WHEN KIMI MET JOHN
Two Ferrari champions, their titles claimed 43 years apart, swap stories at the Goodwood Festival of Speed
shaking hands with John Surtees will leave you unable to hold a pen for a week. It’s like inserting your hand into an industrial vice. Every encounter with the 1964 Formula 1 world champion therefore leaves an indelible impression; you’ve felt the physical manifestation of the iron will that brought him titles on two wheels and four.
So, despite this being a historic occasion – the meeting of two Ferrari world champions on the hallowed turf of the Goodwood Festival of Speed – F1 Racing can’t help but make our opening enquiry to Kimi Räikkönen a seemingly inconsequential one: “Did you shake hands with John?”
“I, er, yeah…” The famously disengaged 2007 world champion is briefly lost for words, as if he’d been computing a pat response to some standard line of questioning about the minutiae of brake-by-wire. He blinks slowly then looks down at his hand contemplatively, opens and closes his ngers, exes the knuckles. You see, not for the rst time, the bitten nails. “He’s got a strong grip. Yeah, when I’m 80 I’d like to be that strong.”
It’s almost 50 years since “Il Grande John” booked his place in the pantheon of F1 world champions at the 1964 Mexico Grand Prix, and while, on the face of it, he has little in common with the ice-cool Finn who claimed
“I was summoned to Maranello at the end of 1962. Enzo said he wanted me to be his number one. I said the stopwatch would decide who was number one…” John Surtees
the title 43 years on – apart from the fact that both of them did so in a Ferrari – there’s a remarkable level of shared experience. Both are strong, racing-focused personalities with little interest in politics.
Both were also outside bets for the world championship for much of their respective seasons, and both received a boost in the nal round when misfortune struck one of their main rivals (Jim Clark’s engine seized up on the penultimate lap of Mexico ’64; Lewis Hamilton had a mysterious gear selection problem at Brazil in ’07). Both had team-mates who had the opportunity to make life difficult at the critical moment, but didn’t (Lorenzo Bandini and Felipe Massa).
Each endured a troubled defence of his world title and subsequently fell foul of Ferrari’s complex internal politics: in 1966 John’s prickly relationship with team manager Eugenio Dragoni culminated in a standoff over changes to tactics at Le Mans, when Dragoni shuffled the line-up to allow a slower driver to take the opening stint because he happened to be the nephew of Fiat magnate (and putative Ferrari investor) Gianni Agnelli, who was watching the start of the race. “Do you want to win this race?” John barked before leaving the circuit and driving straight to Maranello – where, since Dragoni had invested much time and effort PR-ing himself to Enzo Ferrari, John’s complaints received a frosty reception.
Kimi was ejected from Ferrari in favour of Fernando Alonso at the end of 2009, before the end of his contract, perhaps as a result of a perceived lack of effort in what was a poor car, perhaps as the fall guy for the team’s poor performance that year, perhaps because times were tough in the supercar industry during the recession and cashflow would be eased by the arrival of Santander’s bulging purse. But now he’s back in red; times and circumstances change. They needed him again.
So, yes, both John Surtees and Kimi Räikkönen are rare souls who’ve been given second chances by Ferrari: John after initially turning them down at the end of his rst full F1 season in ’61 because he felt he wasn’t experienced enough for a top-level drive, Kimi because chairman Luca Di Montezemolo felt Alonso needed to be put back in his box, and the best way to do that was to have an apolitical hotshoe in the garage next door. No more undisputed number one and compliant number two.
“I was summoned to Maranello,” says John of his second chance with Ferrari at the end of 1962. “Enzo was sitting in his office, it was pretty dark, but he was wearing his sunglasses anyway, and he was sitting under a picture of his son, Dino [who suffered from muscular dystrophy and died in 1956], which was lit by a lamp on the wall. He said he wanted me to be his number one. I said the stopwatch would decide who was number one…” You can imagine, in similar circumstances, Kimi saying the same thing. Now over 20 years old, Goodwood’s Festival of Speed follows a simple but deliciously effective format: cars, bikes, noise, action. Don’t plan on going anywhere in a hurry; the paddock areas are always heaving because
the experience is constantly changing. Engines of differing layout and displacement burst in to life like the jungle beasts answering one another’s calls. Here, the crowd parts as a 1906 Renault of the kind Ferenc Szisz drove to victory in the very rst grand prix chugs through the masses; there, BRM’s absurd V16 rents the air with a scream that, fittingly for a machine which failed to turn up to most of the races it entered, sounds like frustration.
