Károly Méhes caught up with Kari Hotakainen, the author of Kimi Räikkönen’s new authorised biography, to talk about why he decided to jump into the strange world of Formula 1 and how he got the normally taciturn World Champion to open up about his life.
Were you always an F1 fan? Kimi fan?
I’m not a F1 fan at all. Of course, I have seen some races over the years, and I know about Finland’s long history in F1, including drivers such as Keke Rosberg, Mika Häkkinen and Mika Salo. I wouldn’t say I was a fan of Kimi, but I always liked him before I got this opportunity to work with him on the book.
How is Kimi perceived in Finland?
As a quiet man who drives fast cars. A man who drinks a lot on his holidays. A man of few words, who doesn’t like giving interviews. Almost mute. These are the common views about him. His image is very narrow, because he gives so little material in his short interviews. He is perhaps the only celebrity in Finland who hasn’t given any personal interviews about his private life.
How did the idea for the book come about?
The idea was mine. I wanted to write about something else for a change. I wanted to jump into a strange world. When I first made contact with Kimi’s people, I made it clear that I knew very little about Formula 1, but something about people. My purpose was to make a book about a person in Formula 1, not Formula 1 itself.
How did you approach the writing?
I felt that I must write straight, honest lines. The person was the method. I needed to remind myself all the time that I’m writing about a living person, not about a fictional character like in most of my 36-year writing career.
How often did you meet Kimi personally? How did you find him?
I met him about seven times, in his home in Switzerland and also in his summer home in Finland. I travelled with him to Malaysia and to Barcelona for winter testing. Away from the track, he is a totally different person: very funny, talkative and with great sense of humour, often dark and dry. He is also very sensitive. I hope it comes out in the book.
Was Kimi’s wife Minttu included into the working process?
Yes, Minttu read everything at the same time as Kimi. Minttu was very helpful and honest, too.
Kimi is famous for saying very little in interviews. Was it different with you? Any off-limits topics?
Yes, luckily. In the beginning, I was afraid of the silence, but when we built some trust between us, everything went smoothly. There were some difficult themes to cover, such as his father’s death. I let him think those things in peace. I told him not to hurry, take your time. And in the end, the words started to flow. The only thing Kimi didn’t want to discuss was his first marriage, which ended in divorce five years ago.
What was different about writing this book?
Everything. The subject. The non-fiction style. The interviews. And the sense of urgency. When writing fiction, you have time and don’t get asked too much about progress. But this was different. Everyone from the publishing company was asking me when I would be finished. They were excited.
How has the book been received in Finland?
Very well. I’ve spoken to many people who have only read one book in their life, and it was this one. I’m very happy about that.