Mark Arnall on his role as personal trainer to Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen
The moment Ron Dennis calls to demand: “What the hell have you done with my driver?” is the moment you come to realise that yours is no ordinary job. And such was the case for Mark Arnall, long-time physio, trainer, confidante and all-round life manager for Kimi Räikkönen.
This incident occurred on 30 November 2004, when Kimi and friends visited a beach resort in Gran Canaria… with predictable consequences. Pictures of a somewhat worse-forwear Räikkönen cuddling an inflatable dolphin were soon delighting tabloid readers everywhere, and underscored what Kimi’s fans have always known: behind the Iceman facade he’s just like you and me. But none of this was doing Arnall any favours with their mutual boss, Mr Dennis. “The worst bit,” Mark recalls, “was that I wasn’t even there!”
Such are the trials of working with a high-profile F1 driver and, in Arnall’s case, keeping him in race-ready condition since 2002 – their first year together at Mclaren. Arnall had previously worked as Mika Häkkinen’s trainer and when Mika quit at the end of 2001, he was presented with another Flying Finn to maintain. Since then he has accompanied Kimi through Mclaren, his first spell at Maranello, his adventures in rallying and US racing and then his F1 second coming with Lotus and Ferrari. And since the first seasons at Ferrari, Arnall has worked directly for Räikkönen, rather than for a team, and his services to the Iceman extend beyond physical preparation.
“There are no set day-to-day hours,” says Mark. “We do all the GPS together, but we also do all the tests and we train together. There has to be flexibility: sometimes Kimi’s got to be at the factory, sometimes he’s got other stuff to do.”
Arnall also attends to any number of tasks designed to keep Räikkönen’s mind focused on racing and his body in tune. “I make sure he’s where he needs to be when he needs to be there, with the right gear,” he says. “It means looking after his race kit. Then I work with the helmet guys, to make sure the visors are correct. I book all Kimi’s flights, and hotels, too.”
Details such as these, he reckons, promote marginal gains in driver performance: newer planes with higher cabin pressures reduce jet lag, for example. And their double-act obviously works: Kimi is on schedule to finish 2017 with 271 grand prix starts from a career stretching back to 2001.
In 1997 a Mclaren staffer took a climbing lesson with Mark at the University of Surrey’s sports department. “Afterwards he came to my sports injuries clinic,” Arnall recalls. “He asked me about what I did and explained that Mclaren wanted someone to look after the physical therapy for their drivers [David Coulthard and Mika Häkkinen]. F1 didn’t interest me in the slightest. It was a sport where I remember seeing Mika’s name on the screen and wondering ‘How do you pronounce Häkkinen?’ A year later I’m working with him. Bizarre. It was almost by accident, but it was lucky because one part of the job that I actually really enjoy is the travelling. And that’s something a lot of people get fed up with.”
And it’s here that Arnall sounds a note of caution for any sports science undergrads wishing to pursue a similar path.“there are several things to consider,” he notes. “It’s super-intensive in terms of time away from home, so if you’re married with kids it’s something you should think twice about. Then you must consider what you want to specialise in. Is it training? Or osteopathy? Or a combination of the two?”
After that comes the challenge of breaking into F1 – more often by dogged persistence than happy accident – and even then, should you be skilled and fortunate enough to end up working with an F1 superstar, what happens when they quit?
The suggestion prompts a wry smile: “What happens if he retires? Well, if he says ‘I’m going to spend the next five years on my sofa,’ there is no point me staying in his employment. But if he starts talking about a ten-race NASCAR programme and Le Mans, then I’d be likely to take up a new challenge.”
Personal trainer to Kimi Räikkönen