kimischumi.jpgOne of the many things that Ferrari and Michael Schumacher had in common that kind of stood out was their ability to kick up a hell of a controversy at a moment’s notice and then to calmly go about their business like nothing had changed while everything around them was in a swirl. Seldom in the past decade has the sport (or non-sport according to Nando) seen any controversy, major or minor, that didn’t involve Ferrari or Michael Schumacher or both – they were invariably surprised to be caught up in the eye of the storm but seldom disturbed by it. It is perhaps this that Jean Todt was referring to when he said Ferrari chose Kimi because of his suitable attitude. Kimi Raikkonen’s unperturbed demeanor and care-a-damn existence are in stark contrast to some members of the paddock who constantly look like they are about to pop a vein. Add to this a blatant disregard for what the F1 community as a whole thinks or talks about him, and what do we have? A perfect fit for the new Ferrari dream team in making.

A point best illustrated by the 2002 season. Despite the roasting Ferrari got in the press for Austria 2002 and a million dollar fine from FIA to boot, Michael deliberately slowed down near the finish line in Indy 2002 to coordinate a photo finish with Rubens, handing the win to Rubens by mistake instead. What makes the situation especially funny in retrospect was that he had asked to gift the win to Rubens but had been denied permission, with Jean Todt warning him to just lie low for the rest of the season and not stir up any more trouble. And we all know how difficult that is for Michael. There is something so intrinsically ‘cool’ about the rogue attitude, as morally dubious as it sounds.

Q: Michael, are you looking forward to seeing and talking to Jean Todt and the Ferrari president when you finish this press conference? Do you think there will be any – are they going to give you a hard time, you think?
MS: Maybe I have to keep my helmet on when I get back (laughs).

And Kimi demonstrated very early in his career that he was cast in the same mould. The same reluctance to explain his behavior or justify his actions, the same indifference to outside perception and the same impatience with stupid questions. Of course Kimi is a lot less controversial than his predecessor was (at least till now), but that I believe stems from Michael’s innate tendency to get into trouble, it just came as naturally to him as driving a F1 car did. Honestly, which other driver would think of setting up a photo-finish on the verge of a grand prix win?

Q. Kimi, have you ever got angry about anything, and jumped up and down and shouted?
A: Yeah, many times but of course you’re not happy if you retire or something but I guess it mostly happens more in normal life than in racing.
Q. Can you give us examples?
A: No, not really.
Q. What are the kind of things that make you angry in normal life, as you say?
A: If you keep asking questions like those.

rossschumi.jpgMichael’s attitude towards controversy has always been that of surprise (“Why, what am I supposed to have done now?!”) – he was perpetually at a loss to understand why something he considered perfectly sensible and particularly smart would cause people to look at him askance (“You mean you don’t think that was brilliant?!”). The drivers were never short of things to discuss during GPDA meetings, and it kept the journos on their toes. Just about when a particular topic got too stale and cliched, Michael would always step up and give everyone something new to talk about – everything about him was just as consistent as his brilliance on track. We know the conventional excuse – maybe when you are straining every fiber of your being trying to win, when your profession is driving a racing car at insane velocities every second week and making split-second decisions…and most importantly when you are tremendously good at what you do, your sense of what is permissible and what is not might be different from that of the average driver or an arm-chair critic. Or maybe not…maybe Michael just reveled in the image of someone who would stop at nothing in going for a win. “I did it my way” he quietly announced at the end of a most prolific racing career, and what a way it was! Give me a combination of brilliance and rebellion any day over mediocrity and political correctness. As Kimi Raikkonen demonstrated in Hungary 2005 when he appeared to deliberately drive off the track to bring sand onto the track during qualifying, resulting in Nando losing some time in the first sector of the lap owing to lack of grip and giving Flavio an excuse to raise cain. Clever driving? Gamesmanship? Unsporting? It is all in the perception really.

The main difference between Kimi and Michael comes from Michael’s legendary attention to detail and perfectionism as opposed to Kimi’s impatience to just get on with the racing. A fact well demonstrated by this.

Q. To the drivers. In the drivers’ briefing were you allowed to cross the line at the pit-exit because some of the drivers crossed the white line and nothing happened?
Kimi: I don’t know even what line you are saying. There is some line but it goes over the exit and you need to drive over it otherwise you are never going to get on the circuit. (Laughter from the assembled journos).

coolkimi.jpgAnd now with the latest controversy raging on, and Ron Dennis doing an Ancient Mariner as in buttonholing innocent bystanders and waxing on and on about moving floors and what not, and the harried FIA perpetually coming up with new rules to cover loopholes exploited in old ones, not to mention Flavio Briatore launching scathing attacks on all and sundry from his grandmother to the cleaning lady in his impatience to find the next best driver, Kimi Raikkonen is like a breath of fresh air with his simple attitude to racing.

Q. Any thoughts on the new tests the FIA will do on the floor?
KR: I do not know if they changed the rules or not. If someone complains the FIA will tell us what to do.

After setting blistering pace in Sepang today and topping the timesheets, causing Kubica to remark “The performance of the Ferrari cars is like a machine from another planet”, does Kimi think Ferrari are the favorites? “I don’t know, I think so…but you never know…let’s see how it goes”. Yes, let’s. “Everyone knows that Kimi never goes flat out just for testing” says Peter Sauber, adding to the palpitations in the paddock amongst rival teams. Their anxiety is understandable – if this is Kimi taking it easy, the mind boggles at what he can do on race day with this ‘alien’ car. Forza Ferrari.

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