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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 October 2007, 22:12 GMT 23:12 UK
Raikkonen the playboy king
By Andrew Benson

Kimi Raikkonen
Raikkonen is a man of few words but enormous talent
While his rivals were in Australia preparing for the first Grand Prix of the season, Kimi Raikkonen was back home in Finland taking part in a snowmobile race.

To ensure no-one found out about it, he entered the event under a false name - James Hunt, a choice of pseudonym that says much more about Formula One's new world champion than the man himself ever will.

Hunt, the 1976 world champion, is the man who most personifies the image of the Formula One playboy lifestyle, and Raikkonen is the modern driver who comes closest to following the model.

So it is in some ways a surprise that, despite his elevated status within F1, Raikkonen has virtually no profile with the public at large.

In other ways, though, it is not.

He answers the media's questions with as few words as he can get away with, in a metallic monotone of a voice, refusing to reveal almost any part of his real personality.

RAIKKONEN FACTFILE
Born: 17/10/79
Nationality: Finnish
Team: Ferrari
First GP: Australia 2001
Wins: 15
Titles: 1 (2007)
Previous teams: Sauber (2001), McLaren (2002-6)
But Raikkonen does not lack character. It is just that he prefers to hide it from all but those closest to him.

The 28-year-old Finn has a sharp mind and a laconic sense of humour, and he eschews the ascetic lifestyle and demanding work ethic of the man Ferrari signed him to replace, Michael Schumacher.

Taking part in an endurance snowmobile race on the other side of the world a week before the first race of a season in which you have joined a new team and are the favourite for the world title would be dismissed as madness by most in F1.

Most drivers would - and did - go out to Australia early, the better to get over jet lag and acclimatise.

But not only did Raikkonen do it, win the snowmobile race, and get away with it, but he then went out and won the Australian Grand Prix as well.

It is this sort of refusal to conform to F1's accepted practices that has led to Raikkonen being accused of not working hard enough at his job.

Kimi Raikkonen
Raikkonen is regarded as arguably the fastest driver in F1
He is known to have a taste for a drink, and a few years ago he famously made the British tabloid newspapers for his antics in a London lap-dancing club.

And behaviour like that leaves Raikkonen open to criticism when things do not go his way.

The way Raikkonen chooses to live his life away from the race track is no secret in F1.

So fingers were pointed and eyebrows raised when he struggled in his next few races at Ferrari this season, being generally overshadowed by team-mate Felipe Massa, a man considered to have nowhere near Raikkonen's level of talent.

Certainly after Schumacher's willingness to devote long, long hours to the team, Ferrari found it hard to adjust to working with a man who preferred to leave the track as soon as he could after he had finished driving.

But there were other factors, too, most notably having to come to terms with a new tyre very different from that he had been used to at McLaren - a problem that sounds trivial, but which is anything but, and which also afflicted Fernando Alonso this season.

Kimi Raikkonen on the podium after winning the Brazilian Grand Prix and the 2007 world title
On the podium is not the only place Raikkonen likes a drink
When Raikkonen did start to get on top of his new environment, he was hit by problems - some car failures, some his own mistakes.

Since the British Grand Prix in July, though, he has been F1's dominant force, taking four wins, two seconds and two thirds from nine races, and retiring from the other.

And while this is probably the last thing English sporting fans want to hear after a weekend in which the country's representatives twice stumbled on the verge of the ultimate sporting glory, it could be argued that Raikkonen is the most deserving champion this season.

That view is probably harsh on Lewis Hamilton, who has been so outstanding in his debut season, and seems certain to establish himself as the finest driver in the world over the next few seasons.

But while Raikkonen may have come late into the reckoning, the Ferrari driver finishes the season with six victories - two more than any of his rivals.

Had Hamilton's bid not been hit by such desperately bad luck in Brazil on Sunday, that would still not have been enough for the 28-year-old Finn to emerge as champion.

Lewis Hamilton congratulates Kimi Raikkonen on winning the F1 world title
Both Hamilton and Raikkonen had their bad luck this season
But Raikkonen's win tally accurately reflects his status as arguably the out-and-out fastest driver in the sport - a position to which Hamilton himself may soon lay claim.

For Hamilton is not the only driver to be hit by back luck this season - Raikkonen himself has had plenty.

The Ferrari star twice retired with mechanical failure earlier in the season, and those problems cost him 14 points - more than enough to have put him at the head of the trio of drivers going into the final race with a chance of the title, rather than the back.

Neither Hamilton nor his McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso failed to finish as a result of problems with their car, although Hamilton can now claim to have lost a handful of points as a result of his problems at Interlagos.

606: DEBATE
Homer J Simpson
While F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone may rail that Raikkonen "barely talks to anyone and has done little for the sport", no-one in F1 has any doubts about his ability in the car.

Ferrari, after all, signed him for this season on a reputed stratospheric retainer of 25m as a replacement for Schumacher, the most successful driver in the history of the sport.

F1 teams do not pay out those sorts of sums without good reason, and Raikkonen was deemed worthy of it because of what he had already proved since he started his career in the sport in 2001.

Michael Schumacher
Raikkonen is Ferrari's first champion since Schumacher in 2004
Had luck gone his way, he could easily have just won his third world title rather than his first, for he came close to beating Schumacher in 2003 and Alonso in 2005 when he was driving for McLaren, the team whose hearts he has just broken.

The dramatic reversal of fortunes in Brazil on Sunday was hard on the McLaren drivers, and Hamilton in particular, for either of them would have made a worthy world champion.

But that description applies equally to the man who did win it.

And next year, with a year in his current team under his belt, he will be more formidable again.



SEE ALSO
Teams escape punishment over fuel
22 Oct 07 |  Formula One
Raikkonen pips Hamilton to title
21 Oct 07 |  Formula One
Hamilton stays upbeat for future
21 Oct 07 |  Formula One
Raikkonen hails Ferrari teamwork
21 Oct 07 |  Formula One
Alonso praise for new F1 champion
21 Oct 07 |  Formula One
Brazilian GP as it happened
21 Oct 07 |  Formula One
Alonso will leave McLaren - Head
21 Oct 07 |  Formula One
F1's new star - and it's not the champ
21 Oct 07 |  Formula One
Brazilian Grand Prix photos
19 Oct 07 |  Formula One
Hamilton's maiden season
21 Oct 07 |  Motorsport
Formula One hits new heights
21 Oct 07 |  Formula One


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