He used to be cool. All brooding looks, nonchalant in gait, dismissive of gossip and mostly unruffled by the media hullabaloo.
But times change and as we get older attitudes necessarily evolve. Even our über-confident and sure-of-themselves Formula 1 drivers need to be aware of that.
Kimi Räikkönen – 2014-style – is a pale imitation of what went before.
Back – at the behest of the Scuderia’s boss Luca Montezemolo – at Ferrari, Räikkönen’s brief was simple. Drive fast, score wins and shift some of the limelight away from the prancing horse’s numero uno, Fernando Alonso.
Well how’s that working out?
Post-race-nine at the British Grand Prix, the 2014 stats don’t read well for Kimi. Qualifying ahead of his Spanish team-mate on just two occasions, and outracing Alonso on precisely none.
Working trackside – as I’m privileged to do – it’s obvious to see the Finn is far from comfortable with the technology and driving characteristics of the new-era cars and powertrains. Struggling with the nuances of energy-recovery braking into corners and power delivery on the exits, Räikkönen is way off the pace.
His F14 T is no different to that of Alonso’s but one wouldn’t know it to see Fernando qualify and, especially, race. The Spaniard drives flat out to get the most from his wretched ride, even dragging the car to a podium finish at race three in Shanghai.
Working within the close-knit world of the F1 paddock one quickly loses the often rose-tinted view – so prevalent among those without the sport – of so much of what goes on. Seeing and hearing much that shall remain private, the gloss of such a glamorous sport quickly dulls.
At heart I’m a fan of Formula 1, adoring it on so many levels. So when in March 2001 a pale and spotty-faced kid just out of his teens arrived in the Australian Grand Prix paddock, I took notice. Amazingly, come that Sunday afternoon, Sauber’s new talent would be taking part in only his 24th car race.
Boy could this kid drive. I was a fan. Immediately.
Following the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994 I didn’t care for any grand prix driver, and then there was Kimi. He had something ‘superstar’ about him. Upon the recommendation of double world champion Mika Häkkinen, Ron Dennis pounced, signing the boy from Espoo to his F1 super-team McLaren for the 2002 campaign.
To see Räikkönen attack a grand prix track flat out on a qualifying lap was to experience something truly special. With a style quite different to that of his peers, Kimi appeared to enter corners at a dizzying velocity, carrying awesome speed through the turn, dealing with any errant car movement with deft flicks of his wrists, displaying natural driving talent to levels way above 90 per cent of his rivals.
The 2005 Japanese Grand Prix at the imperious Suzuka circuit is without doubt the most thrilling example of flat-out racing I’ve ever attended. Starting in 17th position, Kimi drove a stunning race, eventually chasing down and passing Giancarlo Fisichella’s Renault on the final lap to take a crushing victory. It makes me shiver just thinking about it now…
Standing atop the cliff face that is Spa-Francorchamps’ Raidillon corner in 2009, I’ve never seen an F1 car so on the edge as Raikkonen’s F60 was as he rocketed up to and past Fisichella’s race-leading Force India like an F18 fighter jet.
I truly believe that on his day, and if he could be bothered, Kimi was capable of winning just about anywhere, in any car. Ask the guys who worked with him at McLaren. They’ll tell you a similar story.
Of course what added to the Räikkönen enigma was the widely known fact that the Finn enjoyed – when not on duty – a very non-corporate modern-era racing driver’s lifestyle.
The fact that I was only mildly surprised at having to step over his collapsed body in the first-floor corridor of Montréal’s boutique Nelligan Hotel, the Monday morning after the 2004 Canadian Grand Prix, bears testament to that!
A liquid breakfast being preferred to the usual racing driver fare of muesli and fruit…
Sadly those days of derring-do on a Sunday afternoon followed by wild nights of well-deserved frivolity are long gone. The down-in-the-mouth look and the surly attitude are no longer cool, rather just tedious and old.
The Iceman legend may well be emblazoned on Räikkönen’s helmet and even tattooed large on his left forearm, but I’m afraid the winter is over for our chilly hero. A thaw has set in.
Kimi’s melting away.