THE PORTRAIT OF KIMI, THE LAST WORLD CHAMPION WITH FERRARI, MADE BY STEFANO DOMENICALI. “HIS GREATEST TALENT? NO POLITICS, HE’S A DIRECT PERSON, WITHOUT ULTERIOR MOTIVES…”
21 October 2007, Interlagos. The Brazilian GP, which ends the World Championship, has just finished. There on the podium, while confetti is raining from the sky, Kimi Räikkönen celebrates the conquest of his first (and only) championship title in the first season with the Cavallino. It’s the last signature in the Formula One World Championship Hall of fame by a Ferrari driver. Stefano Domenicali was the sporting director of the Prancing Horse on that day twelve years ago and he still has certain scenes in front of his eyes and also forever imprinted like tattoos on his skin. The current president of Lamborghini tells us: “As you can well imagine, back then (that time too) the celebrations at Ferrari were very intense. I don’t remember his phrases in particular, but I can never forget his way of doing and his tone in saying things on occasions such as these, which only those who know and appreciate him can fully understand. As a result, his hugs when he lets himself go are very particular. From this point of view, I have to say that Kimi Räikkönen doesn’t let the people who have been closest to him lack anything from every point of view. So he is absolutely transparent and I think this is one of the best characteristics that sets him apart even among today’s drivers”.
I understand that in your long experience in Maranello also Kimi Räikkönen has really remained in your heart. Or am I wrong?
“Kimi Räikkönen is currently the F1 veteran and has always had one great characteristic: to be what you see. In short, not a person used to doing politics: all he does is what he feels, without further filters and no kind of behaviour related to an unknown objective. And so the transparency and correctness that has always distinguished him, especially in personal relationships, is a great characteristic. A guy who, beyond the fact that he has been nicknamed Iceman, has a great sensitivity like all people who have this kind of attitude that when seen from the outside seems very cold, or rather detached. Kimi is a very sensitive person, with a big heart, but you can only discover the intensity in the relationship if you are someone he considers a friend. It should be stressed that entering into a relationship with him is not easy because he has a tendency to have a barrier, not because, as they say in slang, he pulls it. No, that’s just the way he is. But when you enter his personal sphere I must say that you get to know a very, very helpful, generous person who is obviously different from what public opinion has always made of him.”
What’s your assessment of the driver?
“As a driver Räikkönen has always been very fast and in his career he could have collected also a lot more but from the point of view of his characteristics I have to say that his sensitivity in tyre management, especially in the race, I think you can position him as one of the best from this point of view because his ability to manage the durability of the tyres as long as possible has always been known. Kimi has a very clean driving style, very conservative as far as the rear tyres are concerned. He is very good at retaining the rear of the car even in really difficult conditions.”
Tell us about his relationship with his team mates…
“Again, very direct relationships. Zero politics. He has always suffered from unclear situations and when he felt that on the other side there wasn’t the same fairness that was reciprocated. But Kimi has always been like that in general also with other colleagues in Formula One. His way of being transparent and direct in my opinion is the best feature of the Finn. In this respect he is the driver who stands out most of all…”
But you’ve heard him say a few words in Italian at least once since he never even said ciao in public?
“Yes, I certainly heard Kimi say a few words in Italian, especially when we were doing the famous pre-season events in the mountains and we went to our friends in Val Gardena he would say a few words in our language. But let’s be clear: not many, eh! The fact that he didn’t speak Italian is a bit part of his character and then talking to everyone in English didn’t deepen his knowledge of Italian. He has never been the type to go deeper into topics that are not fundamental for him.”
What differences did you notice between the single Kimi and the family man Kimi?
“From this point of view I saw him very consistent with his way of being always. The nice thing is that now he talks about his children as before I didn’t think he could talk about them. Honestly I know he’s very involved in the family life. But the real theme now is that I see his son Robin with a head already focused on speed, on the world of racing, cars and motorbikes: I’ll say one thing, soon we’ll see a Kimi in another guise, busy with the son whom I see as having a talent. He looks like his father: no fear in facing danger.”
THAT TITLE WITH THE FIRST SHOT
Now, let’s go back to those days. And let’s go over Kimi’s entire journey. Who arrives in Maranello after his experience at McLaren where he was twice runner-up. Räikkönen hits everyone as soon as he arrives. It is a story that begins in Vallelunga, one day in January. It rains and the Finn drives mostly with the “old” 248 F.1. But there is something that immediately strikes the Ferrari technicians. Andrea Stella, who later became the vehicle engineer of Räikkönen for the whole season, told Autosprint in those days: “In a certain type of corners, which we could define as medium-fast, Kimi was very good at gaining time. His main characteristic was to be able to bring speed in, once you let go of the brake, and keep it up till the middle of the curve, gaining on the entry and trying not to lose too much on the exit. Something similar to Schumacher but with a different driving technique.” This is because Kimi, unlike Schumi, doesn’t use the brake pedal and the throttle at the same time: first one, with the left foot (in the Nordic rally style) and then the other. Michael, on the other hand, kept the engine in tune by controlling the car with the brake.
