Video: Onboard with Kimi in F12 around Fiorano

B2oEmRDIMAAvH2_.jpg large Kimi Räikkönen returned to Maranello immediately after the Brazilian Grand Prix to begin preparations with the team for the final race of the season and testing for 2015 in the days directly after it. The Finn first met with Team Principal Marco Mattiacci and Technical Director James Allison to discuss about the new car and the intense work that the Scuderia Ferrari needs to tackle in the run-up to next season. Kimi and his engineers also began preparations for the Abu Dhabi race by analysing the existing team data on the track as well as new information collected during simulator tests carried out by both himself and Pedro de la Rosa. After these meetings, Kimi went to the Fiorano track where a group of journalists was enjoying a special F12 driving day, and had a bit of fun giving the experts from the world’s leading motoring titles some instruction. Räikkönen really pushed the car to the limit, demonstrating its enormous potential to the astonished journalists who also had the privilege of doing a few laps beside him. This video provides spectacular footage of Kimi at the wheel of the F12berlinetta flanked by his very special passengers.

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What’s a hot lap with Kimi in the Ferrari F12 really like?

By Chris Ebbs

A recent trip to the Fiorano circuit in Ferrari’s home town of Maranello, was made even more interesting when we were given the chance of a hot lap with Formula 1 legend Kimi Raikkonen. Watch the video below to get a feel for the action. As a novice track driver, I’d come along to get some expert tuition in how to handle a supercar from Ferrari’s instructors. The day of tuition had gone well, then, over a couple of laps, Kimi Raikkonen proceeded to show me how little I really knew. Sitting in the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta beside Kimi I was expecting a frosty welcome and few (if any) words as we hurtled around the track. But I was surprised when Kimi offered up a good line in small talk, asking me how my day had been on the circuit. I explained that I’d made a few errors during my driving but that things seemed to be improving. As Kimi nonchalantly drifted and slid the 730bhp Ferrari around the track at speeds of up 150mph, I held on for grim death, tried not to look terrified and did the best I could to hold up my end of the conversation. We chatted about the track and his driving before I ended up sounding like a hairdresser enquiring as to where he was going on holiday.

Chris and Kimi lap Fiorano: second-by-second video breakdown

00:00:28 – Without even looking at the track and while chatting to me, Kimi shoots out of the pit area and hurtles towards the first corner.

00:00:56 – I get my first idea of what the next two laps is going to be like as we power-slide around a corner I’d been tip-toeing around all day in the F12.

00:01:07 – As we approach the bridge, the crash barrier looms in to view and seems to be getting very close, but a quick flick of the steering wheel and we shoot past it.

00:01.19 – Battling the g-forces, I attempt to ask Kimi if he likes the technical Fiorano track. What comes out is, “Do you like it around here?” as if it’s some kind of holiday destination.

00:01:51 – As we exit a corner at around 80mph, Kimi drifts the car one handed. Both my hands are firmly on my legs, gripping ever-tighter.

00:02:03 – Heading down the long straight we reach the highest speed of around 150mph. In contrast, the fastest I managed here was 120mph.

00:02:24 – Kimi explains that his way around the track isn’t the fastest, but it is the most fun. I agree with him, but my nervous laughter tells a different story.

00:02:40 – I decide that it’s time to tell Kimi that he’s ”pretty light with the steering.” Considering he’s been a professional Formula One driver since 2001 – with two years off to do a bit of rallying – he probably already knows that.

00:03:41 – A final nervous laugh as we pull back in to the pits, and it feels like my organs have rearranged inside my body.

Despite that, it was a great experience. Thanks Kimi!

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How To Make Kimi Raikkonen Smile In One Easy Step

I rode with Kimi yesterday. I don’t know how many people have said those words, but I assume the number is small and that most of those folks own enormous yachts. Oversize boats, like cocaine or your third greatest-hits album, are a way that God lets you know you’re making too much money. And most people do not get to ride around a racetrack with a Ferrari F1 driver unless they make too much money.

