As we all get pumped up about F1 testing and this year’s stellar line-up in the top few teams, let’s spare a thought for the World Champion who got away – Kimi Raikkonen.
Squeezed out of Ferrari, admittedly with a nice parting gift in his bank account, Kimi preferred the jump into the world of rallying to any possible alternatives in F1. His fulltime WRC career gets under way in Sweden today.
I spoke to him about the transition a few weeks ago, and you may have read the resulting feature in Autosport. He had no reason to make himself available during his winter break – there was no team or sponsor telling him to do so – but purely as a favour he found the time to call me back, and later even sent an email asking to see the story. And no, he didn’t request any changes!
I’ve been lucky enough to spend a bit of time with Kimi away from the track, and I would always argue that contrary to popular belief, he is one of the most interesting drivers you could meet. He is great fun to be with, and is also a decent human being. Many of his rivals, at least those who occasionally hang out with him, would agree with me. Just ask Pedro de la Rosa, his former McLaren team mate. You couldn’t meet two drivers with such different public personas, and yet Pedro regards Kimi as one his closest pals in the sport.
I didn’t have space to include everything Kimi said in that Autosport interview, but with the WRC about to kick off it seemed like a good time to return to the recording and scoop up the best outtakes for your consumption. One thing he has certainly done right is get himself the best possible equipment in the form of the Citroen, which is a huge step up from the Abarth he played around with last year.
“The only option for me was in rallies, and I wanted to have at least a competitive car,” he told me. “The Fiat was definitely not a good car, everybody knows it, so if I go there I want to have a good team and good car. So at least I give myself a chance if I learn quickly and get it right I have a good car and team behind me.”
There’s no doubt that he’s deadly serious about getting decent results, and podium finishes are his target. “That’s why I want to have a good car, because in the end I want to do my best and try to get as high up as I can. I have no interest to go there and just drive around, it’s definitely to try to get good results.”
When I asked what type of surface he expected to do better on, he had no doubts about where he would feel most at home.
“I would say the tarmac should be the easiest one, I did a little bit with my Fiat on asphalt. For sure you can read the road more easily just because you’ve done so much on tarmac in F1, it gives you a better feeling. Snow is the most difficult thing. I’ve done most of my rallying in the snow, but it’s still the most challenging thing.
“You’re doing some places 200 between the trees and for sure it’s different than F1, but that’s part of the whole sport. You can get hurt, so you’d better stay on the road!
“I need a lot of time in the car, and on rallies. Like I said it’s the most difficult thing I have done in my career so far, the biggest challenge. But I enjoy it and it’s good fun, it’s a new thing.”
This year of course he’ll be watching F1 from afar. Having given up the chance to drive the McLaren, he’ll certainly keep an eye on how Jenson Button, the man who eventually took the seat, will perform: “For sure it’s interesting. I’m pretty sure that Lewis will beat him.”
He saved his best answer for when I asked whether he was concerned about being forgotten by F1. “I don’t really stress much about those things.”
Kimi, I think we’d figured that one out…