mercedes in the afternoon, reigning champion Lewis Hamilton could not wrest Valtteri Bottas’s eighth place in the order by the end of the day, but he did complete more laps than his team-mate – ending the day with a tally of 81.
Behind the pair of Mercedes drivers, Renault had a disappointing day in terms of times as its drivers rounded out the order.
New arrival Daniel Ricciardo took over from Nico Hulkenberg for the afternoon, but missed out on beating Hulkenberg by 0.003s. He also completed 21 less laps than the German driver.
|2.||Carlos Sainz Jr||McLaren-Renault||1m18.558s||119|
|4.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull-Honda||1m19.426s||128|
|6.||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso-Honda||1m19.464s||77|
|7.||Sergio Perez||Racing Point-Mercedes||1m19.944s||30|
Raikkonen: Alfa Romeo F1 team has made ‘big step’ from 2018 Sauber
Kimi Raikkonen reckons his Alfa Romeo Formula 1 team has made a "big step" from the Sauber he drove last year, after a "very positive" start to pre-season testing.
Raikkonen has joined Alfa, which has taken over the title of Sauber’s F1 entry, after five years with Ferrari.
He drove Sauber’s 2018 car in the post-season Abu Dhabi test last year and said serious progress has been made after driving the C38 on the first day of ’19 testing on Monday at Barcelona.
"It is very positive," said Raikkonen, who finished fifth-fastest and completed 114 laps.
"Straight out [we are] not doing an awful lot with the car. [We just] try to do things here or there.
"It is very happy actually. The guys did a very good job over the winter and we have a package that we can work [with]. And we can get better.
"Everything feels normal and when I [compare it to what I] tried at the end of last year, the Sauber, it is a big step for sure."
Alfa’s return to official F1 running started inauspiciously when Raikkonen spun into the gravel early on and ended in similar fashion when he stopped on track right at the end of the day (pictured above) with an unknown issue.
Raikkonen joked that the early off was because "we never seem to learn from the winter".
"It is always difficult to start in the cold conditions," he said.
"But apart from that, everything ran smoothly. The car feels very, very positive.
"It is early days but so far it is good."
Alfa team principal Frederic Vasseur said Raikkonen’s early spin had not forced the team away from its original run plan.
Raikkonen was back on track just 37 minutes after flying into the gravel.
"This kind of day you don’t have to be focused on performance, the most important thing is to stick to the plan," Vasseur said.
"We had a clear plan before and we stuck to this through the day.
"The performance, I don’t want to say it’s not relevant, but nobody knows the quantity of fuel, the set-up of the engine, and so on.
"We have to be focused and to stay focused on what we’re doing, on our job, not to compare.
"We have 21 races for this."
Raikkonen è carico: "In Alfa l’ambiente è più rilassato e c’è meno politica!"
Il finlandese ha trascorso una giornata a Balocco e si è concesso in un’intervista a Motorsport.com in vista del debutto dell’Alfa Romeo Racing a Fiorano: "Giovinazzi? Non è un rookie ha già corso due GP!"
La cornice è quella del circuito di Balocco. Il tracciato piemontese, realizzato nel 1962 dall’Alfa Romeo, è oggi il centro sperimentale FCA, un fulcro frenetico di attività, per lo più legato ai test e allo sviluppo di modelli stradali. Lo si percepisce camminando nelle curatissime strade interne, dove si incrociano modelli Fiat, Ferrari, Maserati ed ovviamente Alfa Romeo. Qualcuno riconoscibile, qualche altro mascherato, rigorosamente top-secret.
In questo contesto è apparso un raggiante (proprio così) Kimi Raikkonen, in divisa bianco-rossa e cappellino con stemma Alfa Romeo. In attesa della monoposto 2019 (che muoverà i primi passi domani sul circuito di Fiorano) lo strumento di lavoro per l’occasione è stata una Stelvio, rigorosamente in versione Quadrifoglio.
Per i fortunati presenti la chance di un giro di pista con un pilota d’eccezione, in grado di umiliare il passeggero con un pizzico di guida sportiva (basta un pizzico…) e raccontare, proprio come se fosse sul salotto di casa, feeling ed aspettative a quattro settimane dal via del Mondiale 2018 sul circuito di Melbourne.