SIX VICTORIES AND THE TITLE
2007, the Finn’s first year as a Ferrari driver, begins and ends in Bermuda shorts, from Melbourne to Sao Paulo. Six wins, more than anyone else: sixty points in six races and only fifty in the other eleven. It happens, with a couple of retirements (in Barcelona because of the alternator, at the Nürburgring because of the hydraulic system) and a resounding mistake, the one in qualifying in Montecarlo. However, if the first half of the season stalled a bit after the first flash of Melbourne, the second one is all in crescendo. From Hungary to Brazil, an average of 8.28 points per race, always on the podium. Could one have done more? Certainly not at Monza, the most difficult race for Ferrari. Maybe on other occasions, though, yes. In the North American races, in Turkey, perhaps even in the downpour in Fuji. Not to mention the final yellow at Interlagos, when Hamilton jumped ahead of him coming out of the pits and hampering his qualifying lap. The Ferrari telemetry reports – for once officially or almost – a loss of three tenths. Lewis went to apologize, Kimi shrugged his shoulders and didn’t even consider it. Then, however, he will say, “It doesn’t matter after all. ” He skips the possibility of taking the front row, everything becomes more difficult: but he seems resistant to tension, what is fundamental for others, doesn’t change his life. Looking at the standings of a world championship played until the very end and beyond, a doubt is worth to put: and what if he was right?
KIMI AS TOLD BY THE TECHNICIANS
And Räikkönen the man? Sometimes he seems so abulic, detached, that it’s hard to imagine a decent level of interaction between him and the men in the box. Yet even here the symbiosis works. “Don’t think that even with Schumi it was easy from the beginning – warns in those days Luca Baldisserri, the head of the track technicians – Kimi is different from Michael. He speaks much less, he is more synthetic,” recalled Stella at the beginning of the collaboration. “More than indicating the area of intervention, he explains the problem. Not “let’s change the suspension” but “there I need better entry”, so to speak. And he’s ready to review his ideas.” More. “Kimi is a guy who hates to make excuses,” Stella reveals. After the GP of Canada – fifth, 13 seconds from Hamilton – one of them revealed: “Kimi could have blamed a million things. A piece of Kubica’s car got stuck under his wing, for much of the race he had no front end grip and at one point had to pump on the brakes because of a system problem. Yet he didn’t complain about anything.” If he speaks little when he loses, even when Kimi wins he is not prodigal with compliments. “He’s not like Michael or Massa was, of course. You don’t expect a lot of words and pats on the back from someone like that. But when we saw him with tears in his eyes, in Brazil, we understood that Kimi Räikkönen is one of us.”
HIS GUARDIAN ANGELS
Every driver has two guardian angels. One is his race engineer, the other the vehicle engineer. The first “listens” to the car from the driver’s words. The second “reads” it by analysing the data. Kimi Räikkönen’s two guardian angels are called Chris Dyer and Andrea Stella. After working at Arrows-Yamaha with Damon Hill (1997) as data analyst, Dyer moved to Ferrari in 2001 to work with Michael Schumacher. First as a vehicle engineer and then as a race engineer. A position he then kept on Räikkönen’s car. Stella is perhaps less well known, but after specializing at the University of Rome he joined Maranello in 2000, to be part of that generation of “young and talented” technicians to which Montezemolo referred by calling them “the basis on which to invest, always in the stability of the staff. Without revolutions, which we don’t want.”
THE WORDS OF MONTEZEMOLO
At the end of the season, President Luca Cordero di Montezemolo analyses: “The 2007 World Championship was full of poisons. At the beginning of the year there were so many expectations and worries because we no longer had a great driver in the team like Schumacher; we didn’t even have a reference figure in the team like Ross Brawn, both as technical director and as a strategy man at the pit wall. We had a year of great transition ahead of us. We decided to give a boost to a strong internal growth by trusting a young and Italian management team: Almondo, Domenicali, Costa, Baldisserri, with Simon at the engines, who is French but is actually half Italian since he has been with us for 15 years and has been Martinelli’s number 2 for a long time”. Then the president also takes a few pebbles off his shoes. And he attacks: “Schumacher had recommended Räikkönen. Many journalists criticized that Kimi joined the team. I have suffered with nervousness the constant references to Alonso during the season. To those who criticized us because we were not looking for the Spaniard I reply that we did not look for him because we have two drivers under contract and we respect the contracts. But now I can say with certainty and serenity that we have the two best drivers in the world. Räikkönen is brave, loyal, dedicated to his work; he creates sympathy, suffice to say that everyone, really everyone congratulated him after his victory, including Alonso, and it doesn’t happen with all drivers. We chose Kimi because he seemed the most suitable. He won the first race on his debut with us and the world title in the first year. I couldn’t ask for more: not even Schumacher in the first year had proved so effective. Massa took more poles than anyone else in 2007. I personally decided to extend his contract until 2010 because he can grow further and because we didn’t want other teams to approach him. This year, after all, apart from the red light episode not respected in Montreal and its disqualification, he didn’t win only when we couldn’t give him a winning car. That’s why I won’t change Massa with anyone”. And then a clear, dry statement. To reiterate that internal fights like at McLaren he would have stopped earlier. “As long as I’m here, I’m interested in a Ferrari winning, not a single driver. Whoever accepts, fine; if not, go elsewhere.”