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The fastest man in the world

- Competing… everybody can do that, but only one can win, I want to be that person.

Kimi Räikkönen is fast. He knows it. But it is not enough. Nothing else than winning the Formula 1 circuit is what this controversial Finn is timing at. It is not his objective; it is what he has become. From the snowy roads of Finland he has now reached the most sought after position in motor sports - the number one driver of Ferrari. However, that is not his finishing flag; being the champion is.

I am not his best friend – far from it – merely an acquaintance. However, in Finland - by population a size of South London - all athletes tend to have crossovers and mutual friends. Still, what could I say about him… he is a driver and I am a footballer! He is the second most paid athlete in the world; I am not even the second best paid player in my team in Second Bundesliga. Actually, before I got to know few formula drivers I always thought I am more of an athlete than anyone who is just sitting in a car with a motor.

- Driving hours on a high speed is not a walk in a park. It’s important to do everyday fitness training to be able to make the right decisions sharply under pressure and tiredness, Räikkönen enlightens me about his job.

I didn’t know this. Not that I know much else about cars than how to put petrol on them. I know, though, that there is something about men and motors. What car you drive is often the precious question of masculine existence. And red Ferrari is the Mona Lisa of motor sports. Fairly private and closed personality Räikkönen doesn’t have the same mysterious smile – some suggest he is unable to grin at all. When his talent is unquestioned, being one of the most followed athletes around the globe is said not to be his strengths. For being a small country’s leading sportsman, his image is surprisingly not the best at all even at the home front.

I understand people saying he doesn’t always come across well in press. As comfortable as he is behind the wheel, as unwilling he looks like behind microphones. He doesn’t hide that press is not his favorite part of the job. Even less he plays the media game. He doesn’t use, want or need it, so rarely he can be seen smiling in magazine covers and interviews. In result most things we can read about him as a person is far fetched and unclear night out stories in tabloid papers. On top everyone remembers that one toilet comment that made the headlines about Michael Schumacher’s final race. Once again he was too innocent and press loved interpreting him to their purposes.

I see his controversy bit differently. I also know his good friends don’t recognize the picture painted on papers about him. Alright… sure he is no angel, or wants to be one. We all have seen him passing by microphones and enquiries with sour face after having to quit a race. Those who think this is arrogance, have you ever played something you are passionate about and lost? At least I know I should really apologize my ex girlfriend for all those incredible sulks after games. Then there is Kimi, who has so competitive nature he can’t even accept losing stone paper scissors –game, but has microphones directed at him the second he comes out from a failed car. For me, in that moment his face is a comment enough about what he feels. When he is made to speak, he is straight and short with his output, something that in this circus is not common. So instead of buttered up stories or excuses, he mainly just says something about winning.

So what we got here? Undoubtedly a good driver who doesn’t flirt with the press. A world class super star who rather wants to live Mondays like a guy from next door. This is a big part of his controversy. With every great achievement comes also a responsibility – often defined by others. We know he is only twenty-seven, never hurt or purposely disrespected anyone but still we think he shouldn’t have a beer with his normal mates in a local karaoke bar. In Finland he got a nickname “Snot”, which rhymes with our former Formula 1 world champion Mika Häkkinen’s nickname, mainly illustrating about their different personalities. When Häkkinen was highly branded never-do-or-say-anything –type, Räikkönen is criticized from being a wild child and partying. I don’t think they say or do different things, it is just how it is been done. Kimi does his job with every millimeter precision but when he comes out of the car he doesn’t have an act, protective network or need to be a super star. He is too Finnish in that sense.

Finland is a country where you shouldn’t do too well… or if you do you are not allowed to show it. Räikkönen is filthy rich, has probably the nicest home in Finland and outstanding model wife. Still, he is as far from a big time Charlie as I have seen in sports. I hate when most top athletes are often described being the nice guy in stories - usually written by one of their own. Let me assure you, that there are many spoiled prats in sports. Kimi can’t be described in any stretch of imagination as one. For being under so much pressure and attention he is still normal and goes on with his life like he did before… he is so down to earth, that he is almost under it. Like most Finns are brought up. Don’t get me wrong, even if he doesn’t say it out loud he knows what he is worth and takes pride for his work well done. Still instead of flying with private jets to exclusive parties and red carpets with protective advisors and servants, he can rather go for few beers with his mates and cook himself at home. So whose controversy it actually is that he gets criticized for this!

So he is very natural and very Finnish. Is that also why he is so good driver considering Finland’s glorious motor sports history? For being the best you need the talent and hard work. Räikkönen is definitely a talent but still no Beethoven: it didn’t happen that one day he just got into a car and it made sense to him… but the urban legend still says if you give Kimi a motor bike or a monster truck he can drive it fast straight away. In Finland there is hardly such thing as urban, and definitely no legends, so I’m sure the story is as truthful as it gets.

Also among his colleagues he has many fans for his driving style, which is rare in motor sports, where there seems to be an unwritten rule that drivers don’t comment about each other before they are finished their career. His former arch rival Michael Schumacher has always been quick on giving Räikkönen credit and one of his former F1 -colleague Mika Salo even detailed that what makes Kimi so good is that when others break, he can take the car further because he knows he can still handle it. It made me immediately think of what I have figured out from watching hours and hours of best footballers from Zidane to Pele, Rooney to Ronaldinho. I always feel the ultimate best are so confident in their ability that they dare to get to tighter spaces because they know they are good enough to get away from there. Winning those precious yards, taking things further is the difference to others. Moreover, they do it effortlessly, like it wasn’t a big deal. No wonder, Räikkönen is called the Iceman.

Formulas isn’t just driving and talent… it is a million business. You need to know the right people, have wealthy sponsors and get to drive the right cars. Räikkönen has reached where he is now without this kind of support. Even if Finnish people put pressure on him for being their representative and are first ones to take credit for his success, in fact he is a product of his own work. There is a heart warming story often used in media how his family didn’t do a toilet water pipe construction because they rather put that money to buy Kimi car parts for competitions. It is close enough truth, the bottom line is that he has started from zero and mainly with help from his parents and hard work has made it. He is not a made product like Tiger Woods, his story like himself is natural. I don’t think in the beginning they even dreamed of him driving in the most followed motor circuit in the world. But like in all other sports – or life in general – when a talent meets the right state of mind in action, the success is born. And family Räikkönen are not people who are holding back. By most measurable standards he has ended up in the pole position of F1. Now being a champion is in his own hands.

Does the Iceman feel pressure about it? I am pretty sure he does – from both outside and inside. Still even before his first ever race he was deep in a sleep at pitch stop only hour before the start. So he has some nerves… even if I am a gifted sleeper also, I have no chance of sleeping so calmly even night before a game. Well… unlike him I only know I am not the ultimate best plus my job as a midfield enforcer is very different to his. However, I have started to understand why he is one of the favorites to win this year… or any year really. Like in every top athlete there is something genius in his own narrow field with things he does and they way he is. Is he going to make it? I don’t know. He still surely has a better chance than changing his controversial image… or me even being the best defensive midfielder in the Bundesliga.

- You could still be more aggressive on defense, he grins. He knows that too.


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