The Unknown Kimi Raikkonen

“The Unknown Kimi Raikkonen” reviewed

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By writing a book about Formula 1’s least forthcoming driver and calling it ‘The Unknown Kimi Raikkonen‘, Kari Hotakainen is clearly not afraid of setting himself up for a fall.

After all, it gives lazy book reviewers (is there any other kind?) a ready-made conclusion to jump to: “It’s called The Unknown Kimi Raikkonen, and he still is.”

But Hotakainen has an advantage on his side: Access. As the dust jacket proclaims, this is “the first and last authorised book on F1 world champion Kimi Raikkonen.”

Uniquely, Raikkonen allowed Hotakainen to meet him at home and during race weekends for this profile. “The Unknown Kimi Raikkonen takes the reader into the heart of the action at grands prix around the world,” it promises, “behind the scenes as race strategies are planned and opens up the private side of his life that he normally guards so carefully.”

Hotakainen, a successful Finnish novelist and past winner of the Finlandia Award, has turned his hand to non-fiction for the first time in writing this biography. Regrettably, it shows.

The incoherent style does it no favours. The prose jumps between tenses and mixes flashbacks with straight biography and random, unconnected anecdotes. Ensuring no opportunity to confuse the reader is missed, magazine-style pull quotes are inserted seemingly at random so you occasionally get to read the same chunk of text twice.

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Idiosyncrasies of style are easier to tolerate when the author has discovered some stories worth telling. Hotakainen has not, aside from two late chapters on Raikkonen’s hi-jinx, and if you’ve read Marc Priestley’s The Mechanic you’ll have already heard similar stories told much better.

Neither Kotakainen’s conversations with the subject nor his own research have added much to what is already known about Raikkonen’s pre-F1 career. The reader gains no insight about how Raikkonen’s rough diamond talent persuaded first the Robertsons then Peter Sauber to take chances on him.

If you’re looking for more detail on Raikkonen’s subsequent F1 career, look elsewhere. His debut season at Sauber gets five pages. Five years at McLaren are covered in 14, including lengthy passages taken from Gerald Donaldson’s biography of James Hunt.

Raikkonen’s 2007 championship victory gets just five pages, all on the season finale. And that’s largely it as far as his grand prix career is concerned. Having missed no opportunity to stress Raikkonen’s successes (and insisting engine failure alone cost him the 2003 and 2005 titles) Hotakainen clearly has no interest in discussing the less successful years which followed.

The subject is handled very sympathetically, so much so that Hotakainen’s description of himself as a “detached narrator” can only be generously interpreted as a translation error. After over 300 pages I learned little about Raikkonen other than how much the author admires him.

It’s a frustrating waste of an opportunity. The author spoke to top Ferrari figures Maurizio Arrivabene and Louis Camilleri, yet the five bland paragraphs taken from those encounters amount to no more than those regurgitated chunks from Donaldson’s book. Which, incidentally, is a far better example of the genre.

Ultimately what should be the book’s greatest strength turns into its biggest weakness. Fawning fanboyism instead of genuine insight. Leave it alone if you know what you’re doing.

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RaceFans rating

Rating one out of five

The Unknown Kimi Raikkonen

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“The Unknown Kimi Raikkonen”

Author: Kari Hotakainen
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published: 2018
Pages: 322
Price: £20
ISBN: 9781471177668

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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Posted on Categories F1 books, Kimi Raikkonen, ReviewsTags , , , ,

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  • 36 comments on ““The Unknown Kimi Raikkonen” reviewed”

    1. I think I heard a mic drop at the end :D

      1. My guess though, is that fanboys are getting exactly what they want. After all fawning fanboyism is at the very core or Kimi’s strongest admirers. Kimi hasn’t made proper headlines with his driving (that is positive headlines) in over a decade. Other than that it’s just the perpetually cranky demeanor in press conferences and useless obtuse answers that his fans love.

        1. I’m no Raikkonen fanboy and I certainly won’t be buying the book but your comments do come over as someone who despises him.

          1. @buttface (love the name), I don’t despise him, in fact I was very much a fan during the McLaren years. I still admired the hell out of him with Lotus, and although he was still driving brilliantly, he was already cranky and short. He feels contempt for Formula 1 as a show even though he likes driving. He’s rude to reporters who are trying to do their job, he protests the very idea of press conferences with his answers. But above all, he is a mediocre driver in a top car, and has been for the last 5 years. That bothers me a lot considering that 1. he sort of hates F1, and 2. drivers like Button, Alonso, and Ricciardo, couldn’t get top drives in part because he was occupying that Ferrari seat.

            I know it’s a very biased view, but I do think my view has merit.

            1. @ajpennypacker: Alonso couldn’t get a top drive because Kimi was occupying that Ferrari seat? Wow, that’s beyond biased.

    2. A mediocre book for a mediocre driver. Fitting.

      1. damn tell us how you really feel lol.