Kimi Räikkönen. Finnish, 35 years old. A few years ago, at the U.S. Grand Prix, a PR person asked me, “How do you solve a problem like Kimi?” You do not solve Kimi, because he is wonderful. He is a former world champion, for one. He is famously icy and forthright, for another. And while we’re on the subject of boats, in 2007, our squire entered a Finnish powerboat race with two friends, each man wearing a gorilla costume. Google it: Finns, wave-jumping, enough fake fur to choke a howitzer. You have to assume the idea was cooked up sober. Or not.

Most pro drivers are too polished. The exceptions, the latter-day James Hunts, are outweighed by the brooding Lewis Hamiltons, the perfect Nico Rosbergs. Thankfully, Gorilla Boat is just one star in the Kimi firmament of unpredictable, human, and deeply excellent acts. We must applaud him, fete him, perhaps erect statues to him in the form of giant apes. I don’t know what’s appropriate—maybe a gorilla in a crash helmet atop a rearing horse, like Napoleon Crossing the Alps. Whatever is standard practice for emperors and Kardashians these days.

When I met the man, at Ferrari’s Fiorano test track, it followed an afternoon of Waiting for Godot tension. Will he come? Soon. Perhaps. Maybe. He’s late. He’s off doing Finnish things. (Hearing that last line, I immediately pictured pony trekking and snogging in an old Volvo, which tells you how much I know about Finland.)

Unlike Godot, he showed. He stood before a crowd of media in rumpled pants and a Ferrari soft shell, hands in his pockets. He gave a series of awkward half-smiles for photos, trying but obviously uncomfortable. The way he was shepherded around, you got the impression he’d been dragged out of bed against his will, maybe with the promise of ice cream at the end of the day. At one point, I caught him rubbing an eye with a balled-up hand, like my 18-month-old daughter after a nap.

We were at Fiorano for a daylong clinic on the F12berlinetta. Customers had complained that the 730-hp F12 was too fast—gasp!—for the road and homicidal on the track, so Ferrari gave journalists data-logged lapping and instruction from factory test driver Raffaele de Simone in an attempt to prove otherwise. Also, it was raining. (I am no Raffaele de Simone, but the car was a friendly slide-a-roonie. Ferrari customers need to have some grappa and chill out.)

At the end of the day, there were rides with Kimi. It’s been said that Ferrari can be too manipulative with its heritage; be that as it may, you stand trackside at Fiorano, next to the farmhouse holding Enzo’s old office, and you feel everything they want you to. You hear whispers of Lauda and Gilles and Schumacher, flat-twelves and V12s and bloodthirst. And then you get in.

Dude woke up.

The car changed him. He was alive, smirking, beating the thing like it owed him money. It wasn’t just sideways—it was aggro, a rally driver’s commitment and surgical hand movements coupled with a screw-the-car abandon rarely seen outside trailer parks. At one point, after a 110-mph drift that ended with two wheels nipping the grass, I looked over.

“Is that all? Is there more crazy?”

“I guess?” he said, shrugging. And then he went nuttier. The car grew wings, caught fire, flew to the moon. I laughed and clapped, unable to contain myself. He smiled. He isn’t known for smiling. I wish we had a hundred more like him.

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The Ants Are Still Dead

When I was in elementary school, someone gave me an ant farm for the holidays. I felt like a god, but then all the ants died because I was a dope who didn’t take care of them. It was a nice moment, until it wasn’t. I had that feeling again driving a Ferrari F12berlinetta around Ferrari’s test track in Italy. I felt like a god.

Then I rode in it with Kimi Räikkönen.

Maybe that name means something to you. Maybe it means nothing. But if you watch Formula 1, it means everything.

Kimi drives for Scuderia Ferrari, a team that was founded in 1929 and is synonymous with the sport. He is 35, a former world champion, and one of the best drivers on the planet. This is the least of his appeal. In a sport as image-conscious and rigidly managed as F1, Kimi is wonderfully, gloriously irreverent. He is known for doing decidedly off-message things like racing powerboats while wearing a gorilla suit, drunkenly falling off yachts, and napping before a race. He says what he thinks—often in a barely intelligible mumble—and has little patience for being managed. Former F1 team owner Eddie Jordan once called him “the most bizarre grand-prix winner.”