“Only in this country will this kind of event work,” says Kimi, “because you’ve got the history of racing cars, bikes, everything, so much to show. And so many people – I’ve never been to Goodwood before, and I’ve only seen a small part of it so far. It would be nice for me to see all the cars, but I can’t go outside and walk around – I wouldn’t get very far…”
Indeed, the Kimster is besieged by autograph hunters everywhere he goes – even with Lewis Hamilton also in the house. Mercedes may be aiming for domination of Goodwood as well as F1 in general this year – they’ve even commissioned a sculpture that vaults over the very roof Lord March’s stately pile – but Ferrari’s duo of world champions have stolen the show. The crowd erupts with cheers and applause as John, driving his 158, and Kimi, at the wheel of the F2007, cruise up the famous Hillclimb course just a few metres apart. Their V8 engines, separated by generations of technical know-how, sing together in a breathtaking ascending cadence.
At the top, John leaps straight out of his car and gives the F2007 a onceover before a minibus full of Ferrari technicians arrives to take it away. Kimi removes his helmet but stays in the cockpit, savouring the moment.
“I don’t know if this was the exact car I was driving in Brazil,” he says, “but it brings back some good memories for me. It was a good car, a good year – well, maybe not all the year. There were some hard times, too. But it ended well. The cockpit is actually very similar to the car I drive now – the steering wheel is maybe even more complicated than now – it’s just the sound and the feel when you press the throttle that’s different.”
“I think that the new rules brought in too many changes at once,” says John. “Some of them seem to have added needless complication for the drivers, although for the engineers it’s been a great challenge and I’ve been impressed by how reliable the cars have been.”
“Well,” says Kimi, “Over the past few years the tyres haven’t lasted if you go full speed, so we’ve got used to managing the tyres now – it’s no different this year – and actually the fuel management is pretty easy. I wouldn’t say we have more things to do this year than in the past.
“It’s been a really bad year [in terms of results], but that’s how it goes sometimes. We’ve had some bad luck, some mistakes, and we’re not as fast as we want to be, as a team. We’ve got some points, but nowhere near as many as I want. We kind of know where the issues are for me but it’s not a small change. Unfortunately it’s not a quick x, but hopefully this year we’ll get something that ts a bit better for me. I haven’t given up.”
“The level of engineering support you have these days is incredible,” says John. “I went to Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix a couple of years ago as a guest of Shell, and they showed me their trackside lab. And it was exactly that – a laboratory. They could tell how the engine was wearing by analysing a sample of oil from it, like having a blood test. When I was driving for Ferrari, the focus was on Le Mans for the rst half of the year so we were very lucky to get an engineer to look at anything before then. They were building sportscars, road cars, Formula 1 cars and the engines for them – and Enzo had nancial worries.”
He ushers us to the side of the 158. He’s brought two to Goodwood, one in traditional rosso corsa and the other in the North American Racing Team blue and white. When you look inside the cockpit of the red one, there’s no doubt it’s his. The 158 was built slightly too small for him and, with all resources directed at the Le Mans effort, there was only one thing to do: modify it himself. The dents in the riveted plates on each side of the driver’s seat bear testament to a concerted assault.
“I looked around and found a hammer,” says John. “It was okay, you know – there weren’t any chassis tubes there, it’s only a semi-monocoque. They were a little bit behind Lotus in chassis technology back then. So Giulio Borsari [his chief mechanic] and Forghieri [Mauro, the designer] stood with their backs turned, pretending not to notice, while I gave it a good beating.”
Kimi receives this information with an amused widening of the eyes, as if visualising the reaction of Pat Fry and James Allison if they found him meting similar justice upon his F14 T. “If I get in it I’ll want to drive it,” he says. “Maybe one day I can try it. The cars from this time look great – like cigars on wheels.”
“We were just beginning to have the laid-back driving position back then,” says John. “Up to the end of the ’50s they sat almost bolt upright.
“If I get in [the 158] I’ll want to drive it. Maybe one day I can try it. The cars from this time looked great – like cigars on wheels”
Even the first F1 car I drove was pretty upright. Then they began to understand the aerodynamic benets of having the driver lying down. They had to – when the 1.5-litre engines came in, there was much less power and you had to nd any aerodynamic gains you could.
“Obviously it wasn’t anything like the sophistication you have today. They’d test by putting paint or oil or wool on the car and then we’d drive around in circles while they took photographs.
“You can see where they started mounting the main moving parts of the suspension inside the car, so the springs and dampers weren’t blocking the airflow. But obviously the rocker arms weren’t as stiff as the carbon-fibre ones you have now, so that introduced its own challenges.”
The grin on Kimi’s face shows how much he’s enjoying himself – a day away from the media (mostly), away from questions about contracts, away from the dull bits of a grand prix weekend that don’t involve driving the car. Definitely worth going through the brief discomfort of that handshake.
And as the two world champions stride off to the hospitality area to grab some lunch and fulfil a VIP engagement, could it be that they’re talking about… motocross?
Smiles and memories as Kimi ‘Iceman’ Räikkönen and “Big John” compare taking the title for Ferrari, in two very different eras
The two champions begin the famously challenging Goodwood hillclimb: Kimi Räikkönen in his Ferrari F2007 and John Surtees in his Ferrari 158
Two champs: “Their V8 engines, separated by generations of technical know-how, sing together in a breathtaking ascending cadence”