Kimi Raikkonen has always been box office, even before he re-signed for Formula One’s most iconic team, Ferrari.
The 2007 world champion is a fan favorite and arguably the most popular driver on the grid.
Wherever F1 goes, from Monza to Melbourne, Shanghai to Singapore, there are always enthusiastic, banner-waving Raikkonen fans in the stands and, in the virtual realm of social media, he is the subject of plenty of ardent chatter.
But just what is it about the laid back Finn that has sparked this global cult of Kimi?
Earlier this year, I asked him just that – and it was the first time I can recall seeing the driver they call "Iceman" a little bit flustered.
“Ahh,” he began. “Why don’t you go and ask them? I don’t know.”
Was he at least aware that people loved him so much, I wondered?
“Well, everyone has fans,” he considered. “I don’t know the reason – but we’d rather have them than not.”
It is partly this enigmatic quality – Raikkonen’s desire not to give too much away – that makes him so appealing.
The 33-year-old simply does not say that much, refusing to play the game of media patter and cut-and-paste public relations when he is at the race tracks.
Occasionally, when he does speak his mind, he provides an unforgettable golden nugget of a quote.
He once famously answered a question from British TV presenter and ex-F1 driver Martin Brundle by explaining that he had just relieved himself in the bathroom – or words to that effect.
Raikkonen’s instruction on the pit-to-car radio as he drove to victory for Lotus in the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix also became an instant classic.
The slogan – “Just leave me alone. I know what I’m doing” – soon appeared on t-shirts and mugs.
Raikkonen’s idol is 1976 world champion James Hunt – a party-loving playboy who lit up F1 with his flamboyant style – and so it is no surprise that, just occasionally, Ferrari’s new signing has also shown signs of his own could-not-care-less attitude.
Read: Kimi Raikkonen returns to Ferrari
When the 2009 Malaysian Grand Prix was red-flagged because of heavy rain, Raikkonen got out of the car, peeled off his race suit and was shown on television eating an ice cream in the Ferrari motorhome!
For the last two years, his current team Lotus has kept a ready supply of ice creams at its track headquarters, so Ferrari will now need to get the gelato on order.
Videos showing Raikkonen falling off the roof of a yacht and then getting stuck in the vessel's railings, and another of him causing an autograph-hunting child to cry by accidentally bumping him with his bag, are also hugely popular on YouTube.
It is these glimpses of naughty behavior that have cultivated the cult of Kimi.
The monosyllabic interviewee, the ice cream guzzler, the man who likes a good time are all, however, just facets of Raikkonen’s persona.
Ferrari has re-signed him to drive alongside Fernando Alonso knowing that this is part of the package but the Italian team, just like his fans, also admires him for another reason – his fearless racing instincts and hunger for success.
If the "Prancing Horse" needed a reminder of what both its 2014 drivers can do, the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix is prime evidence.
Raikkonen won the race for McLaren from 17th on the grid but both he and Alonso – world champion that year for Renault – pulled off some nailbiting passes in what is rated as one of the greatest F1 races of all time.
Raikkonen recently proved his talents have not faded with time.
At March’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix, he moved up from seventh on the grid and managed his pace and his tires to pip Alonso to victory.
Read: Raikkonen claims easy win in Australia
Fellow Finnish F1 driver Heikki Kovalainen believes that it is Raikkonen’s inability to change both on and off the track that makes him so watchable.
“He was clearly quick and talented,” the Caterham team's development driver, who used to compete against Raikkonen in go-karts in their junior career, told CNN.
“He was a fighter. He never gave up.
“I knew his Dad, I know his Mum and his brother – it’s just that Kimi has not changed. He’s always been like that and it’s great.”
And finally, after a bit more gentle questioning, the man himself agreed that it is probably his ability to be himself – in spite of his success – that people find so appealing.
“I do my own stuff and I feel it’s the best for me,” Raikkonen finally told me.
“If somebody thinks it’s good then fine but for sure there are people who don’t like it – but I’m not here to try to please people.”
Raikkonen may not set out to be a pleaser but it is ironically because of that attitude that he can look forward to 2014 not only as a Ferrari driver, but as perhaps the most popular racer on the grid.
Reblogged this on UnSportsMenMic.
Reblogged this on F1 Race Reviews and commented:
Fun little piece by Sarah Holt. He was F1s coolest driver, even when he was off rallying in the woods 😉
Kimi vs Sebastian!
Reblogged this on senscribbles.
kimi will never let a daygo by