Kimi Raikkonen has a blank space in his diary – it’s called 2010.
He has not totally ruled out F1, as his manager Steve Robertson left the door open this morning in an interview with Autosport’s Jon Noble over in Macau, that he could re-examine the possibility of racing with the new Mercedes team, if they were interested in having him.
“This is Formula 1,” said Robertson. “If they can offer, or convince us, that they can provide Kimi an opportunity that Kimi is happy with, and that we are happy with, and he feels he can win races and the championship then never say never. There is always a possibility.”
My conversations with Brawn management earlier this week did not suggest to me that Kimi was on their target list, for very specific reasons. And my colleagues in Finland feel that the Mercedes move is unlikely for the same reasons. But if they do start talking again it will indicate the degree to which Mercedes did not anticipate being in this position. Brawn and Mercedes’ strongest alternative now is to field a line up of Rosberg and Heidfeld, which has never won a race and is no match for Alonso/Massa, Hamilton/Button or Vettel/Webber.
I still sense that Brawn is shocked and dismayed that Button has left them. Although there was always a chance that it would happen, based on the way they played the game, I think they felt he wouldn’t go through with it.
McLaren have done a very good job on Button and his manager, convincing them that they will give him a winning car, a decent salary and lots of love for the next three years. For Ron Dennis and Martin Whitmarsh this is a personal coup, as he has given Mercedes some real pain at the moment of their great ‘triumph’, acquiring Brawn. This is a perfect illustration of the time honoured phrase, “In F1 you are either taking pain or giving it.”
Image wise McLaren will have the number one on its car for the third time in four seasons and that has huge marketing and self esteem benefits.
But back to Kimi, Robertson says that, “If he does not do F1, then I am sure he will do something in the World Rally Championship”. The WRC people are very excited about the possibility of him coming on board. Petter Solberg’s privateer Citroen team is keen to have him and time will tell whether he can do better than that and get a works Citroen drive, possibly with the backing of Red Bull. Raikkonen and Red Bull look like they were made for each other.
“A gap year means nothing for Kimi,” said Robertson. “He is more interested in fighting for wins and the world championship. F1 will miss Kimi. He worked hard over the summer – doing things in a Ferrari that only the best drivers are capable of.”
If it does turn into a gap year and Raikkonen returns to F1 in 2011, there is a precedent for taking a gap year towards the end of an F1 career; Alain Prost took a year out of F1 in 1992 and came back the following year with Williams, winning the world championship.
Raikkonen may want to come back in 2011, but there may not be many winning seats available. Massa’s contract will be up, but I can’t see them going back over that road with Kimi. The most obvious choice for me would be Red Bull. I think the rumours this Autumn about Raikkonen possibly taking Mark Webber’s seat next year were based on Kimi’s people shaking the tree to see if anything came of it.
Webber’s contract will be up at Red Bull next year and if Raikkonen is doing something in rallying with Citroen and Red Bull, that may lead him back. But he would have to really want it and so would they. They would have to be convinced that he was fully motivated for an F1 return.
I think he may find it hard to leave the relaxed atmosphere of rallying and go back into the cesspit of F1, with the unwanted attention and the media hype. He achieved his goal of winning the championship in 2007 and has made more money than he will ever be able to spend. It’s about pleasure now and rallying offers him a huge new challenge in an environment better suited to his character.
And he will have Valentino Rossi to compete against shortly; with new manufacturers due to come in as well, WRC is rubbing its hands with glee!