Even this is not what makes him great. What makes him great is how damn good he is and how easy he makes it all look, even to an experienced club racer like myself. Someone once asked him what it’s like to drive at 185 mph. “Normal,” he replied. Normal. Kimi is a driver of freakish talent who is far better than the often unreliable or mediocre cars he is given would suggest. And he may well be the best thing about a sport that has lost its way.

Formula 1 has been odd lately. Some might say boring. A raft of changes over the years, each meant to rein in stratospheric budgets, promote fuel efficiency and somehow make F1 relevant to road cars, has brought the grid closer to parity. Turbocharged hybrid drivetrains cut fuel consumption but robbed races of the raucous sound of engines at full tilt. “Push to pass” energy recovery systems increased overtaking but introduced false drama. The past few seasons have been processionals, first behind Red Bull and now Mercedes-Benz. Audiences are shrinking and graying, and Bernie Ecclestone, the sport’s patriarchal billionaire dictator, never wastes an opportunity to show how little he cares.

All of which makes it easy to forget you’re watching some of the greatest talents on earth duke it out at 200 mph. It is grueling work. The cars generate 4Gs during braking and cornering, never mind the ferocious acceleration. The strain is so great that friends who’ve gotten behind the wheel report being unable to hold their heads up after a few laps. And guys race these things, playing chess inches apart for hours at a time. The great shame of F1’s drama is that it pulls you away from caring about the skill on show.

I was reminded of this several months ago when Ferrari invited a handful of journalists to Maranello to drive the 731-horsepower F12berlinetta on its Fiorano test track. Some have called the car too fast, too difficult to control. Ferrari hoped to prove otherwise. (The F12 isn’t homicidal. It is, however, absurdly potent, happiest when sideways, and something like having sex in a free-falling elevator.) At the end of the day, Ferrari PR trotted Kimi out for hot laps. He was late and visibly tired—quiet, fidgety, grinning awkwardly. He wore rumpled jeans and Pumas. When we lined up for photos, he posed like a man impersonating a mannequin: frozen grin, stiff arms, dead eyes. It was comical and more than great. I was giddy.

It’s worth noting here that Fiorano is incredible. Designed to develop competition and road cars, the 1.8-mile track is hidden in an industrial park, behind high walls. It has a bridge overpass, shockingly narrow pavement, and eight turns. Company namesake Enzo Ferrari ordered it built in 1972, across the street from the factory, as a laboratory. Each corner is engineered for a specific task. Turns 1 and 6, for example, assess engine flexibility on corner exit. The long, fast Turns 2 and 3 test maneuverability and the effects of centrifugal force on fuel systems. Sprinklers allow engineers to soak the track in minutes for wet-weather testing. An F1 car laps the track at an average of 118 mph and can hit 180.

Standing in the garage, you can’t help but think of all that’s come before: Michael Schumacher, Gilles Villeneuve, Niki Lauda. You can almost hear howling V-12s and flat 12s, smell hot rubber and cooked brakes, and see Enzo in his office, there in an old farmhouse just a few feet from the track.

If you can feel the history, it’s by design. Enzo died in 1988. There is either such reverence for his legacy or such cynicism toward Ferrari’s image that his wood-paneled office remains just as he left it. The books on the shelf, the ancient telephone on the desk, the 1970s furniture. It smells old and funky because it is. It’s a metaphor for F1’s great strength and weakness: history provides gravitas, but also an inertia that resists change.

The track’s garage is inches off the main straight. At 100-plus mph, the Doppler shift off an accelerating F12 isn’t so much a shift as a whip-crack ripping of air. It’s percussive, almost painful, like someone snapping a wet towel at your head and somehow landing the thing inside your ear. Whap!

There are three F12s lined up in the garage, and another out back. Each is the same color, black. As each is started and allowed to idle, its 6.2-liter V12 emits a gurgling, seductive thrum. This is what being one of the world’s best drivers earns you: Ferraris stacked four deep, waiting to be abused.

I climbed in. As we pulled out of the garage, I looked over. Kimi was nonchalant, calm and stony. (I wrote “monoface” in my notes.)

“How often do you do this sort of thing?” He shrugged, almost imperceptibly, as we left pit lane. “Once, twice a month. It varies.” A few throttle stabs. Stability control was off, so the car immediately lit up its tires and spit sideways. I saw smoke in the mirror. The engine sounded like an orchestral brass section, on meth, attempting to play as loud as possible. “There are worse things,” he said. We plunged into a fourth-gear left, sliding, at 120 mph.

