20 years onboard Räikkönen’s ride
F1 journalist Heikki Kulta has interviewed Kimi Räikkönen hundreds of times over the past 20 years and many people who are important for Räikkönen’s career. Now Kulta has compiled the material accumulated over the years into a book, which he calls his own memoirs.
“Has it ever happened before that a sports reporter writes his own memoirs of his dealings with an athlete? Has that been the case?” This is reflected by Heikki Kulta in the café of the Paimiola gas station, where we arrived from a nearby karting track, a photography place suitable for the theme.
Kulta’s new book Iceman – Kimin matkassa (Kimi’s Journey) tells all about Formula One driver Kimi Räikkönen’s racing career, as Kulta has watched him in numerous races and other F1 events over 20 years. In addition, the book lists all of Räikkönen’s F1 and World Rally Championships with their standings.
Over the years, Kulta has interviewed several formula drivers and, of course, also Räikkönen. “It’s certain that no one else has interviewed Räikkönen more often than I have.” No one has been interviewed separately for the new book, not even Räikkönen, but Kulta has mentioned his book project to the F1 star.
“Räikkönen’s comment was ‘Do it, as long as you don’t slag too much’. I said back that I wouldn’t do that because I’m pretty kind reporter”, Kulta says, laughing. “With a good conscience, I can say that the book has the best pieces of Kimi’s career. I made the book strongly about sports. I bet a lot of Kimi’s comments in the book he doesn’t even remember saying.”
The idea of the book had been on Kulta’s mind for a long time. Years ago, Kulta discussed with Räikkönen’s managers that a book should be made about Räikkönen’s career. “It moved and moved, and the career went on and on.”
In addition, the Unknown Kimi Räikkönen, written by Kari Hotakainen, which became a big hit two years ago, told about what kind of person Räikkönen is. “Hotakainen also asked me about Kimi. I told him why you don’t ask Kimi directly. Hotakainen told that Kimi said: “Heikki is the only one who knows every single race, which I have been driving.”
This year, Kulta had a good time writing the book. The coronavirus delayed the start of the season and also meant that Kulta will not be traveling to Formula One races this year. He started the book in January during the F1 winter break. “There would have been more than double the amount of material.”
Kulta’s first encounter with Räikkönen was in October 2000, when he interviewed the future F1 driver by phone. At that time, it became clear that Räikkönen would move from the British Formula Renault series to F1 in the Sauber team.
The first face-to-face meeting was in the winter tests in Jerez in December 2000. At that time, one could not have imagined that a chain of events would begin, leading to hundreds of Räikkönen interviews.
“He had been told that when he moves to F1, every sentence is grabbed. Kimi was so scared of all of us, including me, that he always ran away. When he was caught and asked about something, he always replied ‘I don’t know’,” Kulta recalls and laughs again.
Kulta soon got a new source for Räikkönen’s practice news: he met Räikkönen’s parents Matti and Paula Räikkönen, who were involved in the testing days at that time. Kulta says he didn’t need Kimi so much when he got information from his parents.
“My own job was made much easier when Kimi started to trust me. Winning that trust was one of the sweetest accomplishments of my entire journalism career. ” [Excerpt from the book Iceman – Kimi’s journey]
When Räikkönen moved to McLaren, Kulta was able to take advantage of his old relationships, as the media people there were the same as in Mika Häkkinen’s career.
“I heard from them what Kimi did in his spare time, and I knew he wasn’t as stiff as many think. Admittedly, he is still much the same. ‘Normal Friday’ is already a classic answer after practice.”
Kulta also developed his own approach to Räikkönen’s interviews. “If he has been angry about something, I have started some joke. He answers me back with some Turku joke. I know that he has a very sharp sense of humor. It just doesn’t accidentally come up in official interviews.”
What is Räikkönen then like in Kulta’s view? “Many say he is unpredictable. But I don’t think so. When he has a good day, he is the world easiest to interview. When it’s a bad day, he mostly growls. When it is said that Kimi is an iceman, no he can’t completely hide his feelings.”
Kulta emphasizes that Räikkönen has a really good resistance to pressure. “With a little weaker pressure tolerance, he wouldn’t have won the championship in 2007.”
A big change in Räikkönen happened when he got children, Kulta points out. “He became more outgoing. It just doesn’t show up after practices or races.”
Although the book focuses on the stages of Räikkönen’s career, there are also special incidents related to Kulta. For example, after the 2006 Suzuka F1 race, Räikkönen offered Kulta a helicopter ride from the race track to the hotel. When Kulta got on the helicopter, he hit his head badly.
“I stuck my head straight into the radar. When the lights were put on, the hand was all in blood. The pilot wore a white scarf, and it went all red. ” “I joked that if someone sees us, probably we’ll be believed to be fighting in blood towards each other and maybe someone will think Kimi hit me in the head with a mallet.”
French photographer Jean-François Galeron, on the other hand, asked Kulta at the 2012 Malaysian race if he needed photos of him. Kulta tried to say that pictures of Romain Grosjean, the Lotus teammate of Räikkönen at the time, would be of use.
“There is no croissant, do cookies work?” Galeron replied.
Kulta also reveals that he wrote Räikkönen’s race diary for Ferrari’s website in 2007 and many years after.
According to Kulta, his writings suited Räikkönen so well that the F1 driver started using them himself. “When he came to a press conference, he used the same words I had written. Damn, he had read them”, Kulta rejoices.
Kulta has seen 260 F1 races of Räikkönen at the track but which one is best remembered? This is the only question that Kulta has to think about for a long time.
“The most tense was the Nürburgring race at the beginning of 2005. At the beginning of the last lap in the lead the suspension failed and the race was over. That same year, Suzuka Kimi won when he started 17th and overtook [Giancarlo] Fisichella in the final lap. What has been the weakest feeling and the most comfortable feeling fit into this 2005 championship.”
“Now let’s take it easy. But there will be no rioting, Kimi promised. ” [Räikkönen after winning the 2005 Suzuka F1 race]
Finally, the obligatory question: will Räikkönen’s career end this season?
“I said in 2016, 2017 and 2018 that this is Kimi’s last year. Last year, I decided that I would never say again that this is the last year. It is clear that he will no longer win championships, races or pole positions.”
Räikkönen previously emphasized the importance of winning for his motivation. Now he’s struggling for points at the Alfa Romeo team. What has changed?
“Now it has to be that he’s not interested in anything other than driving.”
All quotes in italics are from Heikki Kulta’s book Iceman – Kimin matkassa (Readme)
Pôxa! Eu queria tanto poder comprar este livro, mas infelizmente duvido que sairá em inglês. Ficarei na vontade mesmo.
Aqui o link de uma matéria sobre o livro do Heikki. Um dos jornalistas mais bacanas e que eu mais eu li na vida para poder acompanhar a carreira de Kimi na F1 e fora dela.