“Mancano davvero quattro settimane? – ha esordito Kimi – sei sicuro? Mi sembrano poche…”.
Sembri più rilassato del solito. È un’impressione corretta o il cambio di divisa che trae in inganno?
“Non credo, non lo so. Ogni squadra ha i suoi impegni, le sue scadenze. Alcuni team hanno più cose da fare, altri meno, in alcuni c’è più politica, in altri meno o proprio zero. Ognuno cerca di arrivare allo stesso risultato, ma non sempre le strade sono le stesse, a volte i percorsi sono differenti. Qui l’ambiente è sicuramente più rilassato, è tutto focalizzato su aspetti ‘racing’ e meno su politica e ‘…zzate’. Penso che così sia più facile per tutti”.
Che differenza c’è tra il Raikkonen che ha lasciato la Formula 1 a fine 2009 e quello attuale che ha deciso di restare in Formula 1 con Alfa Romeo con un contratto biennale?
“Sono la stessa persona. Ad essere diverse sono state le circostanze, e poi, ciò che è fondamentale, è che mi diverto a correre. Mi sento bene, questo ha fatto la differenza nella mia scelta, e credo che anche le cose in generale possano andare bene”.
Avere due anni di Formula 1 davanti a te è una prospettiva che ti piace?
“Si. Quello che mi interessava è fare una cosa che mi piace cercando di eliminare gli aspetti che mi piacciono di meno. Questo è ciò che conta, ed è il motivo per cui ho firmato un contratto biennale”.
Hai già visto la monoposto 2019?
“A pezzi. Ero presente quando c’è stata la prima accensione, ma la vettura non era ancora completa. Ovviamente la vedrò molto presto”.
Conoscevi già Fred Vasseur?
“No, anche se ovviamente sapevo quanto ha ottenuto la sua squadra in F2, GP2 e GP3. Ma personalmente non lo conoscevo fino a quando non sono arrivato in Alfa Romeo, e devo dire che mi sembra una persona molto ‘racing’, concentrato su ciò che serve per andare in pista e fare bene”.
Quest’anno avrai un compagno senza esperienza in Formula 1… (Kimi interrompe)
“Si che ce l’ha! Ha corso due Gran Premi”.
Ma sono passati due anni….
“Meglio di niente, dai”.
Il tuo sarà comunque un ruolo chiave per la squadra…
“In un certo senso sì, ma nel team tanti hanno ruoli chiave, non c’è una singola persona che ha un ruolo superiore. Ci sono tante figure cruciali, molto importanti. Sono il pilota più esperto, è vero, ma entrambi saremo chiamati a dare il massimo al team”.
Sei stato sorpreso quando hai saputo della conclusione del rapporto tra la Ferrari e Maurizio Arrivabene?
“L’ho letto come tutti, anzi no. Il compagno di mia madre mi ha detto ‘hai sentito di Maurizio?’. Ho risposto di no, perché ero in Finlandia e non eravamo interessati a ricevere notizie… non ne avevo proprio idea. E anche ora non ho idea dei motivi, ma non sono affari miei chiedere questo genere di cose”.
Sei un pilota Alfa Romeo, ora. Hai studiato un po’ di storia del Biscione?
“Non proprio, ma ovviamente ci è stata spiegata un po’, diciamo così. Ma ricordo bene il periodo DTM, ero più giovane e mi aveva colpito quanto fossero competitivi in quella serie notoriamente molto combattuta. Erano vetture velocissime, e la 155 era bella ed andava molto forte. Poi, vediamo…mia cugina aveva un Alfa Romeo ed anche una mia amica, e mi sono sempre sembrate belle. Poi, ovviamente, so che hanno vinto due mondiali in Formula 1 e che hanno scritto una lunga storia”.
Non ti tirare indietro: sulla base della tua esperienza in Ferrari, cosa consiglieresti a Leclerc?
