There are a number of drivers in play in the current unfolding situation between McLaren and Brawn. There are three seats as yet unconfirmed and four drivers to fill them.
Attention for the moment is focussed on Jenson Button, with some commentators predicting that he will imminently sign a three year £6 million contract with McLaren, leaving the team he has been with in various guises for seven years.
Nico Rosberg is involved, but his position is clear; he has already signed a contract with Brawn, which was taken over yesterday by Mercedes and will become its works team next year. The team has been monitoring him closely and liked what they saw this season enough to take him on. Nick Heidfeld is talking to both teams and hoping that a space will open up at one of them.
But many Raikkonen fans are puzzled as to how he could have got himself into a situation where from being world champion two years ago with Ferrari he is now in real danger of being dropped out of F1.
Let’s deal with the contractual side first. He had a three year contract with Ferrari, which had an option clause in it for 2010. This option was taken up towards the end of 2008, even though Raikkonen had had, by his standards, a poor season. However Ferrari’s senior management, led by Luca di Montezemolo, then had a change of heart and decided that Fernando Alonso was a better long term bet. The arrival of Banco Santander as a sponsor for 2010 played a role in that too.
So negotiations took place to end Raikkonen’s contract a year early. As I understand it the deal is that if he leaves F1 he will receive €17 million in severance pay, which is half of the €34 million he’s been earning per year at Ferrari. However if he drives for another team in 2010 he will get just €10 million.
So that is why his manager, Steve Robertson, has been looking for a deal which makes sense. The McLaren offer is understood to be around €6 million, similar to the money Button is being offered. So he would earn more money sitting on his sofa in Switzerland than he would racing for McLaren.
Now you might argue that having made the hundred million plus he has made over the years, he should accept the inevitable and drive a potentially winning car next year, collecting €16 million in the process, which is still not a bad return. But it is not happening.
Unfortunately for Raikkonen, the mood has changed among teams now in terms of spending money. The resource restriction agreement, a legally binding agreement between teams to cut costs, does not include driver salaries. But it represents a state of mind as much as anything else and when teams are set to lay off many hundreds of people over the next couple of years and cut costs down to around €50-70 million per year, they do not feel inclined to pay out for drivers like they did pre-credit crunch.
Raikkonen has slipped behind Button in McLaren’s pecking order. Button offers three years of stability and marketability for Vodafone. Raikkonen would be a more temporary move.
Brawn do not seem to be interested, partly because of the money, but also, I suspect, because of what Ross Brawn has gleaned about his performances from his old colleagues at Ferrari.
But it is not just about money. Luca di Montezemolo went on record several times, criticising Raikkonen for his lack of commitment, once famously wondering whether another Raikkonen had turned up to race, rather than the driver they thought they had signed.
Ferrari never knew from one race to the next, which Raikkonen was going to turn up. This is not my opinion, it is what I gleaned from Ferrari over the last couple of years.
The next few days are critical. If Button jumps ship to McLaren it looks like Raikkonen’s F1 career may be over. He may call it a sabbatical and attempt a return in 2011.
Or he may take up rallying. From what I understand the WRC is keenly anticipating having Raikkonen and Valentino Rossi in its ranks in a couple of years time, which would certainly get the series some much needed attention.