INTERVIEW

Kimi talks about Kimi

Kimi Raikkonen is not a man who gives away much in his interviews. It is, by all accounts, a calculated decision. His friends will tell you that he is not at all like his public persona. That he is a funny and interesting guy, when he is not in the spotlight. But put him in front of a journalist or in a press conference and he clams up. It is a means of defence.

Some argue that Kimi was born in the wrong era. He is a party animal but inhabits a world where his partying creates bad headlines and so he hides himself away and tries not to be too interesting. Some of its exploits seem rather amusing. He appeared in a motorboat race a while again (so they say) in a gorilla suit. It is said that sometimes he will race under the name of "James Hunt", the hell-raiser Formula 1 World Champion from the 1970s, who was clearly someone with whom Raikkonen feels an affinity.

Kimi's lack of communication helps and hinders the Finn. He gets fewer requests for interviews because people think he is dull. It may be the wrong impression but Kimi does not really care what people think. He is doing it to protect himself.

Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali says that Raikkonen lives on "a different planet" to the rest of the world. That seems like a fair assessment.

"I like to keep my things in my own private life," Raikkonen says. "I don't want to show it to people."

The last 12 months have been tough for Raikkonen.

Having won the World Championship in 2007, he found himself outpaced and outshone in 2008 by his Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa. Kimi had some misfortunes with reliability and lost races that he should have won. In Montreal he was hit from behind by Lewis Hamilton in a pitlane accident.

In the midseason Kimi seemed to lose his way. Some thought his motivation was gone and rumours began to grow that Ferrari would drop him at the end of the year. There was talk of Fernando Alonso. But Ferrari confirmed that Raikkonen will stay for two more years. There is still talk about Alonso one day going to Ferrari, but for now the team and Raikkonen say that all is well.

"I am enjoying it at Ferrari," he says. "But you enjoy it more when you win. My feelings have not changed. I have not lost the motivation. If I did not want to be in F1 I would be gone. This is a great team. I made the right choice to come to Ferrari and hopefully I will be stronger this year, but I am enjoying myself here. I could not get the car how I liked, but I want to win as much as before."

Raikkonen will try to the Ferrari F60 for the first time on Monday in Portugal but Massa, who gave the car its first shakedown runs at Mugello, says he has a positive feeling about the car.

"It will be very different from last year," says Kimi. "We will see how the tests go. I drove slicks in Formula Renault and I tested them on the Ferrari before Christmas. It felt quite good."

How much input has he had on the design process after last season's troubles?

"Well, we worked all last year," he says, "but I wanted something slightly different. It is hard to make big changes in the season. For sure there are ideas that came from last year. Next week we will see how it has worked. The tyres are going to make a big difference. These are the biggest changes in F1 for many years so we will get a better idea next week. Hopefully it will improve the racing. It is difficult this year for teams to get it all together before the season begins because we don't have much time."

Does he think he was unlucky in 2007 and that the perception of his performance is not the correct assessment of what happened.

"I made mistakes and the team made mistakes," he said. "That is how things are in racing. I don't know whether luck is involved. It is up to me and the guys around me to get the best out of the car. Sometimes there is good luck, sometimes not. If it is something to do with luck then hopefully this year we will get it! I made some wrong choices, but really there is no point in talking about last year. It does not change anything. I am not going to promise anything for this year. I will do the best that I can and I hope to be back on the top of the podium."

Raikkonen says that Ferrari will probably be his last Formula 1 team.

"I am happy here, I want to stay. I have a contract for this year and next year, but there is always speculation."

One of the things that he does not want to talk about is his salary. He is believed to be the highest-paid Formula 1 driver with a deal that is now worth $50m a year because of the shift in exchange rates. It is a huge sum of money, but was negotiated at a time when there was no recession.

What does he think about salary caps?

"I don't want to get involved in that," he says.

The reality is that he has nothing to gain from talking about money. Such massive salaries seem almost obscene at a time when many people in the sport are losing their jobs. It is not sensible to get involved in such dialogue.

That is Kimi. He avoids controvery where he can and lives in his own world.

"It is not an easy world at the moment," he concedes. "Not easy for F1."

He is much happier to talk about his forthcoming involvement in the Arctic Rally in Finland

"I am very happy that the team let me do it," he said. "It is fun for me. I think it will be good fun."

Would he race more things if he could? Like the F1 drivers in years gone by, who were happy to race anything and everything?

"I have lots of hobbies that are not the safest things," he says. "I try not to take risks. Racing is good practice. It is always going to help. It is not a bad thing. I am happy to be able to do the rally."

That is Kimi.

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