“Onestamente, è impossibile dare consigli. Poi lui conosce già la squadra da anni, non è un pilota che arriva in un contesto del tutto nuovo, ed ha maturato una prima esperienza in Formula 1. Quello è un posto speciale in cui essere, lo sappiamo, a volte ci possono essere dei momenti di confusione e sono convinto che sia sempre meglio non farsi coinvolgere e semplicemente fare ciò per cui sei stato assunto”.
Come hai fatto tu?
“Ho sempre creduto che sia meglio restare concentrati su ciò che devi fare e non lasciarsi coinvolgere in altro. Ma lui (Leclerc) conosce bene le persone, ha già lavorato con loro, quindi credo che non avrà problemi”.
Ti sei posto degli obiettivi stagionali?
“Dopo i primi giri (di test) credo che un pilota abbia già un certo feeling, buono o meno buono. Ovviamente per avere un’idea dei risultati a cui potremo ambire serviranno i riscontri delle prove, ipotizzare prima è solo una speculazione. Come sensazione generale credo che sia positiva, e se tutti continueranno a dare il massimo, come sta accadendo ora, non si potrà che andare bene”.
Hai esordito in monoposto esattamente venti anni fa. Cosa c’è ancora in Kimi di quel ragazzo che iniziava a calcare le piste in Formula Renault?
“Ricordo che eravamo al Mugello, giusto? Ero primo, ma ruppi una sospensione e vinse Felipe (Massa)… Sono ancora lo stesso ragazzo, anche se ovviamente ho più esperienza maturata in tanti anni di questa attività, vivendo e vedendo molte cose. Ma in generale non credo di essere molto cambiato, se non per qualche aspetto che credo sia normale. Invecchiando si vedono alcune cose in modo differente, sei spinto a cambiare qualcosa, ma dentro sento di essere ancora quel Kimi”.
L’Alfa debutta in casa Ferrari il 14 febbraio
Come taluni frequentatori di questo ameno luogo avranno forse già intuito, ecco, io-KR7-Jo(vinazzi)-Resta (Simone) con me e l’ex opinionista del Clog, alias Luca Furbatto siamo il Dream Team della Formula Uno post moderna.
I Fantastici Cinque. The Fantastic Five.
Ebbene, ci siamo riuniti e abbiamo deliberato quanto segue.
Dove mai potrebbe palesarsi la prima monoposto dell’era Alfa Romeo Racing Team?
Per il filming day, intendo.
I 100 chilometri dello shake down o come diavolo si chiama.
Kimi aveva proposto Oulu in Finlandia, dove accanto a un rettilineo pare ci sia una distilleria di vodka.
Giovinazzi voleva andare a Nardo’, così i suoi 322(trecentoventidue) parenti avrebbero fatto la ola.
Resta puntava su Misano, ca va sans dir.
Furbatto aveva in mente Trino Vercellese e aveva già preparato una cassa di Barolo.
Ma che Barolo, ho detto io.
Caccia fuori il Lambrusco.
Siamo il Dream Team e il luogo dei sogni è uno solo. Quindi per shakerare (down) la macchina siamo idealmente convocati in un posto.
Un posto solo.
L’Alfa Romeo Racing debutterà sul circuito di casa Ferrari il 14 febbraio. Meteo permettendo.
Giorno di San Valentino.
Baci bacini bacioni.
La presentazione vera e propria sarà il 18 a Barcellona ma se il 14 Giovinazzi porta solo la metà dei suoi parenti garantito che il ponticello di Fiorano crolla.
L’Alfa di Kimi e Jo (e Resta e Furbatto) al via nel cuore della Ferrari, a Fiorano.
Nel giorno degli innamorati.
I Fantastici 5 vi aspettano.
Da Blog Turrini
Alfa Romeo Racing e l’ultimo sogno di KR7
Potrebbe anche essere una semplice questione di etichetta.
Cambi il nome lasciando intatto il prodotto.
Un classico del puro marketing.
Ma anche no.
Io ho voglia di immaginare che Alfa Romeo Racing, nuovo brand da Formula Uno venuto a sostituire Sauber, sia qualcosa di più.
