Peter Sauber, what do you think about the return of Kimi Räikkönen to Sauber?
I’ll say it now in the words of Adolf Ogi: Joy prevails. That this possibility exists, I already found out during my visit to Monza. That it worked, is a great signal. Kimi has an excellent reputation in Hinwil and is also very popular with the fans. His commitment will give the whole team a huge boost.
Does Räikkönen get his bread of charity in Hinwil?
Anything but that! Kimi is very ambitious and feels that Sauber is going uphill. A year ago he probably wouldn’t have taken this step. With his experience he will help the team in every respect. He has considered this step very well and will not want to lose his reputation.
You have discovered Kimi Räikkönen. How did that happen?
The English manager David Robertson came to Hinwil in winter 2001. By the way, his son Steve still looks after his Räikkönen today. Robertson told me about a prodigy in Formula Renault. A man without races in Formula 3 or Formula 3000, as Formula 2 was called then. My gut feeling told me: we test this man. Since that always costs money.
Then we went with 2 cars for three days to Mugello. Kimi was shy and taciturn. He barely spoke English. Well, he almost did not speak at all. But his body language was unique. When I first met him, I felt like he was walking through me. I never forget this impressive encounter. He just gave the impression of total determination.
And he was fast.
Yes. He has never used the clutch or changed gears on the steering wheel. But he drove out to the pit lane as if it was nothing. His lap times were very fast right from the start. And he was incredibly consistent. When we put him on track with 30 kilo less fuel then he was one second faster. And with new tires another second. Like a clockwork. I have never experienced something like that again. We were fascinated and signed him.
With a provisional super license.
Yes. In a plea I had to convince the other team bosses that we give this newcomer a super license. I asked them: Go and watch him driving. Then you will understand me.
Has there developed something like a father-son relationship?
Not as with young drivers like Karl Wendlinger. Räikkönen was too aloof for that. But up to this day he has a close relationship with team manager Beat Zehnder.
And in the first race of 2001 it worked right away.
That was in Australia. Kimi drove straight into the points and finished sixth. Nick Heidfeld finished fourth. At the end of the season, we finished fourth in the constructors’ championship. It was the most successful season for Sauber. It was better only with BMW, when we were once second and once third.
Will the return of the lost son Räikkönen give Formula 1 a new boom in Switzerland?
I hope so. A world champion returns to his second home. That’s a nice story and a great signal for the Sauber team.