23rd October 2007
Cool - he's just cool. From the moment the Iceman stepped into a Sauber for his first Formula 1 test, the sport woke up to a special talent. Sure, he’s got his faults – haven’t we all? – but, at heart, he’s an old-fashioned balls-out racecar driver. Does his own thing; enjoys a vodka or three; gets in the car and drives the hell out of it. To see Kimi Räikkönen at speed, at one with his machine, is to be reminded of the greatest, quickest-of-the-quick drivers of the sport. It’s always baffled me how he seems almost to coast in to corners in a seamless arc before getting back on the power audibly earlier than his competitors do. Car control: he’s got it. Compare his fantastic opposite-lock correction at Hockenheim’s penultimate corner during qualifying for the 2005 German GP with the similar manoeuvre, in the same place, attempted by the portly Colombian who was his team-mate at the time. No prizes for guessing who ended the session in a gravel trap and who started from pole. Despite his apparent aloofness, Kimi is a popular champion within the F1 world, not least because he prevented the vexatious Fernando Alonso from taking a third consecutive title. Whatever you may think of Kimi, he’s consistent. Many drivers arrive in F1 infused with co-operative intent – which rapidly dissipates as they come to realise just how difficult they’re allowed to be. Kimi, though, has never changed, always exuding a ‘couldn’t give a toss’ persona (his laid-back philosophy extends to his seating position in a road car; if he ever offers you a lift, don’t sit behind him because he likes to recline the seat until it’s almost horizontal). During a one-on-one photo shoot in São Paulo a couple of years ago, I asked Kimi to pose in a certain style, assuring him that I just wanted him to look cool – and, on the spur of the moment, I added a sarcastic enquiry as to his capacity to deliver. He looked at me, grinned broadly, and assumed the position. I’m told that away from the pressure-cooker environment that is modern day grand prix racing, he’s a real laugh, enjoying all the pleasures a 28-year-old man should. There’s a chink, though, in his impressively polished armour. Those chewed-down-to-the-wick fingernails are a sure giveaway that he has a not-so-cool nervous streak. So at last we have a world champion who seems to fit the mould perfectly. The older members of F1’s travelling circus, and similarly aged fans, revel in his seat-of-the-pants, throwback style; and the younger fans, the media and the screaming Japanese teenagers love his flip-flops and camo-shorts-in-the-paddock style. Don’t go changing, Iceman. Before enjoying my pictures from the Brazilian Grand Prix (by clicking on ‘Formula One’ at the top of the page), please read-on as Kevin Garside, the award winning Formula One correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, has written a guest blog for this site. On the Monday after the Brazilian Grand Prix the American television news channel CNN ran a feature on the conclusion of the 2007 season. The new world champion Kimi Raikkonen was dutifully acknowledged, then the broadcast shifted to the real story of the year: Lewis Hamilton. I mean no disrespect to the mighty Finn. He is a worthy world champion, and a popular one after the near misses of 2003 and 2005. But this was the season of Hamilton, who, were it not for a calamitous tyre call by McLaren in China, and a poor response to a freak shift into neutral in Brazil, Hamilton would have been home and hosed. What is more, Hamilton would have been an equally worthy winner. For me it is a shame that history will not record the Stevenage supernova as the first rookie champion of a noble sport. None has exploded across the Formula One landscape like him. Fernando Alonso, a double world champion, no less, trailed from the fourth race in Spain, where he followed Hamilton across the line on home soil. Alonso’s response to Hamilton’s gargantuan talent has been a disgrace. I credit the owner of this site for this pearl of wisdom: You want to like Fernando but he won’t let you. Absolutely bang on. I was one of three British journalists permitted into room 1422 of the Sao Paulo Hilton 24 hours after the season’s end. The boy was sick as a dog, something he had eaten the night before. Despite the disappointment of having the greatest prize in motor sport torn from his grasp at the death, there was not a hint of rancour. He praised the man who benefited at his expense, he distanced himself from the planned appeal against the steward’s decision not to penalise team’s that finished above him over fuel irregularities. He said did not want to win a title that way. He wanted to win it on the track. That interview, given in T-shirt and shorts between trips to the toilet bowl, might yet turn out to be more valuable to Hamilton than a rookie world crown. It was the response of a champion. That, Fernando, is how you take disappointment; that is how you lose. No excuses, no blame. Hamilton took his medicine and moved on with grace. Four victories, six poles, a dozen podium finishes, these are the unbelievable numbers of an incredible maiden season, the substance of his claim to greatness. But they do not tell the whole story. With a Machiavellian team-mate working his poison from within the team plus the political might of Ferrari, which screwed McLaren royally in the ‘spygate’ affair, working its pernicious magic, Hamilton had to deliver under impossible circumstances. Add to that the scrutiny invited by being the Formula One’s first black driver, and you have a pressure cooker no rookie has ever had to endure. He prospered nonetheless. That is why CNN chose to focus on him and not the new world champion. We are on sacred ground with Hamilton. Watch the story grow.
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