|"What happens in Monaco, |
doesn't necessarily stay in Monaco."
In The Right Stuff, author Tom Wolfe calls Chuck Yeager a “natural-born stick ‘n’ rudder man.” After serving as a combat pilot in World War II, Yeager was trained as a test pilot, and eventually selected for the X-1 project. This project represented one of aviation’s far-flung goals: the chance to break the sound barrier. Many pilots and aeronautical experts worried that the increased buffeting and turbulence that rocked planes as they neared Mach 1 would prove insurmountable. Yeager wanted to prove them wrong.
The X-1 trials were conducted at Muroc, which would later become Edwards Air Force Base. But then it was just a runway in the desert, along with a few shacks and tents. The only nearby amenity was Pancho’s Fly Inn, where the airmen indulged in part of the “Flying & Drinking and Drinking & Driving” mentality of military test pilots. Two nights before his big flight, after knocking back a few drinks, he and his wife saddled up two of Pancho’s horses and went for a moonlight ride. With a test pilot’s intent of demonstrating that “the right stuff” applied to all aspects of one’s life, he rode at full gallop through the Joshua trees.
Then his horse hit a gate.
The next day, he slunk off base to a civilian doctor, who taped up his two broken ribs. The day of the X-1 test, the pain was no less intense. After determining that he could do everything but close his canopy unassisted, Yeager confided in his flight engineer, who fashioned a makeshift lever from a broom handle. He rode up in the B-29 until the launch plane reached the proper altitude. Then he climbed out through the bomb bay, down a ladder into the X-1, hooked up his oxygen, radio, and earphones, and strapped on his helmet. With his new wooden tool, he closed the cockpit. After he told the crew he was ready, the B-29 released the X-1, and Yeager lit up the rocket engines. He made it through the buffeting, and pushed through the sound barrier to reach Mach 1.05.
Similarly, the seven Mercury astronauts believed in blowing off steam after a hard day’s work. Through their friendship with Jim Rothman, a Florida car dealer who had won the 1960 Indianapolis 500, most of them ended up with brand new Corvettes. Wally Schirra got a Maserati, and Scott Carpenter a Shelby Cobra. (John Glenn alone seemed immune to the allure of sports cars). After knocking back a few drinks, the boys unleashed their cars along the dark highways. They never worried whether their performances could measure up with those of professional racecar drivers. They had “the right stuff,” after all!
Much has been made of Kimi Raikkonen’s tendency to let loose after a race, or to celebrate an especially sweet victory. While I would never condone Drinking & Driving, or public displays of drunkenness, everything we do in life induces a certain amount of stress. Whether it is a job of our choosing, or an obligation forced upon us, our bodies, minds, and spirits cannot handle unlimited stress. We must find activities and ways to release that stress. We should also acknowledge that those who face greater trials than us, and who strive for greater goals, also endure greater levels of stress. To paraphrase Mark Shepherd, the character who runs the mining operation on Io in the Sci-Fi movie “Outland,” “these people work hard, and then they play hard.”
But instead of ending this series on Kimi Raikkonen by attempting to justify one aspect of his psyche, I’d rather focus on what he is not known for. He doesn’t have a reputation for excessive blocking, or knocking his fellow competitors off the track. He doesn't go public with details of his salary negotiations. He's never put sensitive team information online. If his team has done something that the FIA (F1's governing body) might find questionable, he doesn’t threaten to inform on them unless the team meets his demands. Nor does he have a history of demanding number one status within a team, or playing Machiavellian games with his teammates.
Kimi Raikkonen may not interact with his engineers the way other drivers do. As Peter Sauber once said, “He demands, to the point of arrogance, to get his own way.” He also has a reputation for partying a little too hard. Some could argue that he might be a multiple world champion had he conducted himself differently. But statistic and records are not the sole determinate of one's greatness. For some people, life isn't just about winning: it's also about what they won't do in order to win.
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