Questo era il disegno, vagamente utopico, di Sergio Marchionne. Che una volta, appena partita l’operazione, mi disse ridendo: se la macchina va in piano lei continui pure a chiamarla Sauber, però se fa risultati la presenti come Alfa Romeo…
Non starò qui a rievocare la suggestione del marchio. La Storia ci racconta che senza le macchine del Biscione non ci sarebbe stata la Scuderia Ferrari. E tanto basta, no?
Poi ho presenti Farina e Fangio e ancora, in una era già mia, i tentativi generosi di Carlo Chiti, la Alfa-Alfa, Bruno Jack’O Melli, De Cesaris, eccetera eccetera.
Non so quante di queste suggestioni albergassero nelle riflessioni di Marchionne. Non so se era puro marketing (ma in tale caso Simone Resta in Svizzera mica ce lo avrebbe mandato, I suppose).
Conosco invece il sogno finale del Santo Bevitore.
KR7 è l’ultimo campione del mondo al volante di una Ferrari e questo lo sanno anche i sassi.
È anche l’ultimo essere umano ad aver vinto un Gran Premio di Formula Uno guidando una Lotus, altro marchio fondamentale nella storia delle corse.
Kimi Raikkonen spera di essere il primo a riportare Alfa Romeo sul gradino più alto del podio.
A proposito di Triplete, eh.
Da Blog Turrini
Why Raikkonen and Sauber can be a success
This year, Kimi ‘The Iceman’ Raikkonen will see his career come full circle when he lines up on the grid in Melbourne in a Sauber. Eighteen years before, he did exactly the same thing, only that time he was making his debut as a 21-year-old after Peter Sauber had to fight tooth and nail to convince the sport’s governing body that the Finn was good enough (and safe enough) to be granted a F1 race licence.
Turns out he was, scoring a point on his debut in Australia. Since then, he’s accumulated one world championship, 21 wins, 103 podiums and 18 pole positions as well as a loyal and dedicated fanbase of millions around the globe. Many were surprised Raikkonen, now 39, wanted to stick around in F1 after Ferrari informed him they no longer required his services. But the Finn could not understand why they were so perplexed by his decision to join midfield runners Sauber.
“People don’t understand I’m actually very happy with where I’m going,” he said at the time. “I have had my time with Ferrari, I won the championship with them and many races with them. For me, as a driver, I want different challenges. I want different things. I wasn’t really at any point disappointed with the decision. The only thing I was interested in was to know what would happen (next).”
TAKING THE LEAD
Raikkonen didn’t hang about when he was informed of his future at Ferrari at Monza. He went to chat to Beat Zehnder, long-time Team Manager at Sauber, whom he had formed a close relationship with having worked with him in that first season with the Swiss squad. The chat, unsurprisingly, got straight to the point. Would they be interested in signing him up to a race seat? The answer was quick and was clear. “Yes.”
“When Kimi was told that he wouldn’t have a contract [with Ferrari] for next year, Kimi made a move. He started a dialogue about the potential to drive for Sauber,” Raikkonen’s manager Steve Roberston told Formula1.com. “Kimi wanted to carry on. He had meetings with the owners at Sauber, then a meeting with Fred [Vasseur, Team Principal] and Beat. They could see Kimi was eager to carry on.
“Fred has since made it clear that when they first had the meeting, Kimi was so focused on what the plans were for next year. And Kimi wanted to see if the team had the same enthusiasm as he did. And he felt that, so he said ‘OK I want to do the deal’. He was a bit negative at Monza, when he found out what happened, but he bounced back quickly. He wanted to keep driving because he feels he still has something to offer.”
Interestingly, it wasn’t so much that Raikkonen was the interviewee when he met with Sauber, but more the interviewer. He had bundles of questions for them. He wanted to know, in detail, what plans were being put in place to move the team further up the grid. He wanted to be directly involved in that process – and use his wealth of experience to facilitate that. His enthusiasm clearly oozed through.
A BURNING DESIRE
Sure, an unmotivated world champion who has lost that spark is no good to a midfield team. It will only cost them money with little reward – and there have been plenty of examples of that in the past. But Raikkonen isn’t lacking motivation. And it’s not just a desire to keep driving but rather to push a team’s development to give him a package to achieve the best possible result. So even though he’ll largely be mixing it in the midfield and scrapping for the smaller points, that makes him the right guy for Sauber.
