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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Understanding Kimi Raikkonen: Part 4

Drive & Grow Rich by Kimi Raikkonen

Pete Conrad had proven his abilities as a military test pilot, but as Tom Wolfe describes in The Right Stuff, that did not ensure his selection as one of America’s first astronauts.  Test pilots back then objected to any medical tests, but Conrad viewed the testing at the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico as especially excessive.  Hooking him up to electrodes to make his muscles move of their own accord was bad enough.  After a slew of extensive tests on his bowels, Conrad marched into the general’s office.  He slammed the latest enema bag on the general’s desk, and declared, “If you want any more enemas from me, from now on you can get ‘em yourself!”

He found the psychological testing at Wright-Patterson Air Force base no more agreeable.  Surrounded by white-garbed officials who asked him bizarre questions, and scribbled down his every reaction, Conrad again went on the offensive.  Presented with a blank sheet of paper and asked to describe what he saw, Conrad studied it for a moment, then said warily, “But it’s upside down.”  Later, he purchased his own notepad, and followed one particularly annoying psychologist around, asking her questions and writing down her responses. 

Needless to say, Pete Conrad did not make the cut as one of America’s first seven astronauts.  That status was accorded to Alan Shepherd, Gus Grissom, Scott Carpenter, John Glenn, Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton, and Gordon Cooper.  Once introduced to the press, these men were accorded the status of King’s Champions.  The public suddenly wanted to know everything about them, not for what they had previously accomplished in their careers, but for how they would take on the almighty USSR in the ultimate battleground of space.  Awards were hurled at their feet, their presence was requested by virtually every company and group in the country, and the public hungered to know everything about the men who would climb into the Project Mercury capsules.  A lucrative deal with Life magazine followed shortly thereafter, a long with all manner of previously unimaginable opportunities to amass their personal wealth.

A similar comparison could be made with today’s Formula One drivers.  At the beginning of each season, every team shows off their new car and drivers.  Although races and championships are won through the efforts of hundreds (if not thousands) of people, it is the two drivers who are heralded as the team’s heroes.  If their previous experience is impressive, it will be trumpeted.  If not, the driver will be announced as The Next Great Driver.  As the season progresses, should the drivers fail to outperform the Goliaths of the higher echelon teams, well, that’s one thing.  But woe betide them if they are consistently outperformed by the Davids of lower ranked teams!

Formula One is a big money sport, but even the richest teams cannot afford to lavish extravagant amounts on drivers unless they believe the person can perform.  Yet so highly did Ron Dennis, then team boss of McLaren, believe in Kimi Raikkonen’s abilities, that by the end of 2001, Kimi’s first season in Formula One, he convinced two-time champion Mika Hakkinen to take a year’s sabbatical.  Instead of paying Mika his usual nine-to-eleven million dollar salary, he paid Mika three million to sit out a year.  Ron Dennis then negotiated with Peter Sauber and Kimi Raikkonen to secure the latter's services for the following season.  He eventually contracted to pay Sauber five million a year for four years to release Kimi from his employment contract with the team, and further agreed to pay Kimi an eight million dollar salary.  Effectively, that meant Ron Dennis paid out sixteen million for Kimi’s first year, as opposed to the nine-to-eleven million he had paid Mika.  This equates to over twenty million in 2012 dollars.  And all this, for a promising but unproven driver.  

Kimi Raikkonen went on to spend five years at McLaren.  Although he never won the championship for Ron Dennis, he finished runner-up twice during a period in which Michael Schumacher and Ferrari forged an unbeatable partnership.  When Michael Schumacher retired at the end of the 2006 season, Kimi took his seat at Ferrari, along with a salary of fifty-one million dollars, and won the championship in 2007, his first year with the team.  But his drives at McLaren and Ferrari, as well as the incredible sums he earned, would never have been his had he not performed well at Sauber, or had he responded like Pete Conrad did when Ron Dennis and McLaren evaluated him as a potential driver.  Sometimes patience, and submitting to others' tests, seems unnecessary.  But we can never rest on our laurels.  While doing our best every day can position us for future opportunities, humility and respect for others will help us win them.

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links
Team Lotus sings Kimi's praises

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