Yesterday I wrote about how refreshing it was to see drivers like Sebastian Vettel in the sport.
So much better, I said, than the days of miserable old Kimi Raikkonen dodging every question and sulking his way through press conferences.
Not long after writing that I went to the official opening of Ferrari?óÔé¼Ôäós new store in London, where Raikkonen was on PR duty . It gave me an opportunity to see just what F1 drivers do in between races and, to my surprise, it changed my mind a little about Kimi Raikkonen.
Dodging the fans
I?óÔé¼Ôäód only seen Raikkonen in person once before, at the Silverstone test ahead of last year?óÔé¼Ôäós British Grand Prix.
That occasion served to confirm the suspicions I had about Raikkonen from seeing him on TV. While the likes of Lewis Hamilton and David Coulthard took time to sign dozens of autographs for fans waiting outside their motor homes, Raikkonen ducked under the canvas of the Ferrari hospitality tent and sprinted around the crowd before they could spot him.
What a way to treat the people who buy your caps and T-shirts, I thought.
But when he was whisked into the newly-opened Ferrari Store yesterday I had the chance to see at close quarters the kinds of demands that are made on F1 drivers.
“Give us a smile, Kimi”
From the moment he set foot inside the place there were people calling after him. The room was filled with journalists and photographers (myself included), each trying to catch his attention for a photograph, or brandishing a microphone and asking a question.
Dozens of others arrived with caps and books and who knows what else for him to sign. (I?óÔé¼Ôäóve written before that I don?óÔé¼Ôäót understand why people collect autographs but they all seemed happy with the unrecognisable squiggles Raikkonen bestowed upon their various possessions).
At one point he was walking towards me when one fan gave him what must have been intended as an affectionate slap on the back but was delivered with rather too much force. I admired his restraint in not turning around and administering a shove of similar strength.
Yes, it?óÔé¼Ôäós the same for every other F1 driver – even the Sebastian Vettels of the world who make it look a lot more fun than Raikkonen does. And no, it?óÔé¼Ôäós not a great hardship to have to do a few PR events when it?óÔé¼Ôäós your job to race the world?óÔé¼Ôäós fastest cars for a living.
But I couldn?óÔé¼Ôäót help putting myself in his position and thinking, if I had photographers shouting at me, if I was being asked the same question 100 times a day by journalists ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ in short, if I were the commodity, I doubt I?óÔé¼Ôäód like it any more than he does.