After a deliberately incognito winter break, Kimi Raikkonen has surfaced for 2019 speaking to journos at an Alfa Romeo function, looking ahead to his return to the forner Sauber team, his Formula 1 alma mater, where he teams up with rookie Antonio Giovinazzi to spearhead a new era for the Swiss-based team.
During an Alfa Romeo media day at Circuito di Balocco, a relaxed Raikkonen was present and spoke comfortably with reporters at the function, speaking at length about his career, his motivation and other snippets of info from an unexpectedly verbose Iceman.
Told that he appeared more “chilled and relaxed” and asked if this was because of the change of environment, the 39-year-old Finn replied, “I don’t think so, I don’t know. Each team has commitments and deadlines. Some teams have more things to do, others less, in some there is more politics, in others less or just zero.”
“Everyone tries to get the same result but the roads are not always the same, sometimes the paths are different. Here the environment is certainly more relaxed, it is all focused on the racing aspects and less on politics. I think it’s easier for everyone.”
Raikkonen won Ferrari’s last title in the top flight when he became 2007 F1 World Champion in his debut season in red. He had two stints at Maranello which totalled eight years in which, apart from the title, he won ten Grands Prix for the team – his last victory at the 2018 United States Grand Prix.
At the end of 2009, Ferrari paid Raikkonen to take a sabbatical, at which point he was hardly in love with F1 and he took the money to go dabble in Nascar and rally, before returning to the top flight a couple of years later.
Asked if he was a changed man since then, he explained, “I’m the same person. The circumstances were different and then what is essential is that I enjoy my racing. I feel good, this is what made the difference in my choice and I believe that things, in general, can go well.”
As for his role as the senior driver alongside a Ferrari-backed rookie, Raikkonen added, “In the team, many have key roles, there is not a single person who has a superior role. There are so many crucial figures, very important. Sure, I’m the most experienced driver, but both of us will be called to deliver our best for the team.”
Shortly after Raikkonen walked out of the gates at Via Abetone Inferiore #4 all hell broke loose at the Scuderia, by the time the dust had settled his mate and supporter Maurizio Arrivabene was out the door, replaced by Mattia Binotto.
Raikkonen wouldn’t be drawn to comment, “My mother’s mate asked me: did you hear about Maurizio? I said no, because I was in Finland and we were not interested in receiving news… I had no idea. And even now I have no idea of the reasons, but it’s none of my business to ask questions.”
At one point last year he looked set to remain with Ferrari for 2019, after all he got on famously with teammate Sebastian Vettel and Arrivabene wanted him to stay too. But soon it became clear that Charles Leclerc had been pre-ordained to drive for the team this year and Raikkonen was out.
With Leclerc stepping up to the most coveted seat in motorsport, what advice has Raikkonen got for the young Frenchman who replaced him? “Honestly, it’s impossible to give advice.”
“He already knows the team for years, he is not a driver who comes in completely out of the blue. He has gained experience in Formula 1 and that [Ferrari] is a special place to be.
“We know, sometimes there may be some moments of confusion, but I am convinced that it is always better not to get involved and simply do what you have been hired to do.”
“I’ve always believed it’s better to stay focused on that and not get involved in anything else. However [Leclerc] knows the people well, he has already worked with them, so I don’t think he will have problems.”
Meanwhile, ahead of his 17th season in the top flight – which begins with Barcelona testing on Monday – Raikkonen is playing down expectations, “After the first laps I think a driver already gets a certain feeling, good or not good.”
“Obviously, the test also gives us an idea of the results we can aspire to attain, but reading beyond that is just speculation. The general feeling I think is positive and if everyone continues to give their best, as is happening now, we can only go well.”
Finally, it was pointed out that it is 20 years since he stepped into a single-seater for the first time, prompting him to recall, “I remember we were at Mugello, right? I was first, but I broke a suspension and Felipe [Massa] won the race…”
“I’m still the same guy, although obviously, I have more experience because of so many years of this sport, living life and seeing many things. But in general, I do not think I’ve changed a lot, except for some aspects that I think are normal.”
“As you get older you see some things differently, you’re driven to change something, but inside I still feel that I’m that Kimi,” added the sport’s most popular current driver who stepped up to F1 with Sauber in 2001 with only a couple of dozen car races to his name.
— Alfa Romeo F1 Team (@AlfaRomeoF1Fan) February 13, 2019