O Opinions & Commentary

Where did all the personalities go?

Kimi raikkonen

People are always drawn to characters that stand out. Whether they’re brash, rude, eccentric or annoying, strong personalities tend to grab our interest. They are the reason we watch T.V. and gossip in the lunchroom – the more abnormal the better.

In the world of racing, our attention is drawn to the speed and thrill of the cars, the daring moves on the inside turn that would make most people cringe at the sight, let alone attempt on their own. The famous racers of our time are often the ones who break the mold, who attempt the unthinkable, and continue to perform above expectations time and time again.

When the drivers cross the finish line, the exhilaration is over, the race recaps show the highlights and we wait for another day.

But this wasn’t always the case.

Somehow amidst the onslaught of cameras, the hoards of people in pit lane, and the endless interviews, the personalities that once existed in motorsport are almost invisible.

Growing up, I remember Ayrton Senna being the most famous racer in the world – not simply because of his skill (which was undeniable), but because of his planted, passionate demeanor off-track. He knew what he wanted, and said what he needed to get it done, whether it was to team officials, track marshals, or the FIA. Not that he intentionally offended anyone in his wake, but his attitude was take it or leave it, and his talent backed it up.

When you reach the pinnacle of motorsport, talent often does that, but it’s in the new era that talent (or driving) is the only thing doing the talking. The riffs and pit chatter from the likes of Schumacher and Villeneuve barely exist which is a shame. It gave the fans someone to cheer for, and someone to cheer against. In 1997 especially, I remember despising Michael Schumacher, simply because he was the arch-rival of Jacques Villeneuve and everybody knew it. Years later when the personalities diluted, so did my excitement. There’s just something electric about that intensity.

There is always a yellow line for that intensity however. Case-in-point, Kurt Busch. A fantastic NASCAR driver, his outbursts and reactions to drivers, team principals and the press were almost something to be feared. And while it can be attributed to issues more on the personal, rather than competitive level, it still drew viewers to their televisions, waiting to see what would come next.

Perhaps it’s the level of professionalism that’s expected with millions in corporate sponsorships, or the intense pressure put on the drivers to perform, but it seems that we’ve entered into a period of stagnation.

I’m not calling for pit lane quarrels (see Danica Patrick vs. Milka Duno) at all, but I’d like to hear more of what the drivers want to say, rather than what they’re expected to.
Romain Grosjean, a quiet driver by most standards, gave us the most controversial on-track performances in Formula 1 this season, and the only go-to guy for any real off-track perspectives was his teammate, Kimi Raikkonen. Obvious choice, right?

Well he’s the only one.

Maybe if Lewis Hamilton wasn’t kept on such a short leash we’d hear more from him, but Kimi’s control and tactile nature is something to be admired. He’s a different character for sure, one who has perhaps underperformed, even during his championship winning season, but he’s always done it on his terms. When he left the sport it looked like it may have been the last of him, but his return to Lotus proved the Ice Man hadn’t lost his edge. His response after his first victory in his return at Abu Dhabi was typical Kimi – somber, calm, and just another day at the office – but he gives us something different than the stereotypical responses we’re so used to.

And perhaps he’s realized Lotus is the best option for him. He placed third in the championship in a car that had few expectations, and even he admitted a more comfortable environment from the Enstone-based team. It has become a team that works on his terms, due equally to his on and off-track performance.

And despite that he never gives the obvious answer and is almost always politically incorrect, sponsor dollars for the team are on the rise. Quite different from the quiet and polite mentally the rest of the F1 paddock seems to have.

Drivers at the pinnacle of motorsport all have an edge. They have to in order to win. That’s why it’s so surprising that press conferences share the same level of excitement as a golf interview. In a time when winning is debated whether the driver or the car is responsible, I’d like to think it’s the driver, even if personalities are becoming harder to differentiate.

I just hope more teams really listened to Kimi when he told his engineers during his win in Abu Dhabi, “Just leave me alone, I know what I’m doing!”

Photo: Ramesh Bayney

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