LEGEND has it that Kimi Raikkonen barely spoke even as he turned 4. Worried that something was wrong, his parents rushed to the doctors to know what the issue was.
But they were told nothing was wrong as such; that Kimi was just that way.
Perhaps in a philosophical sense, it made perfect sense for the true sportsman he turned out to be, Kimi, a world champion with Ferrari, spoke less and let his performances do the talking for him.
An early indication of this was winning the faith of Schumacher and Hakkinen himself who’d continuously tell the F1 circus about how great a talent the Finn was, which is when Max Mosley objected to Raikkonen being awarded the superlicence at the back of just 23 races.
As he leaves the sport as its most experienced driver – he has his backers to thank while one’s not sure if he’d even care to bother to phone Mosley and say, “talk now!”
In a sport where drivers fall for the trappings of becoming celebrities, too often sporting inflated egos, that Kimi Raikkonen remained an individual amid a crowd that often seemed cliched offers perfect inlet into the mind of the ‘Iceman.’
A driver that was unflappable amid whatever was happening around him, one who became a synonym of speed, never took his success– and there were many- to his head nor got rattled by failures.
The true tribute, therefore, in some ways, to Kimi Raikkonen cannot be rendered complete without touching upon his one-of-a-kind personality.
The 2007 world champion cared, until the day of announcing his retirement, very little for the media, had no space for answering rhetorical questions and considered hype about as useful as spilt milk or shattered visor of a helmet.
For what mattered to one of F1’s most enigmatic drivers from day 1, circa Australian GP 2001 until the very recent 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, was racing. Pure racing alone.
Something we intrepid Formula 1 nuts loved in the Senna and Hunt days. Something that today has perhaps taken a bit of a hit in front of highly technical machines, media campaigns and starry personas often overly defining drivers.
Kimi, in this regard, the only driver thus far to race in a third of all F1 Grands Prix was a cut different from the rest.
Monosyllabic out of the car but blazingly fast when in it.
When he returned to the sport in 2012, having raced in NASCAR and WRC for a good two years, he forced his way up the order to win at Abu Dhabi, 2012 and began the 2013 season with a clinical win at Australia.
This is when his closest adversaries – Vettel and Alonso – were in the Red Bull and Ferrari whilst the Iceman kept his cool in a Lotus-Renault.
But a thing that constantly carved the Kimi cult was his personality outside of the car.
Some of his answers, much like his great victories, whether one speaks of the four wins at Spa (Belgian GP), the maiden Turkish GP victory of 2005, or the seventeenth to first at Suzuka (Japan) with McLaren were just as dazzling and unmistakably Formula 1 gold.
The harder the media tried to get some “exciting” bytes from the laconic Finn, the greater he disappointed them albeit by offering nothing but “in-your-face” answers.
“Kimi, where do you think the car can be most improved,” the 41-year-old was once asked, to which he replied, without wasting a second, “around the lap!”
That’s just one example of the man who was, despite his cold responses to the press, a media and fan favourite.
Consider this gem from the Top Gear show with Jeremy Clarkson as the host.
“The helmet has a special meaning for every Formula 1 driver but what does it mean to you?”
Kimi, in his unflustered lowly pitched voice, said, “It protects my head!
That was about it.
Perhaps you get a sense that the little he spoke in media pressers was because most of his focus, rather all of it, was directed on the one thing he arrived in F1 for racing.
It seemed everything else was just a PR-regimented orchestrated exercise where drivers played to the gallery whilst Kimi, with his no-nonsense approach to racing and zero-bullshit personality remained focused on driving fast.
In a sport measured to a thousandth of a second, Raikkonen presided often curtly and always straight to the point over a complex legacy.
His is a journey that’s punctuated with 103 podium finishes, 46 fastest laps, 18 poles all of which culminated into 1 world title, and that too with the sport’s most famous team, Ferrari.
Yet the man, who has 341 race entries against his name, the only driver to win in the V8, V10 and the V6 turbo hybrid eras, sports only a solitary title is a bit bizarre and hard to fathom.
It fundamentally points to a flaw in the career of a man who even set the fastest ever lap in F1 history as of 2018 in Monza (a 1:19:119) before it was broken by Lewis Hamilton in 2020.
What’s often derided by critics to whom Raikkonen is a great underachiever is that despite such a long journey all he managed is a solitary title.
But these are those critics who fail to gather that the Espoo-born came twice painfully close to lifting a world championship when still in his mid-twenties whilst competing fearlessly against more experienced campaigners.
Think of the iconic Schumacher. Don’t forget another titan of the sport – Fernando Alonso.
Moreover, that Kimi was often paired with unreliable machinery was more down to his team’s incompetence than his own.
What stood out, even during periods of duress and lacklustre outings, were surprise packages such as the qualifying drive at Monaco, 2005 where Raikkonen emerged half a second quicker than Alonso’s Renault in taking the pole.
Dauntless and driven to express himself on the track for that’s where he was the happiest, Kimi produced more episodes of typical Finnish masterclass based on unflappability.
Think 2009’ Spa Francorchamps win in a Ferrari that was unreliable and so often off the pace. To many, he’d always be the King of Spa. Those who knew why the title was attributed to him would never forget the masterful pass at Eau Rouge on Fisichella.
That his next win would come four years later would show how much Kimi wanted a win and also that he’d not lost any zeal to succeed whatsoever.
At Abu Dhabi, 2012, when Coulthard asked the race winner what his thoughts were, Kimi being Kimi, not a man of many words exercised restraint and simply said, “Not too much, honestly!”
He wasn’t being rude on this occasion; he was sinking in the winning feeling having kept his cool in the heat of the desert.
If stats and big numbers are alone indicative of success then some in Raikkonen’s ebb are bigger than the worth of one’s ego.
More wins than Massa, Heidfeld, Suntil, Montoya, Button and Webber. More world titles than what Bottas, Perez, or Ricciardo have managed in their relatively long careers that are still on.
But the truth is, Raikkonen’s success can be measured through the bevvy of respect and compliments he commands from his peers, the respect he’s bagged from ex-colleagues.
Hamilton, a man with six more titles than the Finn, has admitted to being a Kimi fan all his life. Alonso dubbed Raikkonen, a former Ferrari teammate in 2014, “fair and quick, never the one with cheap tricks!”
Giovinazzi labelled him, “A role model!” And Lando Norris stated, “One day I’d love to emulate him!”
Yet one gets this feeling, that the man himself, one who’s raced the furthest distance in Formula 1, one who still has the third-highest number of fastest laps (behind Schumacher and Lewis) would dwell on none of these garlands of respect.
He’d be more content at being who he really was- a man of few words and blindingly fast speed.
That, in essence, was, rather is, Kimi Matias Raikkonen- a man the younger lot calls a legend, a cult hero his contemporaries will miss. And yet, a figure of prominence who seemed hardly interested in the shenanigans of Formula 1.
For he was always a devotee of speed, not charades!