Tuntematon Kimi Räikkönen, or The Unknown Kimi Räikkönen in its English-language publication, is an-off track biography of the life of the 2007 Formula 1 World Champion, written by the nationally popular and respected Finnish author Kari Hotakainen. Hotakainen is outspokenly not a follower of Formula 1 or very knowledgeable about the sport as he introduces in the work. His aim, as he states, is to understand the psyche of one of his country’s great sportsmen of the time, to do some digging to discover the real man behind the enigma of that famous public persona.
To his credit, Hotakainen achieves his aim, very early on in fact. Kimi, who as any fan knows, rose to Formula 1 from a very short single-seater career. Question marks were raised as to his eligibility at the top; his possibility as a danger to others. He defeated these doubts on track, but struggled off it. His swift rise to motorsport’s top echelon, coached as he was most of the way by Finnish colleagues and professionals, meant that his English language skills were sorely lacking. Coupled with his mysterious voice – the result of damaging a vocal cord in a bicycle accident as a child – and we have “The Iceman” that Ron Dennis so famously coined.
It is then quite effectively summarised that Dennis’s nickname ended up being the best thing that could have happened to Kimi: his new alter-ego that he could escape into. Initially shy and youthful, Räikkönen became famously derisive of the press, and as The Iceman he could bat away questions, keep himself to himself, and focus on the driving, as he so often says is his sole aim.
The Unknown Kimi Räikkönen provides insight, as the good sports books do, into how he got to the top in the first place. The book describes his childhood and the relationship not just he, but his whole family and circle, had to racing. It was a hobby that was everything to the lives of his mother and father, who had to drive, maintain, and take care of everything on a budget. It took almost all their personal and financial capital for at least a decade, with no guarantee of success at the end of it. The book does well to help the reader appreciate the sacrifices made by most families in the karting scene, today as much as thirty years ago.
What it doesn’t provide is any more depth or revelations than that. Kari Hotakainen is not a Formula 1 fan, and alongside the occasional unwise remark lamely disparaging a sport that a great portion of the book’s readers watch, his work suffers greatly when attending to the real meat of Räikkönen’s career. It shuffles uncomfortably from moment to moment, backwards and forwards in time, trying in vain to find a path that links it all. 2017 Malaysia, 2001 Australia, 2007 Brazil, 2012 Abu Dhabi, the 2010 Rally of Finland. The narrative is too busy, and not purposeful enough to make a cohesive whole.
This is also coupled with mistakes in the basic facts on the ground that no writer, or indeed editor with Formula 1 knowledge would let go to print, such as saying that Kimi drove four seasons with McLaren instead of five. It also pushes very surface-level narratives that perhaps fanboys might push, but a serious author should be more circumspect about – namely, printing as fact that Räikkönen was the greatest driver in 2003 and 2005, and the only reason he didn’t win those championship was big bad McLaren reliability. The book sees no reason to mention why things happen as they do, unless it is to remark in favour of a realistically quite flawed athlete. The book suffers for this, and hovers between ignorant hagiography and vague disparagement of a sport that is so much more exciting and interesting than Hotakainen himself thinks. Other Finns like Häkkinen, himself still a public figure, are strangely and noticeably absent from any of the narrative, and reasons for events like Kimi’s 2009 dismissal are not given. It stinks of work not put in, and it means the constructive, long-lasting impact of the book is limited to very few areas.
This is perhaps due to the fatal flaw outside of the book: that, just maybe, Kimi Räikkönen as a person isn’t that interesting. We get the inevitable chapters about his parents, his children, and the regular life he tries to live away from the media bubble with his friends. We get the occasional chapter about how once he got very drunk and did some silly things, but we don’t get more than that. Maybe there isn’t more than that. Maybe, as Kimi was still a Ferrari driver at the time of publishing, the real juicy stories cannot be told yet. When asked, Kimi cannot explain what it is that makes him get in the car and drive as fast as he can, his own life be damned. There may not be an answer. It ventures uncomfortably towards Douglas Adams territory: “Kimi’s just this guy, you know?”
The book also fails where the rest of the narrative, his actual Formula 1 career, comes in. Hotakainen cannot back up a mildly interesting personal biography with the details of his actual career, which made him famous. He instead uses many comparisons from other sports and athletes, which are aimed at Finnish readers and would probably perplex an international audience with their inclusion. Accounts of Kimi’s Formula 1 races are limited almost solely to those where he either won or had technical failure (and presumably would have won if not for that technical failure). It opens up as many questions as it answers, the main one being: if Räikkönen is against Formula 1’s politics and media bubble, as Hotakainen stresses so much, then why did he return for seven (at the time) more seasons? The reader understands that Kimi is an ordinary man just like us, but is not provided with the motivation for why he has made any of his choices. Our actual impression is very warped, ignorant and disingenuous.
For those reasons I cannot recommend Tuntematon Kimi Räikkönen. The story shifts and stutters, with a very shallow narrative placed over the top of it to join up a series of disconnected professional and personal vignettes. We never really know the “unknown” Kimi, and everything else that Kari wants to tell us, a Formula 1 fan probably already knows – and probably knows it better.