They need someone like that as they bid to become the ‘best-of-the-rest’ team. Last time Raikkonen, who will be 41 at the end of his current two-year deal, raced for them, he helped them finish fourth in the constructors’ championship. Achieving the same feat during his second tenure will be challenging, but certainly not out of the question. It’s no wonder Sauber moved swiftly to wrap him up.
Last year, he proved he still had the speed that he first showed the world at the Australian Grand Prix, scoring a point in sixth on his debut. In Italy, he came close to a first victory in more than 200 races, then in Austin, he converted for the first time since Australia 2013. In doing so, he set a record for the biggest gap between first and last career wins of 15 years and 212 days (His maiden win was in Malaysia 2013). To be able to achieve a high level, no matter what the machinery at your disposal, across that period is incredible.
CONSISTENCY THE KEY
Last year we saw a Raikkonen at his most committed in years. His pace was consistent, allowing him to score podiums in 12 of the 17 races in which he was classified – only champion Lewis Hamilton fared better. You could argue that if Vettel had made fewer mistakes and collected the points he should have done, together with Raikkonen’s tally Ferrari could well have won their first constructors’ championship since 2008. The Finn at least held up his end of the bargain.
Up until last year, he held the record for the race finishes in the points with 27, running from the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix to the 2013 Hungarian GP, before Hamilton snatched that with a run of 33. It nonetheless proves what he is capable of, given a consistent and reliable package.
His experience will prove vital. Sauber excelled last season with a rookie driver in Charles Leclerc and another who never quite fulfilled his potential in Marcus Ericsson. Strong form from both, particularly Leclerc, allowed them to emerge as a genuine midfield and points contender. They even had the fourth fastest car on pure pace in the closing races of the year. But in order to kick on from there, they need someone who can drive the direction of the car, the set-up, the development. They need someone who can maximise the package. Raikkonen, one of only 33 world champions in history no less, can do that.
Vasseur recognised that. “We are quite a young team,” he told Formula1.com. “We’re restructuring every single department, and the drivers are the leaders of the project so to have someone with huge experience to show the way of the direction of the development and with huge reference will be helpful for us, probably more for us than other teams.”
Raikkonen isn’t one to waffle. That’s always been the case throughout his career and showed in his approach to talks with Sauber. Getting to the point quickly is something that will dovetail nicely with Vasseur’s management style. “We are fitting well together because we have more or less the same approach – to be direct,” adds Vasseur. Together, they could be quite the potent force this season.
KIMI RAIKKONEN: Under the visor of F1’s most enigmatic racer
The Iceman. That nickname, given to him by his former team boss Ron Dennis, accurately defines Kimi Raikkonen’s identity in F1. He is a man of few words, instead doing his talking on the track. Since making his debut in 2001 with Sauber, the Finn has won 21 Grands Prix, the 2007 world championship and marked himself out as one of the most compelling and intriguing racers of his era. With his second Ferrari stint having come to a close ahead of a return to Sauber next year, we speak to Raikkonen – and those who have worked with him – to find out more about a man beloved by F1 fans the world over…
Twenty three single-seater races. That’s all Raikkonen had under his belt when his then manager David Robertson convinced Peter Sauber to give the Finn a test in his Formula 1 car for the first time. “Kimi had the ‘wow factor’,” says Robertson’s son Steve, who has managed the Finn for nearly two decades. “He had this ability to absolutely dominate and was absolutely committed to racing, even if he was jumping so many categories. My father convinced Peter to look at Kimi. He was intrigued as Peter was a real racer at heart.”
So Sauber gave him a test, at one of the most physically demanding circuits in the world – Italy’s Mugello. It was a baptism of fire. Raikkonen had never seen a Formula 1 car in the flesh before that day. Now he would be driving one at a track with very high g-forces, something his neck wasn’t used to. More daunting still, he would be sharing a track with a certain Michael Schumacher, who’d ultimately go on to win seven world titles during a glittering career.
“I was more excited than nervous,” admits Raikkonen. “But I believed I had the pace, motivation and ambition needed to succeed.”
