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Kimi Raikkonen: 'Iceman' will not bow to convention on F1 return

Wednesday, 14 March 2012 - 3:04pm IST Updated: Wednesday, 14 March 2012 - 4:17pm IST | Place: London | Agency: Daily Telegraph
The 2007 world champion Raikkonen remains a maverick but the sport is all the better for having him back.
  • Reuters

There was a memorable moment during the Autosport Awards ceremony in December when Sebastian Vettel, the new double world champion, got up on stage and began talking in a drab monotone to loud cheers from the audience. You didn't need to have been there at the start of his routine to know who he was impersonating. Kimi Raikkonen has a unique delivery.

The Finn - or the Iceman as he is commonly referred to within motorsport - has been one of Formula One's most interesting, and misunderstood, characters ever since Sauber took a chance on a callow 21 year-old with just 23 single-seater races behind him.

Monosyllabic in public to the point of being comical, but a maverick away from the microphone; an adrenalin junkie who will race anything from powerboats (famously dressed in a gorilla suit) to snowmobiles; a free spirit with a fondness for spirits.

Despite his lack of interest in self-promotion - or, more likely because of it - Raikkonen has built up a cult following over the past decade. He is the anti-establishment, plain-talking racer who once explained to Martin Brundle on one of his live television grid walks that he had missed a presentation by Pele because he had gone to the toilet. He is also blindingly quick - at least, he is when he is in the mood.

All of which explains why there is such interest in the 2007 world champion's return to Formula One after two years in the World Rally Championship. Everyone is curious to know which Kimi Lotus have signed. The one who came through from 17th to claim a brilliant victory for McLaren at the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix? Or the one Ferrari signed for a reputed $50million (pounds 32m) per season to be their No.1 but ended up buying out of his contract to make way for Fernando Alonso?

"It will depend on the car we have," he shrugs. "Of course I want to win again. But what can you do if your car isn't good enough? I'll push as hard as I can." But will he? He has his doubters. Sitting in a suite at the Dolder Grand hotel near his home in Zurich, Raikkonen, 32, looks and sounds as imperturbable as ever. He is dressed head to toe in black Lotus gear. This is the part of the job he hates, the interviews and PR, but he is adamant the grind of F1 will not affect his motivation levels.

He rolls his eyes when quizzed on the famous 'ice cream for the Iceman' episode from his final season at Ferrari in 2009. This occurred during a rain delay at Sepang when cameras picked up Raikkonen, ostensibly still in the race, dressed in shorts, munching on a Magnum and plucking a can of coke from the Ferrari fridge.

"The funny thing is people made a big story out of that, but if the team tells you you're not allowed to race the car because it's broken and it's too dangerous because of the water?" he sighs. "Sometimes people try to make a bad story out of things which are normal. But that's how it goes."

Raikkonen does not try to fight the perception of him. He just ignores it. He does not deny, though, that he would prefer to have driven in a less sanitised, less politically correct era.

He once entered a snowmobile race under the pseudonym James Hunt, the late 1976 champion and legendary carouser to whom he has been compared. "In those days Formula One was a bit different," he says approvingly. Is it a shame the way it has changed? "Life goes on. But for sure I think things were a bit more fun when he was driving."

Raikkonen, it seems, will not get to have as much fun as he did two seasons ago when Ferrari allowed him to go rallying on his weekends off. After their experience last year with Robert Kubica, the Pole whose career still hangs in the balance following a horrific rally crash, Lotus have forbidden their marquee signing from indulging his passion for extra-curricular fixes.

"Ah, it's normal with F1 they try to ban everything. Unfortunately with what happened to Robert last year? But even before that it was written into contracts. Maybe in the future if you can do some good results you can get a release or something. I still love it. If I could do it this year at the same time as F1 I would. I think it's good practice and it's good fun."

So how well can he do after two years away? Remember, it took Michael Schumacher, a seven-time world champion, a whole season to get up to speed when he returned in 2010. Not that Raikkonen would know. He says he did not bother watching F1 while he was away.

"Sometimes when you are home or something it is on but I didn't make any special effort or anything."

All Raikkonen will say is that he is confident his hiatus will not have affected his speed, and his times in winter testing would appear to support that theory. Lotus are this year's dark horses. Despite missing the whole of the second test with a chassis issue, the car looks reasonably quick and team principal Eric Boullier believes the Finn has already got to grips with the Pirelli tyres introduced in his absence.

Whatever happens, it is just good to have one of the sport's true characters back. Life on Planet Kimi - as his old Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali called it - is much the same. "I do what I want," he shrugs again. "If I want to go out and have fun with my friends I can. As long as you do your work at 100% I don't see the problem."

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