HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finnish motor racing fans admitted they were as stunned as anyone by Kimi Raikkonen’s unexpected 11th-hour charge to the Formula One world title on Sunday.
After the ‘Iceman’ upset the odds by winning the Brazilian Grand Prix with title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso of McLaren trailing in his wake, festivities geared up slowly as the temperature plunged to near freezing in Helsinki.
The streets were generally quiet and only a few cars honked their horns around the Esplanade Park in central Helsinki, one of them carrying a Ferrari flag.
Finns had not dared to take anything for granted, especially after Raikkonen had been left behind by fellow Ferrari driver Felipe Massa and Hamilton in Saturday’s qualifying, and trailed both McLaren drivers in the overall standings.
Raikkonen fan Mika Kinturi, 43, said he had almost given up hope and had planned to stay at his summer cottage, where he does not have pay-TV required for watching Formula One coverage.
“At the last minute, I decided to drive home, and listen to the race on car radio,” he said. “After Hamilton’s problems, I drove directly to a sports bar, but did not believe he could win until there were five laps left.”
Antti Koskinen was elated at Raikkonen’s success.
“When he had 20 laps left I had to go and take my blood pressure,” the 29-year-old consultant said.
“It was a thriller, but Kimi deserves this after all the number two positions.”
Anu Hakamaa, 33, said she was delighted after following the race in a sports bar.
“With all the bad luck Finns have had in sports, at last Lady Luck smiled on us,” the office manager said.
Italian fans living in Finland had double reason to celebrate.
“Kimi is very popular in Italy, and I am very happy for him, but even more so for Ferrari,” said Matteo Imperato, a university researcher.
Raikkonen, who joined the Italian team at the end of 2006 as replacement for seven times world champion Michael Schumacher, is the third Finnish Formula One world champion after Keke Rosberg (1982) and Mika Hakkinen (1998 and 1999).
Hamilton, who had started the race as title favourite with a four-point lead over Fernando Alonso and a seven-point lead over Raikkonen, endured a nightmare afternoon with gearbox trouble.
“I trusted the Iceman,” Kimmo Salo, a retired musician sporting a Ferrari jacket, said.
“Kimi has nerves of steel. He really deserved to win, and got the Championship by driving, not through dirty tricks.”