To ease Raikkonen in, given it was such a step up, Sauber opted to do seven outings of five laps to get used to the power, cornering speeds and braking while giving him plenty of breaks in between to recover from the physical demands. “We did only a little mileage on the first day – there was a lot of time in between the runs,” says Jacky Eeckelaert, his race engineer at Sauber in 2001.
“He asked me if he could go and watch Michael Schumacher going through the corners. It’s true that in the evening, after the briefing, and while I was making the programme for day two, there was a knock on the door of the motorhome and it was Michael and he asked me, ‘Who is this driver that is driving your Sauber car?’ I told him it was Kimi Raikkonen and that 12 months ago he was just racing karts. He replied: ‘Well, he will be very, very fast’.”
So impressed were the team on the ground at Mugello with what Raikkonen delivered on his first day in the car that Peter Sauber and his Team Manager Beat Zehnder flew in for the second day to see Raikkonen in the flesh. After his three tests were complete, Sauber opted to give him a shot. It was there that the hard work began. Raikkonen was a strong athlete, boosted by the good foundation he had built during his military service and having played plenty of ice hockey. But it was one thing to cope with a 20-minute kart race or a half hour Formula Ford race and quite another to contest a gruelling 90-minute Grand Prix.
Dedicated in the pursuit of glory
Sauber’s trainer Josef Leberer, who also worked with Ayrton Senna, set a training plan to get Raikkonen in shape over the winter ahead of his debut. “He’s a very good swimmer,” he says. “The owner of the hotel in the ski resort asked who he was. He was swimming for 45 mins and all of these people were looking. We said he is Finnish and he will be world champion in swimming one day. We told them it was a joke because they believed us. We would train all day. We would go out with the mountain bike. He was very good with the control of the bike. He was pushing like hell already. We had some leaves, stones and a bit of ice. He was coming down so quickly but it shows how much control he has. He has this unbelievable feel.”
Raikkonen started racing because he loved it. Every time he gets behind the wheel, from karting to Formula 1, he only has one goal – to win. And he will never give up, a quality that proved rewarding when he made his debut in the Australian Grand Prix. Sauber had delivered a strong car, but with points only available to the top six in those days, scoring on his debut would be challenging. As the race reached its closing stages, Raikkonen was just on the fringe in seventh, but he was more than 20 seconds behind.
Eeckelaert told the Finn it didn’t matter, that he could and should push all the way to the end, because there was no need to save the engine or protect the life of parts as they could all be changed. “He listened well to that,” says Eeckelaert. “He pushed hard till the end of the race, and because Olivier Panis overtook someone under a yellow flag, he picked up a time penalty for 20 seconds. Raikkonen had closed the gap to 17 seconds behind and so scored his first championship point in his first race.”
It was a mighty performance and a sign of what was to come. But if you had seen Raikkonen on that day, you would not have known it was a big day in his life. Just 30 minutes before the race, when the cars are allowed to leave the garage to take up their spot on the grid, Raikkonen was nowhere to be seen. Leberer went off in search of the Finn. “He was sleeping,” says Leberer with a smile. “I said, ‘Kimi, in a few minutes, you have to do your first race!’ He said ‘Oh Josef, let me sleep another five minutes!’ I’ve never seen this before, and I’ve never seen afterwards. It is an extreme coolness. It is not acting, it is natural. I let him sleep a few more minutes. Rest is important.”
Make no mistake, Raikkonen takes his racing seriously. He doesn’t use 10 words when only one is required but that doesn’t mean he lacks interest. “I have always been the same,” says Raikkonen. “I would like to get straight to the point and leave the rest behind.” That ruthless efficiency means debriefs are short, but actually better for his engineers. “He’s an interesting driver to work with because he analyses himself where he could gain the most lap time,” says Eeckelaert.
“He wouldn’t tell the story of his life after each run. So in corner number six, for example, there and there I have a bit too much understeer oversteer. I tried everything, lines and braking differently but I can’t get round it. If you can do something to the car, I can make up two tenths. You do something to the car, and if it is right, you see in the data he makes up two tenths in the corner. He has a nice way to work.”
