Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

In search of the Iceman - Kimi Räikkönen starts his rally career in the freezing depths of Sweden

Published by Lady Snowcat

Kimi Räikkönen and Kaj Lindstroem blast through snowy Karlstad.
Credit: GEPA pictures/ Citroen

Have you ever stood in the dark, in a forest, far from home, very early in the morning, with frost forming on your hair because it’s minus 23°C, all for the sight of a guy driving a car exceptionally fast? If you have I’ll bet you will end up asking yourself if you are totally mad.

Of course the answer to that question is obvious. You are quite certainly off your head, albeit that there seem to be quite a few people infected with the same malady, as in this icy place you are most certainly not alone. There is a burbling under-current of discussion which, for once, does not allow my usual pastime of listening in, as English does not predominate.

With a number of small fires pocketing the dark gradually coming to life as the pink tinge of the sky then turns to a gentle blue, you can see more people picking their way through the soft, deep snow hiding the rather tricky terrain under foot. You only have to smile to begin a conversation in English and to get a welcome around one of the small fires. This happens just before your toes fall off with frost-bite and allows you to imagine taking your top layer of gloves off in order to get a photo as the Iceman hurries by.

Then you hear a growling in the distance and the thwack of helicopter blades and anticipation rises. All at once a car arrives - it’s Mikka; then another and it’s Seb; followed by Jari-Matte - each leaping over the ridge with a roar, squirming across the track as they brake for a corner and douse you in snow as they pass so, so close to you they take your breath with them as they go. Some more than others!

Once a certain cool Finn goes by it’s time to move on, perhaps to another stage, perhaps to the Service area, perhaps for a snack from one of the trestle tables set up with refreshments (no burger vans or even ice creams! in sight here).

The Service area in the middle of the very bleak Hagfors airfield doesn’t have the charm of the F1 paddock, with, of course, one exception. The exception is very important to my visit so all is okay with the world. When you aren’t amongst the trees, as on a stage, even a minor breeze freezes your bones. The cars are under rather flimsy canvas awnings with no sides and you have to feel sorry for the mechanics struggling to do enough work in 15, 30 or a generous 45 minutes, to make the gradually worn looking vehicles fit for another battering.

The tyres look like a Goth's dream with 384 studs in each. Being run over here would result in rather severe acupuncture so I resist throwing myself in front of anyone’s car!

Sweden is totally beautiful with its snow like very smooth icing on the great expanses of frozen lakes, pretty little houses, acres of trees and the blue sky to set it all off. And rally cars! You trip over them everywhere, including getting overtaken on the open road as they move from stage to stage. As they come past I am cricking my neck trying to establish if it’s number 8. Please let it be number 8.

It’s always clear when Kimi is expected as a crowd forms and from a distance it appears to boil with enthusiasm as some jump up and down and others brace themselves to take a snatched photo. He rarely leaves his car at the beginning or end of a stage but travels a short way along the road and, when out of sight or a distance from the fans, jumps out to remove his helmet and check the tyres. In fact a lot of drivers follow this process, particularly if, like Dani Sordo you need to prune the car of foliage and the stripped tape bordering the stages.

I could go on for hours but expect you are all bored by my enthusiasm. I do have to say that seeing them on the road from 5.30am to 8.40pm with only short breaks for service stops has given me a huge respect for the guys who do this. Also there is something rather real about rallying which makes the F1 crowd seem almost, but not quite, effete by comparison. Perhaps real men go rallying.