Finland with less than 6 millions inhabitants has its own and separate club in iRacing. Lying in the northern east border of Europe, almost flat and full of forests, islands and lakes, motorsports are very popular in the country and many people race their own cars and go-karts on weekends. Some of the most impressive and outstanding simracers are from there.
Here we had Tapani Linnaluoto and Martti Pietilä in the past in Tapas talks. They already working to take the next step in simracing world with the first national simracing association and an ambitious coaching and data acquisition software respectively. We will have some other popular finnish aliens in the future for sure.
An old 2008 article tried to explain what are main factors to this devoted passion about cars and why they have reached the most refined excellence in motorsports categories.
Additional note: Bottas was racing Formula Renault 2.0 at that time and yet not in front page.
Lewis Hamilton’s new team-mate, Heikki Kovalainen, could barely reach the pedals when he first drove a car in the fields and lanes around his house in the Finnish countryside.
Kovalainen would spend hours thrashing around “on the back roads or farm roads,” as he puts it, “not legally, but quietly in the middle of the night when there were no police around”, learning the skills he now puts into practice on race tracks around the world.
The former Ferrari driver Mika Salo and the one-time Benetton man JJ Lehto – both brought up near Helsinki, 400 miles from Kovalainen’s home close to the border with Lapland – had similar boyhood experiences.
This is part of the secret of why Finland, a country of just 5.3 million people and 77 billion trees, has produced more formula one world champions per capita than anywhere else.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who beat Hamilton to the title last year, is the third champion from a country a quarter of whose land area is inside the Arctic Circle. Raikkonen followed Mika Hakkinen – champion in 1998 and 99 – and the trailblazer Keke Rosberg, winner in 1982. That is the same number of champions as Brazil, which has a population 40 times bigger. Even the UK, with eight champions, is four times less successful than Finland given its size.
According to Kovalainen, Lehto and Salo, driving as fast as possible is a common Finnish rite of passage. “I bought cars worth maybe £50 with two or three friends and then drove around on the back roads,” Salo says. “Not closed roads, but a dead end. We used friends to stop people coming the other way. I was probably 13. I only needed to go two kilometres from my house to find dirt roads where we could thrash the cars. A lot of people do that. You get really brave.”
This would generally be on gravel roads, where cars slide more easily than on asphalt. But in Finland even the asphalt roads are covered in snow for much of the winter. And snow-mobiling – where the legendary Canadian Ferrari driver Gilles Villeneuve developed his skills – is a popular pastime. So the ability to control a motorised vehicle on the very edge of adhesion is a skill Finns have to develop early.
There is also less to distract boys in Finland from their speed thrills than there is in other countries. Football is not so heavily ingrained in the national culture and, while the main national sport is ice hockey, a huge number of kids from as young as six race go-karts – the motor sport in which most grand-prix drivers cut their teeth.
“Go-karting is very popular in Finland,” says Lehto. “It has been since the ’60s, and it’s growing and growing. A lot of people have it as a hobby.” At the same time, there is a reasonably well-developed motor sport infrastructure, so anyone who wants to take their racing to a level beyond leisure-oriented go-kart tracks can do so.
Nevertheless, Finland’s small size and isolation have traditionally meant that aspiring racing drivers find it even more difficult to raise the huge sums of money required to pursue a career in motor racing than those elsewhere.
Despite the success of their countrymen, many Finns still do not view motor racing as a sport – a fact reflected last year when Raikkonen, the first Finn to win the drivers’ title for eight years, was only third in a vote to establish the country’s most popular sportsman, behind a javelin thrower and a cross-country skier who had previously been banned for taking performance-enhancing drugs.
Paradoxically that can be a help – the lack of support ensures the drivers who do make it on to the European ladder to formula one are those who possess the iron determination and commitment they will need to reach the top.
“I took out loans from family, from banks. I sold everything I had,” says Salo. “I used to work during school time so I could buy a car for myself. I managed to pay for a season in Formula Ford. I took a risk because I knew I was good enough. Some people just don’t have this will. The main thing is you need to like the sport so much that you will do all these things for it. I basically stopped living because I wanted to drive so much.”
In this quest, Finns have one final advantage. “Our mentality is very good for racing – never give up,” Salo says. “Very stubborn, jealous and selfish people. So you’d rather do well yourself than let somebody else do well.”
That characteristic, which Lehto describes as “very hard-headed”, goes hand-in-hand with another quality the teams prize most highly in their Finnish drivers – implacability and coolness. Raikkonen is known as the “ice man” for his extreme calm under pressure – a quality Hakkinen shared. And some of Rosberg’s greatest victories came when difficult conditions induced mistakes in his rivals.
“It’s not only F1,” says Salo. “It’s a similar thing with rallying [another sport in which Finns excel]. Everyone is very calm – not a lot of mistakes. I don’t know why it is, but I am the same. Emotional things don’t affect what I do at all.
“It’s pretty much normal here. Things like family stuff and so on are not close to us. During my time in F1 my grandfather and grandmother died, and I never even went to the funeral. It was not a big thing for me, and I believe it’s the same here for everybody.”
And now, after a quarter of a century of Finnish success, the conveyor belt has developed its own momentum.
“There isn’t a day goes by,” says Lehto, “when motor sport is not in the news in Finland. Having had three world champions, everyone thinks they can do it.”
They cannot, of course. But there are, Salo says, “a few good ones coming through”, who have the talent to make it all the way to the top. The Finnish success story in formula one, it seems, will just run and run.
Three champions … and a future project
Won drivers’ championship in his first season in a a competitive car for Williams at relatively late age of 29. Now son Nico (born in Germany) drives for Williams.
Champion 1998, 1999
Only he and Fernando Alonso beat Michael Schumacher to the title more than once.
Reigning champion. Equalled Schumacher’s record 10 fastest laps in a season in 2005. Married to a former Miss Scandinavia.
Stepped up to McLaren this year. In recent testing set a lap record for a V8 car at Jerez. Consistently in the points in first season.
Finland analysis: How good are those 5.3m people in other walks of life?
Occupy two of the Big Four seats, including the reigning champion.
Three. Frans Eemil Sillanpaa for literature in 1939 (“deep understanding of his country’s peasantry and the exquisite art with which he has portrayed their way of life and their relationship with nature”), Professor AI Virtanen for chemistry in 1945 and Ragnar Granit in the physiology or medicine category in 1967. Nobel lists the UK as having 114.
One win in 41: Hard Rock Hallelujah by Lordi, below, in 2006. Eight wooden spoons.
Never qualified for a major tournament. Highest Fifa ranking 33. Ace marksman: Jari Litmanen.
Was the first European country to grant women right of suffrage and first to allow women to be electoral candidates.
An impressive six world champions: Ari Vatanen (1981), Hannu Mikkola (1983), Timo Salonen (1985), Juha Kankkunen (1986-1993), Marcus Gronholm (2000, 2002) and Tommi Makinen (1996- 99).
Hosts world championships in Sonkajarvi each July but no home winner since 1997 – the Estonians have won the past 10 events.
Santa Claus has made the province of Lapland his own. Allocating jobs Unemployment is 6.8% (5.2% in UK).
Charging for milk
55p a litre (UK: 50p).
Quality of life
Rated 11th best country to live in by a recent UN report.
13th in all-time summer table with 295 medals, 100 golds. Seventh of 45 in winter table.
Life expectancy 78.4 (UK’s is 78.5).
Emmeline Pankhurst-friendly nation of affluent, wife-carrying speed merchants who have swapped their historical prowess as chauvinistic freighters for slaloming through forests while alarming neighbours with comedy gothic rock.