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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Understanding Kimi Raikkonen: Part 3

Kimi Raikkonen, in his McLaren,
revisits his days at Sauber.

What started as a single post comparing the test pilots and astronauts described in Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff, and Kimi Raikkonen’s instructions to his team during this year's Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, has developed into a series.  After sharing a little of what I’ve learned about America’s first astronauts, I now shift the spotlight to Kimi Raikkonen’s early Formula One career.  But first I must mention his Finnish countryman and fellow racecar driver, Mika Hakkinen.

Mika Hakkinen took the traditional route through go-carts, along the way racking up five championships.  When he graduated to cars, he won three Scandinavian championships, the 1988 Euroseries championship, and finally, the Formula 3 championship, a development series two steps below Formula One.  His performances convinced Formula One team manager Peter Collins to sign him for the 1991 season.  Mika spent two years at Lotus, and then moved to the McLaren team, where he immediately impressed everyone by out-qualifying the great Ayrton Senna in his first race.

By comparison, Kimi Raikkonen racked up fewer championships along the way to Formula One.  After his years in go-carts, Kimi Raikkonen only spent two seasons in racecars, both of those in the Formula Renault series.  There he won eleven times, and claimed two championships.  This drew Peter Sauber’s interest, and the midfield Formula One team owner signed Kimi to race for the 2001 season.  As he had not raced in Formula 3 (or, for that matter, Formula 3000, the development series directly below Formula One at that time), F1 team owners, personnel, and drivers wondered if someone so inexperienced with racecars could handle Formula One machinery.  Kimi would have to race for two hours versus thirty-or-so minutes.  He’d also have to control engines with six hundred more horsepower than the Formula Renault racecars, and endure up to five Gs under cornering and breaking.  The FIA, the supervising body for Formula One, shared their concern, and granted Kimi a provisional license, warning Peter Sauber that they would be watching the young Finn carefully.  Yet Kimi finished in sixth place in his first race, impressed drivers and teams throughout the 2001 season with his performances and his maturity, and finished that year’s championship ranked tenth in points out of twenty-six drivers.

In a profile written for The Official 2001 – 2002 Formula One Record Book, Kimi Raikkonen was described as a young man who enjoyed the quiet life, could care less about fame, and put most of his income into the bank.  Tim Gillard, who had watched Kimi race his go-carts, said Kimi made things seem as if they were happening in slow motion.  “All the champions have that,” he said.  Peter Collins at Lotus, who had watched both Mika and Kimi in their carting days, said in 2001, “Kimi is much more his own man than Mika is.  Mika was a more pliable character.  Kimi knows what he wants.  More importantly, he knows what he doesn’t want.”  Peter Sauber agreed, stating that for such a young driver, in his first year in Formula One, Kimi “would demand, to the point of arrogance, to get his own way.”  In describing his approach to racecar driving, Kimi said, “I just try to do it my way, and if somebody doesn’t like it, I don’t care.” 

I don’t know about you, but that already sounds like someone who, eleven years later, would do the unthinkable: tell his team to stop radioing him with instructions and reminders while leading the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.  “Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing,” Kimi told the newly reformed Team Lotus.  So they left him alone, and he rewarded their confidence in him with their first victory.

Imagine what each of us could accomplish, if we believed in our capabilities as much as Kimi Raikkonen.

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Link
Photo: Kimi celebrates with the team

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