Kimi Raikkonen was at the centre of attention on Sunday in Hungary; first as rumours went around that he was being considered for a return to Ferrari for 2013 and then for his stunning performance in the race, where he challenged Lewis Hamilton for victory despite ending the first lap in sixth place.
It was a great performance by Raikkonen at an opportune moment to remind Lotus and others of his value as an F1 driver. Considering that he spent two years on the sidelines and therefore had one year’s less experience of Pirelli tyres than his rivals, he has been remarkably consistent this season. So too has his Lotus team. Although they’ve only recently seemed to be able to qualify well, they have consistently raced well all season, arguably the most constant team of the year in that respect.
And though Romain Grosjean has occasionally been able to use his undoubted speed to get ahead of Raikkonen, the “Iceman” has come through stronger in results and is challenging Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ championship, thanks to scoring an average of 10.5 points per race, including five podiums.
So where did the Raikkonen to Ferrari rumours come from? One Ferrari source was quoted by Mark Hughes in the Sunday Times saying that it would be a good move, although noting that the relationship between Raikkonen and Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo was strained at the time of his departure in 2009. Ferrari paid Raikkonen the best part of €20 million not to drive for them in 2010, which sits very oddly with a possible return in 2013.
The rumour has been dismissed by Ferrari, but Raikkonen seemed happy enough to address the rumour yesterday after the race, “I always said that I didn’t have bad feelings against them,” he answered, “I had a good time with the team. I won my championship there but things probably could have gone a nicer way in the end.
“Life goes on and you never know what happens in the future but I’m happy where I am now and things are going pretty nicely… I don’t come up with the rumours, so perhaps you have to ask the people who write them.”
The Ferrari seat for 2013 is a very complex situation and is being used by a number of people for gain, as it is so fluid, there are no certainties at the moment.
The main question facing all the candidates is, how long would the seat be for? It’s not clear, the rumours around the possibility of Vettel going there in 2014 are supported by well placed sources, even though it’s hard to see the sense of it.
For Raikkonen the thrill is racing and competing to win.
Raikkonen has every reason to feel good about where he is at the moment; the relationship with Lotus and the engineers has clearly bedded in now after half a season and he’s been driving the fastest car on race day for a few races now. Wet qualifyings at Silverstone and Hockenheim have clouded the picture, but he would have won yesterday if the race had been on a place with a straight you can overtake on. Only 48 points behind Alonso in the championship with a car which should go well at all the upcoming tracks, if he can qualify in the top three more often he can mount a challenge.
As for the political situation with Montezemolo, last week the Ferrari president held a rally of his Italia Futura movement, which offers a new way forward for Italy. He stopped short of announcing it would become a party in its own right, which disappointed supporters, but crucially he did promise that Italia Futura would fight the next general election in Italy, so clearly the cogs are turning. He is supported in this by former FOTA secretary general Simone Perillo, who now works as a central co-ordinator of Italia Futura in Rome.
To what extent politics could take Montezemolo away from Ferrari and when, is not clear at this time.