Kimi Raikkonen, Formula 1’s most enigmatic driver, will make it a record six world champions on the F1 grid next year when he lines up to race with Lotus Renault.
Fans have been on tenterhooks for months to see whether the 2007 world champion, who is still only 32 years old, would make a comeback, following in the footsteps of Michael Schumacher, who spent three years on the sidelines before coming back with Mercedes in 2010.
Like Schumacher, Raikkonen was eased into early retirement by Ferrari. The Finn has been in rallying since he was dropped by the Scuderia after a disappointing 2009 campaign, but started talking to Williams in September about making an F1 comeback. They got a long way down the line, even to the point of discussing promotional days, but it didn’t work out.
Instead he has done a deal with Lotus Renault, with whom he had a bit of a spat in September 2010 over the subject of a potential comeback. At that time it was a rumour which the team was openly discussing and the Finn didn’t like them using his name in that way “for their marketing purposes.”
Boullier at the time questioned Raikkonen’s motivation: “I would have to speak personally with him first, look him in the eyes to see if I see enough motivation there for him to return to F1,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to hire somebody, even a former world champion, if you cannot be sure that his motivation is still 100%. Why should you invest in somebody who leaves you guessing.”
The question of motivation is one that has troubled teams about a possible return, but the signs are clearly there that the Finn still feels he has unfinished business in F1 and also an appetite to earn some more money.
Raikkonen himself says that motivation is no problem, “I wouldn’t come back if I wouldn’t be motivated,” he said. “There’s always a lot of talk about the motivation but nobody really knows what I do or what I think apart from myself, so I don’t really care what people say. I enjoy [being able] to come back, I wouldn’t put my name in a contract if I wouldn’t think that I would really enjoy it. So it will be interesting and it will be exciting to get back.”
It looks like Boullier and Raikkonen have put all that behind them now with this exciting deal, which is great news for F1 fans as it brings back one of the best supported drivers, witha a huge world wide fanbase.
“My time in the World Rally Championship has been a useful stage in my career as a driver, “he said. “but I can’t deny the fact that my hunger for F1 has recently become overwhelming,” he said. “It was an easy choice to return with Lotus Renault GP as I have been impressed by the scope of the team’s ambition.”
Raikkonen has 18 wins, 62 podiums and 16 pole positions to his credit. He is also close friends with reigning champion Sebastian Vettel, who is a neighbour in Switzerland.
Team owner Gerard Lopez said, “Kimi’s decision to come back to Formula 1 with us is the first step of several announcements which should turn us into an even more serious contender in the future. Of course, we are all looking forward to working with a world champion. On behalf of our staff, I’d like to welcome Kimi to Enstone, a setting that has always been known for its human approach to Formula 1.”