Forging strong relationships
If you peered into the Ferrari motorhome or garage during a race weekend in 2018, you’d have seen Raikkonen relaxed when with his team. Talk to him about subjects outside F1, such as motocross, and he’ll be engaged. You can see the love those at Ferrari – and anyone who has ever worked with him – have for the Finn. And that love extends to an ever-growing fanbase around the world. More than 70,000 people signed a petition asking Ferrari to keep him, for example.
“A lot of people see he is a genuine guy,” says Robertson. “Internally at Ferrari, they think a lot of him, and he’s got some good relationships there. He gets the biggest cheer on the podium, people love him. What people see in Kimi is someone who has done it his way. Kimi is Kimi and the people can associate with him.”
Raikkonen is a loyal person. He may have only worked with Leberer for a season at Sauber, but he never forgot what he did to help him prepare for Sauber and ultimately develop into the driver that brought McLaren calling for the following season. “We had a two-week training session in Austria [ahead of the 2001 season],” says Leberer. “We had worked hard for six days. So that evening, we went out for pizza to relax a bit. I said I’ll have a small beer and asked Kimi if he wanted one. I thought he doesn’t like it anyway, I thought he didn’t drink. And he said: ‘Really, may I?’ I said of course, you’re working hard, a small beer is not a problem.
“He won the championship a few years later and Beat [Zehnder] and I got invited to his celebration party. He said he wanted us to be there. It’s nice that after so many years, he does not forget – it shows a lot about his character. He introduced me to his friends and told this story: ‘We were working so hard and this guy understood how to motivate somebody. He asked if I wanted to have a beer. I thought this is a guy I like!’”
Raikkonen is a family man. In his book, The Unknown Kimi Raikkonen written by Kari Hotakainen, it’s clear he would rather spend time – and is at his most animated – when playing with his children Robin and Rianna. But early in his career, he wasn’t afraid to enjoy himself. Fresh from a superb drive in Bahrain in 2012, from 11th to second, Raikkonen and friend and ice hockey player Kimmo ‘Piki’ Pikkarainen found themselves at a party hosted by the Prince of Bahrain.
From there began an intoxicating whirlwind that involved Raikkonen ending up in a swimming pool fully clothed, days of chilling and drinking with friends, trying to imitate Maradona and twisting his ankle, missing a test with Lotus (whom he drove for between 2012-13) as a result and getting around the house on a baggage trolley, the sort used by bellboys in hotels, while he recuperated. On top of that, there was a trip to Helsinki for the May 1 celebrations, some karaoke and drinking wine from a candle holder…
Sixteen days later, the fun stopped. Two days after that, he headed to Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, came third in the race and wished “a happy Mother’s Day to all mothers” in his post-Grand Prix press conference.
Winning desire still burns bright
Underneath it all, Raikkonen wants to win, and while that desire may have eased along the way, with his family taking priority, he is still only interested in winning – even if he doesn’t show it externally.
After clinching victory in the United States earlier this year, his first win for more than five years, he said: “It hasn’t really been a big deal for me. It’s been a much bigger deal for other people. If it comes it comes, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t change my life one bit. I’m happy because we are here purely to try to win. The biggest difference is how people look at you. Obviously, I’m happy. I just proved some people wrong.”
Eeckelaert adds: “I go back to his first race. I asked Kimi: ‘What do you think of your first F1 race? You finished sixth, you got a point’. He looked to me and he said ‘Yep, another five to beat!’ That was 18 years ago and I think he’s still the same.”
Many feel that Raikkonen should have won more than one championship, given his ability. He came agonisingly close twice with McLaren – but Raikkonen doesn’t get down about it. “Maybe we had chances those years,” says Raikkonen. “But sometimes things don’t go as you want them to.”
After five consecutive seasons with Ferrari – and eight in total – Raikkonen leaves bound for Sauber, the team that gave him his debut, for a two-year stint. He is already the oldest driver on the grid. By the end of that deal, he will be 41. But has his love for racing diminished? “I still feel the same about F1 and I still like racing a lot,” he says.
“A podium finish is always nice, but I want to stand in the middle of the podium.”
If he does that with Sauber, now that really would be a fairy-tale.