    3. Damn – I had high hopes for this – off the christmas list now though :(

      1. Don’t believe what the editor here says! Just buy and read it. It seems that he didn’t really got the idea of the book.

        1. it’s an biography! now we need to ‘understand the idea’ of it?
          It’s probably just another bad one. No big deal.

    4. A great book. I read it just last month (before it had been translated into other languages), and I enjoyed the content especially the number of foul words in there, LOL.

      1. @jerejj so do you think it is about translation, different taste or is it just that keith thinks Kimi is overrated?

        1. @mrboerns I’m not entirely sure. I’ve only read the book in its original language, so, therefore, it’s difficult for me to judge whether it’s about the translated version(s) of it or the other aspects you brought up either.

          1. Hm, interesting that both you and @kaiie enjoyed it a lot more than Keith @jerejj after reading the Finnish original, ad did PJS below and i suspect the same goes for @huhhii.

            It does point to possibly the translation not doing this book any favours – or maybe just that the style of Hotakainen doesn’t translate itself well into English.

            1. I almost hope it will appear in a German translation (or other language that I can read, though Dutch seems a tad unlikely at this point) so I could read it and judge for myself. I usually trust @keithcollantine on his reviews of books related to motorsport, but it is quite possible @bascb is right about the translation not doing it any favours. Or perhaps you need quite a bit of context, or a very different expectation?

              I think it would be great if perhaps @jerejj and @kaiie and/or some other native Finnish reading/speaking people could band together and give a more extensive review of the Finnish book, noting the audience they see for it (w. knowledge of the writer’s other work?) and what to expect from it.

              PS. yeah, would really like that, on the basis of Keith’s review I’m not ready to spend EUR 24 for a hard-cover version in German (e-book EUR22,99!), I think. Oh, no, I will not, since there’s a EUR 20 Dutch version available; I guess Kimi is very popular in lots of countries :) I am almost tempted to, but there are several good motorsport books I’d prefer.

            2. @bascb That could be it. It mightn’t always be so easy to translate stuff from one language to another entirely accurately.

            3. @bosyber This is the only book from this particular author I’ve read, so, therefore, it’s difficult for me to give more knowledge of/judge his other work. Now, I’m going to try to provide a more extensive review of the book: This book, as has been pointed out in some other comments, is more about the targeted person’s life as a whole rather than just the racing career, in fact, a large number of pages is devoted to mostly off-track stuff, such as, his early pre-F1 career life (although some of it is about his go-karting days, as well as, lower single-seater categories), as well as, his time at the Finnish Army, stuff he was doing when he wasn’t competing in F1 for a couple of seasons, what he’s been doing between the race weekends, his parents (mainly father), etc.

            4. @bascb I think you’re spot on. I read the book in its original language and I’ve read other works of Hotakainen before this one. It was similar book to other Hotakainen’s works. Hotakainen dislikes sports and he couldn’t care less about Kimi’s success on track. His humor is black, and twisted, but the book also offers insight to some serious things like Kimi’s relationship to his father who suddenly passed away. I feel like Hotakainen did a great job for describing the personality of Kimi to the readers. Clearly @keithcollantine disagrees, but a bad translation or just differing tastes might explain that. The book has gotten favourable reviews on Goodreads, so maybe Keith just doesn’t like Hotakainen’s writing style? Which is totally okay, by the way.
              @bosyber Just give it a go. I hope Keith’s review doesn’t scare people away from this book.

    5. I just finished the original Finnish version yesterday, and I somewhat agree with this review. The book lacks content, but then again, this is not “The complete racing record”, it is (or tries to be) more about the man and the racing just happens to come along with him. Then again, it probably should’ve been fleshed out for another hundred pages (or trimmed even more, and shifting the focus to other issues). It clearly shows that Hotakainen is not a petrol head in the traditional sense, and therefore not really interested in telling the reader about these fast cars, nor how a race result happened. Some bits might be also lost in translation, as the Finnish version is a joy to read for the most parts (if you like Hotakainen’s style).

    6. Feels like @keithcollantine completely missed the point of this book. It tells the story of Kimi Räikkönen, the person. It’s not just limited to Kimi Räikkönen, a Formula One driver. Everyone who watches F1 already know the story of Kimi’s F1 career, so there was no point for the book to dig deep into every Grand Prix weekend Kimi has taken part. The book wasn’t written just for the F1 fanatics. Its target audience is on a much wider spectrum than just F1 fans and I think Hotakainen would’ve scared majority of readers away if he had concentrated too heavily on his F1 career.

      I do agree that there was some missed potential in Arrivabene’s and others’ interviews and the book’s timeline jumps weirdly from present to past without much logic. It was still pleasant and fun book to read.

      1. @huhhii

        It tells the story of Kimi Räikkönen, the person. It’s not just limited to Kimi Räikkönen, a Formula One driver.