That’s the pace he set. No warm-up, no polite chit-chat, just a headlong dive into Someone Else Bought These Tires. Precisely $318,888 worth of carbon fiber and aluminum and leather and sex was immediately and mercilessly railed on. I noticed his shoulders were looser, and he was smirking. He’d woken up.

People will tell you a Ferrari F12 dances between understeer and oversteer—sliding the front, then the rear, then the front again—because this is what it feels like in unpredictable conditions if you don’t know the car. An F12 is a lot to handle on the street. Give it room to stretch its legs, though, and it is neutral and polite. All four tires slide evenly if you simply tell the car what you want. It’s essentially a super-sized Mazda Miata, with enough power to light Milwaukee.

And the man drove it like it a $500 beater. Constantly loose and unhinged, looking out the side window. He appeared to have no regard for the brakes, or the tires, or anything else. Every 10 laps or so, he’d roll into the pit. Here you go. This one’s done. They’d bring out a fresh car, and off he’d go. Modern Ferraris are relatively durable, capable of taking epic beatings from people with far more money than skill. Rarely do they protest. A few laps with Kimi, though, and I caught whiffs of the clutch, the brake pads, maybe differential fluid. Cooking.

“The tires, brakes,” he said halfway through our laps. “Eh, they are a little …” He smiled and shrugged, his words trailing off. The word he probably wanted was “done.” The cornering arcs were getting larger and more fluid. Most people would back off. Oh no. In some of the faster corners, Kimi actually sped up.

At this point, you may be thinking, Dude hooned a Ferrari that wasn’t his. Big deal. That makes him good? That is not the point. That is scene-setting. Here’s the amazing part: It was deeply, abidingly clinical. I have ridden with a lot of professional drivers—everyone from pro drifters to former F1 drivers and Le Mans winners. They fall into two camps: Guys who leave you thinking, “I could do this, given enough training and practice” and guys whose innate ability runs so deeply you can only think, “I will never, ever drive like this, not in a million years.”

This was that. And of the 10 or 15 guys I’ve ridden with who have that otherworldly talent, Kimi was atop them all. By a wide margin.

That kind of frightening precision is borne of a life spent in some of the fastest earthbound things we can build. He sensed the car’s movements well in advance. Modern braking systems let you stab the pedal like you’re waving a shiv, but every brake zone was a brush against ABS intervention, then a modulation to hold it at the brink, before the computers kicked in. It was pitch-perfect and predictable enough to set a watch by. Kimi seemed bored by it. His arms were slow, making microscopically precise snips and cuts. There was nothing reactive. They never moved more than 15 or 20 degrees off center-lock. (Most road racers have big, snappish hands when sliding.) After two laps, I realized he was purposely repeating a long, 115-mph drift with the outside tires just clipping the grass. Over and over, every lap, the same corner, the same few inches of grass. It seemed an idle exercise, just seeing how sloppy and sharp he could be at once. I remembered that F1 cars have been known to go sideways in places like Spa at more than 150 mph. I suddenly wanted to put Kimi and ten guys just like him in F1 cars with bald tires. I wanted to see that kind of control in the heat of battle.

I looked over at him. “Is that all?” I asked. “Is there more crazy?”

“I guess,” he replied, shrugging.

And then he turned it up. More. Faster. Nuttier. Wilder. I heard myself laughing. I may have even applauded. When I looked over—and there is video of this—Kimi was smiling. I have watched most of this man’s career on television, years of it, and I have seen him smile maybe five times. But there in that car, on that track, he was alive, he was ebullient, he was everything you never see in an interview or meet-and-greet. He was in his element, in a way I never will be.

I’ve been fortunate enough to drive some amazing cars in some amazing places. I’ve club raced for years. I own a vintage open-wheeled race car. All of which is to say I am nothing special but at least competent. I thought I’d done well in that Ferrari. Then I rode with Kimi and I knew.

Figuratively speaking, the ants were still dead. They always had been. And I couldn’t have been happier to find out.


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1 thought on “Video: Onboard with Kimi in F12 around Fiorano

  1. In a word: ORGASMIC!


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