The private area of Singapore’s main airport often caters for celebrities and the wealthy, preparing for security checks – just one more easy step before boarding their private jets. It is usually light work for the security staff. But not during one particular evening in 2008.
A man places his bags on the conveyor belt. As everyone else expects him to walk through the scanner, he sees his belongings just about to disappear and has a brilliant idea. He jumps onto the moving conveyor belt himself. Panicked and raging security staff are brought to life by the unusual turn of events, expecting to apprehend a maniac. Instead they turn him over and are faced with Formula 1 driver Kimi Raikkonen, curious that the scanning equipment would give him “an image of the precise details of his body, and his bone structure in particular”.
The Singapore staff “suggest leg irons and a tough interrogation instead”. During a lengthy career spanning the eras of Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton, he may not stand out for the greatest race results. But there is far more to the Iceman beyond his cold persona.
He has been called the ‘least bothered man in sport’, but his move to Sauber for 2019 confirms his enthusiasm for racing is very much alive.
So why is a man of so few words such an icon in F1?
Loved for being bored. And impatient
There are many reasons why Kimi Raikkonen is both loved, and often loathed. His detractors point to an indifference to anything outside his own world, and below-par results in the Ferrari. However, he does possess something many modern sportspeople lack: character.
Those who dislike him can’t deny his on-track shenanigans are amusing: he moans to his race engineers like a teenager when they remind of his tasks: “Yes yes yes yes, I’m doing the tyres, you don’t have to remind me every second.”
He often gets confused about who is in front of him on track. When the championship is at stake, he’s not sure who has won it. There have been times when, following a heavy crash, he has stepped out of a wreck of a car with so little emotion, it is as if he’s just parked up at Tesco.
And when there is animation, things get even more unbelievable, as evidenced during a hectic restart during this year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix: “Gloves and steering wheel, someone tell him to give them to me. Gloves and steering wheel! COME ON!”
Then there is the serious drama: He broke a Ferrari mechanic’s leg during a pit-stop in Bahrain this year. In an extraordinary race, it was a moment that left us with our hands on our heads, and jaws on the floor.
It could only be Kimi.
Ice creams and military service
In Malaysia in 2009, the cars were on the grid during a mid-race postponement following a torrential downpour. Raikkonen had waited long enough for the restart, deciding to leave his car, and the waiting grid, to get an ice cream and a drink before disappearing into the Ferrari motorhome – to the astonishment of the other drivers, his strict paymasters and the millions watching.
His antics were even more outlandish away from the circuit; mischief has always followed Raikkonen around. During his time in the army in his youth, he broke the record for the longest time in confinement – about 20 days.
He was allowed special dispensation to leave on race weekends, but following one particular win, it got boozy, and he and his friend were late returning to the barracks.
Moments before attempting to climb over the fence in the darkness, they were spotted by military policemen. While his friend was thrown in the van and taken for questioning, Raikkonen jumped into a ditch. He then outran the security dogs, across fields and eventually flopped into his bed – drunk and covered in grass – and pretended to be asleep.
When later questioned about his evasive action he replied: “That’s exactly what you teach us here; we’re scouts after all.”
A man of few words. Very few
British driver Jenson Button once said of Raikkonen: “He’s a man of a few words, but he’s all about the racing.”
Quite literally: he didn’t speak until he was three. His concerned parents took him to a specialist to see what the problem was… the diagnosis? His intellectual test results were higher than was average for his age. He just didn’t want to talk.
Thirty-six years later, nothing has changed – he still doesn’t want to talk, but it could be argued he lets the racing speak for him with his consistent podium appearances over the years.
As somebody who only removes his sunglasses to shower, it’s no surprise he’s the only driver in history to cause yet more controversy by wearing them on the podium while standing for the national anthems.
Born with a spanner, not a silver spoon
The Raikkonens weren’t blessed with wealth, despite being immersed in the motorsport world. ‘The Unknown Kimi Raikkonen’ – a book detailing his personal life – describes his family as “petrol heads, who inhaled the same stinking air… their hands were covered in oil, and they lived from hand to mouth, or to be more precise, from hand to petrol tank”.
Matti, Raikkonen’s father, was a rallying mechanic who drove stock cars, while his brother Rami is also an engineer. Raikkonen didn’t finish the mechanics course.
The family were well known in motorsport, yet finding funding was not easy. As Raikkonen’s mother Paula said: “We needed more and more money all the time, but it still wasn’t enough,” the family often relying on leases from friends.
Away from driving, Raikkonen’s enthusiasm for life usually involves something with an engine, but not necessarily four wheels. He’s been known to drive in motorcross, rallying, and he founded IceOne Racing – a team who compete in the World Rally Championship – as well as Raikkonen Robertson Racing in Formula 3.
Slow speaker, quick starter
The Finn’s entry into F1 was quick, but not smooth. He had driven only 23 car races when he was granted a superlicence, having spent his youth in karting.
Raikkonen took a step up from karting when landing a contract in England in Formula Renault in 1999. There were problems, though: He could not speak English and he had never driven a formula car before.
Knowing he should, he borrowed one from a Finnish racing team at Alastaro circuit. Shortly after, there was a new track record.
His reputation spread, and in 2001 came his first F1 test with Sauber. Team boss Peter Sauber knew he wanted to sign this young talent. Raikkonen needed that F1 superlicence, though, in order to be able to drive in the sport. He did not have one, nor enough points to get one.
With help from his friends, Raikkonen wrote to the FIA in English, arguing why he should be granted one. Max Mosley, then the FIA president, was the only member of the judging committee to vote against it. The Finn was in.
His career eventually gave him 21 race wins and a world title in 2007 – making it a laudable decision for the FIA board of decision makers.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Raikkonen seems disinterested in winning another championship. When asked this year if the champagne tasted sweeter 113 races and five years since his last victory, he replied typically: “It’s the same champagne in second and third…”
It takes less effort to get a mere podium after all, meaning less of a spotlight at the FIA end of season awards, or at least it does if one doesn’t turn up on stage drunk.
Lewis Hamilton says when he was younger, he played F1 on the PlayStation and he would always be Raikkonen in his car.
“I always dreamed of racing against him,” Hamilton said. “It’s crazy how you get to work with some of these legends. I don’t know whether they realise the respect the younger generation in F1 have for them.”
For every Raikkonen fan, there are those who dislike him. But Formula 1 fans cannot deny there’s something different about him, especially as he’s now the oldest on the grid after 18 years in the sport.
He rose to F1 with his passion for speed and talent in a car. It wasn’t for fame, money, or the lavish lifestyle.
Those in his close circle say that what you see, is what you get, that Raikkonen has no hidden agenda. They add that he’s loyal to those who are important to him, and family means everything.
“Kimi has got a big heart. He watches and listens; he doesn’t speak immediately… Then when he comes out with a statement, it’s often something considered.”
Over to the man himself, then… “I’m not interested in what people think about me. I’m not Michael Schumacher.”
Quite, but what he lacks in words, the Iceman more than makes up for in intrigue and cold, hard racing.
Which is just as well, because if you ask him about his grand plans for the rest of his life beyond Formula 1…
“I’ll get a dog.”