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Reasons to be cheerful

If you’re lucky you might just catch Kimi Raikkonen breaking into a smile this spring. After the annus horribilis, of his 2014 season, all signs point to a dramatic upswing in performance as the new campaign gets under way. But is he happy? Judge for yourself in this rare and exclusive interview with the Iceman…

A raw Barcelona test day. It’s dark in the pitlane, thanks to the shadow of that huge, looming grandstand opposite. And after lunch, the distant winter sun unleashes only a few hours of weak warmth, before fading away once again to be replaced by a cool wind whipping between the paddock trucks.

Testing involves long days. Short runs, interruptions, long runs, drizzle, red flags, sunshine and a soundtrack of cars hurtling around that spectacularly re-purposed industrial estate on a Montmelo hillside, 20 miles away from Barcelona proper, for lap after lap after lap.

Today is the first day of the final pre-season Barcelona test (T3 in F1-speak) and F1 Racing is sitting at one of the freshly laid tables in Ferrari’s testing motorhome/feeding-station, as the day’s running draws to a close.

Track temperatures have failed to creep beyond 12°C, and the air temperature offers no more comfort. Kimi Raikkonen has just completed 80 laps at the wheel of the Ferrari SF15-T, but it’s been a frustrating day for his team. Technical director James Allison is blaming “annoying reliability problems”.

Just before our early evening appointment with Kimi, he spoke briefly to a small huddle of TV media. Typically, he gave nothing away, in response to the usual line of questioning: Where are you in relation to the Mercedes? Is the headline lap time a genuine reflection of pace? How will you perform in Australia?

He has heard it all before and retreats wearily to the sanctuary of the Ferrari paddock villa, keeping his shades on despite the fading light; not breaking his stride even for a moment.

Calls for autographs and selfies from fans in the paddock are ignored. Has any other driver spent less time engaging with their followers? Maybe that’s why they love him so: ever the enigma, to friend and foe.

Still, we’re encouraged by the upbeat mood back at camp. Could today be the day we manage to coax a smile from the famously frosty Iceman?

In comparison to last year, the mood inside the Scuderia has lifted. There have been seismic personnel changes across the organisation, most notable of which were Sebastian Vettel’s replacement of the departing Fernando Alonso, and the arrival of a new team boss, the charismatic ex-Philip Morris (Marlboro) man, Maurizio Arrivabene. After an eight-month stint at the top, Marco Mattiacci was dethroned at the end of last year by Arrivabene, who was appointed managing director of the Gestione Sportiva and team principal of Ferrari by the CEO of the Fiat Group, Sergio Marchionne.

Arrivabene has a background in marketing, and was vice-president of Marlboro’s global communications operations back in 2007.

Since 2010, he has sat on the F1 Commission representing the sport’s sponsors. In his short time at the helm of Ferrari he has already ruffled feathers among F1’s rule makers. First, in early February, he provoked debate by releasing a concept illustration of a dramatically restyled Ferrari F1 car, and, second, at this very test, he chose to sit among the fans in the grandstands to protest against restrictions on teams’ paddock-pass allocations.

Arrivabene has not been shy in communicating his thoughts to the wider world either. He’s commented on the lifting of spirits within the Ferrari camp and has revealed that Kimi has been acting most, well… oddly. In a departure from his usual stiff demeanour, the Iceman has seemingly thawed and was even discovered by his new boss lying on the floor of the Ferrari garage.

“Maybe I was sleeping…” jokes Kimi in his usual laconic drawl, when we ask about the moment. But the truth is more innocent, as he reveals he was schooled as a mechanic when he was young and was curious to watch some more detailed fettling of the SF15-T.