From One Finn To Another
January 19, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Two-time World Champion Mika Hakkinen was nicknamed "The Flying Finn" because of his speed on the racetrack. He decided to take a sabbatical this year, so the West McLaren Mercedes team hired Kimi Raikkonen as his replacement.
Last year, in his rookie season with Sauber Petronas, Raikkonen was impressively fast. He also was impressively quiet. A shy young man with the reserved nature so typical in many Scandinavians, Raikkonen did not say much. He often answered questions with a single word, and then only after a long pause.
Times have changed. Raikkonen is still quiet and reserved, but he was, for him anyway, quite talkative when the new West McLaren Mercedes MP4/17 was launched at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya in January 19. He has not taken any PR classes, and with the exception of a couple of pointers, the McLaren PR staff has not given him any coaching. McLaren drivers are expected to make many (about 100) PR appearances each year, so it appears Raikkonen is getting used to it.
While the Quiet Finn has replaced the Flying Finn, Raikkonen is not concerned about life as the phantom of Mika Hakkinen and always being compared to him.
"I don't worry about that," Raikkonen said. "I will do my best and I hope that is enough. I don't think that I have to follow in his steps. I just try to do my own stuff."
So what sort of advice did Mika give Kimi in his rookie season?
"Not much, really," Raikkonen said, "because I just got to know him last year, and usually when I spoke with him it was just about normal things and not about racing."
Hakkinen has offered to ease Raikkonen's way into McLaren, but the newcomer hasn't taken up the offer very much.
"He told me that I could go and ask him," Raikkonen said, "but I didn't really find out anything because it is quite difficult to ask for help, so it is better to learn myself."
Raikkonen's new teammate is David Coulthard, a F1 veteran with 11 wins, 12 poles who has been a McLaren driver since 1996.
"In one way he's the leader because he has more experience and he has been in the team for many years," Raikkonen said of Coulthard. "For sure we will get the same equipment, so it is up to the driver and the engineers and mechanics to see who is the fastest."
In the first days of winter testing, with both drivers in the 2001 car, Raikkonen posted lap times nearly identical to Coulthard's. The two get along well, the Finn said, although he is just getting to know the Scot.
"Our relationship has been good so far," Raikkonen said. "I don't know him very well, but once the season starts and we get the new car going, I will be working more closely with him."
The huge British-based McLaren team is quite different from the small Sauber outfit based in Switzerland, but Raikkonen says that the transition has been easy to far. And he said the transition this year is much easier compared to last year when he vaulted into F1 after just 23 car races in Formula Renault and Formula Ford.
"There are many more people at McLaren and the way how they work is different," Raikkonen said. "So it is taking a little bit of time to get used to it. It has been quite easy. I was in a similar position last year when I came into F1 with Sauber, and it was much bigger than I'd been used to. Now it is a different team and a much bigger team."
As for his expectations this year, Raikkonen is brief and to the point.
"It's a bit too early to predict that," he said. "Of course I hope that I will win at least one race and score as many points as possible."
And while Raikkonen is talking more, journalists can still expect short answers from The Quiet Finn. Witness this exchange at the McLaren launch.
Question: Have you talked to Mika over the winter?
Raikkonen: "Yeah, I have a couple times."
Question: About what?
Raikkonen: "Just normal things."
Question: What kind of normal things?
Raikkonen: "That is private."
He may be a many of few words, but Raikkonen has been impressive on the track. He also has impressed the ladies off the track: His girlfriend is Miss Scandinavia 2000!