There was much coughing and spluttering in Formula One and beyond last week when Stirling Moss expressed the view that he would rather not be portrayed on film by a homosexual male. Dipping into the parlance of a bygone age, Moss used the word "poofter", which crashed about the chattering classes like a bovver boy at a home counties garden party.
Moss was the alpha male of 1950s Britain, a diminutive bundle of post-war machismo whose principal interest each day was to drive cars fast and cover as many women, or "birds", as his libido would allow. Moss was a child of his time, a marvellously uncomplicated figure who followed uncritically the promptings of his instinctive drives in a culture that shamelessly codified women as domestic appliances in suspender belts.
Mercifully the world has moved on. There is one, however, who in some aspects of human behaviour, as it pertains to Formula One at least, still inhabits the Moss milieu. That is not to say Kimi Raikkonen alerts his wife to her marital responsibilities with a club around the head, only that he brings to the business of grand prix racing the same unfettered joie de vivre that Moss did. Raikkonen is a racing driver at grand prix weekends. In between he lives a life a little calmer perhaps than he did in his twenties, but nevertheless he is a million miles removed from the polished corporate jockey demanded by today's teams.
His reluctance to play the corporate game, or "b******t" as he refers to this aspect of modern Formula One, explains in large part why he left Ferrari and the sport for two years to try his hand at rallying, a far more relaxed environment in which to indulge his speed fix. He was, and perhaps still is, a nightmare for paddock reporters seeking a point of view to enliven a dull day. But the bulletins between races more than made up for that, keeping his minders at Sauber and particularly McLaren's nanny state on their toes.
Favourites include the tales from a Mayfair lap-dancing club, where he once broke into a strip of his own, powerboat-racing dressed as a gorilla while using the pseudonym James Hunt, or falling drunk off the deck of a yacht during a mid-summer festival on a Finnish lake. All of which had McLaren's rather stiff ownership choking on their ironed cornflakes.
Raikkonen was catapulted into the sport by Sauber, who were persuaded to give the 21-year-old tearaway from Espoo a go after just 17 outings in single-seaters in British Formula Renault. My first encounter with him came 12 years ago in Malaysia, his second race in Formula One. The interview was conducted between practice sessions in an air-conditioned office in the Sepang paddock. He gave me nothing, save for a few grunts between spoonfuls of gruel knocked up especially for him. It was 40 degrees centigrade outside but that did not stop Raikkonen insisting on his favourite breakfast delicacy.
There is only so much you can do with "we have to wait and see". I was rescued by Finland's revered pit lane reporter Heikki Kulta, who spilled the beans about Raikkonen's less than propitious upbringing in Espoo, where he began life the son of a steamroller driver who opted to invest in a kart for his boy rather than an inside toilet for their rundown home. Good decision, boss. Raikkonen continues to speak in t-shirt slogans. "I told you the car was good," was his latest offering after taking the chequered flag in Albert Park, a rather more polite expression of Finnish delight than the instruction he gave en route to victory in Abu Dhabi last year: "Leave me alone, I know what I'm doing."
So much of Formula One reduces to numbers. The mathematicians churn out impossible algorithms that yield predictions for every eventuality. But it is the driver who must intuit the car's performance, must somehow make the data he imbibes through the senses line up with the science. Biology tells us that the frontal lobes of the brain control and govern creative impulses. The research is sketchy since it operates on the frontiers of knowledge, nevertheless it suggests that at some point down the line medics will be able to classify the relationship between mind and body that has fascinated thinkers down the ages. This cannot come soon enough for the world of sport, where we suffer all manner of cod explanations or the terminally dull reductions of psychologists parroting on about visualisation and goals.
It is almost pointless asking Raikkonen to deconstruct his gifts. He just fires up the engine and gets on with it. That will have to do until the time comes when we can saw off the top of a man's head, peer into his cranium and see for ourselves what is going on in the mind of an athlete on top of his game.
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