        To be clear, when I said the book tells you little about Raikkonen, I meant in every respect, not just in terms of his racing career.

        1. You have to understand that the book is not a typical book of somebody’s sport career with hundreds of pages of records and races etc. and Hotakainen is not a typical sport book writer (which you don’t obviously know because you haven’t read his other books) and that’s why it’s a book easy to read and the book you can enjoy without trying to remember are all these facts or records right or wrong. Have read many these kind of books of several athletics and always in some point of reading you get bored and tired but this book you really enjoy reading. And of course for us Finns the book and the person himself is more closely to our hearts than any others in the world. Furthermore, the translation is never the same as the original as you probably know.

          1. So it’s a good book if you’re happy just to read fun facts about Raikkonen, but not if you actually want a detailed biography?

        2. In my wiew the point is missed in your review. The book tells about a shy, sensitive person from a poor background who loves driving and happens to be good in it – whi try to protect himself from all controversy involved in the f1 world.
          The author is not a F1 entusiast neither is Kimi.

    7. It was a great read. I really enjoyed it. Too shame you did not like it Keith!!!

      1. So Keith slams the book!!
        But we all know Keith does not like Kimi…..

    8. I will take this with spinach of salt. Keith anti Kimi bias is well known.

      1. I have never thought that about this site/keith re. kimi – that’s frankly a dumb assertion. However, from the other comments I think the translation might have something to do with the poor review. some translations go way beyond just re-coding it for language – they will change all sorts of things. With a language as complex as finnish (and which is not remotely related to english in the same way that german and scandinavian languages are, or even french and other romance languages – hell, finnish isn’t even an indo-european language) I’m guessing there are greater opportunities for the style to wander away from the original intention.

        one thing that puzzles me is that if only a handful of pages are devoted to his racing career, how is it 322 pages long? what else has been doing with his life?

        1. @frood19 The rest of the pages are devoted to mostly off-track stuff, such as, his early pre-F1 career life (although some of it is about his Karting-days as well as lower single-seater categories), as well as, his time at the Finnish Army, stuff he was doing when he wasn’t competing in F1 for a couple of seasons, what he’s been doing between the race weekends, his parents (mainly father), etc.

    9. This is what happens when people get used to unofficial “biographies” that only denigrate for shock value, any book that does not do that is automatically “fan-Boyism”

    10. I think there’s a mismatch between the expectations of the reviewer and the goals of the author and the driver. Most of the critique seems to be about the fact that the book didn’t reveal much new information about RAI’s F1 career. I don’t think that was the goal of the book. In that case bashing the book based on what it’s not trying to be is unfair. Instead, the decision of not focusing on F1 should be questioned.

      I’m surprised about the claimed fanboyism. Based on what I’ve read on media, there are many unfavourable scenes from RAI’s life as well in the book. I’ve found many – or, to be honest, most of the – ‘traditional’ biographies to be 100% uncritical in covering the sporting career from the viewpoint of the athlete (and neglecting the life beyond the sport). For me a different kind of biography is a satisfying exception. The books that cover the career of an athlete year-by-year, at times day-by-day, even including direct quotes from dialogs as if the athlete could remember the exact words used, are usually pretty boring, there must be something more in-depth to get me enjoying.

      When it comes to style, I think it could be a case of lost in translation. As far as I’m aware, Mr Hotakainen is a highly rated author in Finland. Such stylistic irritations sound weird. I sincerely hope a top-class translator has been hired. They can’t have had an abundance of alternatives, that’s for sure – there can’t be that many Finnish books translated annually.

    11. Is Kimi as boring as he appears on the surface? Perhaps that is the issue, the author would have had a really difficult job if there really is not much to say about the subject. It’s not as if Kimi is really an exceptional participant in his field either, although I realize he was a lot better in his prime that he is now.

      1. Boring? You are very wrong. The book tells the opposite. Surely the book has cons, like it’s a bit jumpy. But Keith’s dislike of Kimi is obvious. To use the term “fanboyism” tells a lot.

    12. As a Kimi fan, I love the book myself, at least as I read it in my native Finnish.

      But I do concede that if you’re expecting anything that doesn’t come across as fan service for Kimi fans like me, who are endlessly amused by his demeanor, personality and one-liners, and accounts of his 16-day-long drunken escapades barely a week before a race, give this one a hard pass.

      Make it hurt.

    13. Mr Collantine. You have missed the point in many points, this being a book about the family of a person named Kimi Räikkönen, not about the records on F1 track.

      But the main point is about the meaning of his family, which you lost completely: the tragedy how his father died of early age.

      The daddy, who gave everything AND his shirt to help his son Kimi. And how it ended…
      Look at Kimi’s life and results after that. Enough said.

    14. Driving in circles
      10th December 2018, 18:15

      It is always a shame that Keith who is not a fan of Kimi and Max let this cloud his reporting

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