Finland’s Glory


Hannu Kuutti, this month's guest blogger, reckons his countrymen are pound-for-pound the greatest...

The cliché about Finnish people being good drivers seems to be true.

Look at the statistics. As a country of a mere 5.5 million people, we have produced many drivers who have won world class races and several world championship titles.

Many much larger countries, which are also known for loving their motorsport, haven’t been able to keep up with Finland in the championship league tables. The Italians, for example, haven’t claimed a native F1 champion since Alberto Ascari’s triumph of 1953 – and Schumacher and Vettel are the only Germans ever to win the biggest prize in motorsport.

But for Finnish people the biggest delight comes of course from the fact that we have more titles in racing than Sweden!

Markku_Alén_-_1978_Rally_Finland Marku Alén, Finland’s first World Champion, pushes his Fiat Abarth 131

In F1 we massacre the Swedes 3-0, thanks to Keke Rosberg, Mika Häkkinen and, of course, Kimi Räikkonen. In fact, Heikki Kovalainen is the only Finnish F1 race winner never to have won the world championship!

Read it and weep, Scandinavian cousins!

In terms of Rallying, we really lead the world – with the World Rally Championship having gone to a Finn 14 times since Markku Alén won the title back in 1978. If it wasn’t for that Pesky Frenchman Sébastien Loeb, we would have an overall majority and be elected as outright rally emperors.

Ok, so we’ve only had one world motorcycle world champ in Jarno Saarinen, who won in the 250cc category in 1972 – but the great Jarno died tragically at Monza in 1973. Many believe he would have won many more titles with his pioneering style.

day_7319 Jarno Saarinen before winning the Daytona 200

So what makes us Finns so naturally good at racing? Usually the answer given is that our country is full of empty, rural roads and our youngsters start practicing their rally driving skills as soon as they get their driver’s license. This might have some truth to it – but it isn’t the only answer. Other countries have empty roads too, as well as legions of enthusiastic teens to create a menace upon them.

The other suggested answer is that all our Rally Championship drivers are sons of farmers – and they used much of their childhood practicing driving off-road with their field cars (we call them peltoauto). Peltoauto are indeed common in the countryside, and they are the pride and joy of many youngsters whose families own farming land.

There’s another factor here, though, that is rarely mentioned. In Finland’s high latitudes the growing season is fairly short – and therefore the fields are pretty much free to mess with for most of the year. Any given weekend will see impromptu race meets on farmers’ fields largely unfettered by troublesome crops. So, whilst many Finnish rally drivers have learned their trade in their peltoautos, not all have immediately found their calling this way. One of our most successful rally drivers got his his official recognition by winning a junior tractor ploughing competition – and another one tried motocross and boxing before ending up as a rally driver.

vatanen-ari-pikes-peak-hillclimb-usa-peugeot-405-pikes-peak-action-1 A pair of great Finns: Ari Vätanen and Juha Känkunnen

In my opinion at the core of our F1 success lies the fact that we start competing really early. Usually this starts with kart racing. But Finland is not a country full of wealthy dynasties whose kids are given karts for birthdays and Christmas – and because of our geography and climate the tarmac racing season here is very short, once more. Kids generally get into Karting in Finland by following their fathers’ hobby. When Finnish racers began to be successful in international races in the 1970s, Karting become quite a popular hobby and a lot of tracks were constructed – but Karting is indeed popular all over the world, not just in Finland.

Mika-Häkkinen Schumacher declared Mika Hakkinen to be the only driver he had ever feared.

Whatever the complex reasons behind Finland’s motorsport success, I believe that it is something deep within the Finnish character that makes us want, even need, to succeed on the world’s stage. We are a small, young country – and we really like to be recognised abroad. Many Finnish drivers have demonstrated this love of notoriety – and have worked with a lot of motivation to succeed and climb to the top. A lot of practicing with field cars or on empty rural roads give many opportunities to do so. When we finally make it to the world’s stage after years of practice in our quiet, small country, we really go for it.

Makinen-1 Tommi Mäkinen won four WRC titles.

In the end it is a typically Finnish kind of stubbornness, combined with and will to push us to our limits and find the way to be successful.

And there’s still nothing like beating a swede.

Hannu Kuutti is a regular contributor to OPPOSITE LOCK