Although it has been rumored lately that Renault has had Kimi Raikkonen on their shopping list for 2011, it’s certainly not a foregone conclusion that the feeling is mutual. The laconic Finn is currently part of the WRC rally squad, and seems happy enough motoring his Citroen tin top over the bumps and ruts of Europe’s best rally courses. However, Red Bull has reported leaked that they are close to securing Kimi’s services for another year.
An anonymous source at Red Bull recently told Autosport, “We are very happy with what Kimi has done this season. He is very good for the Red Bull brand and we are looking to extend his agreement into next year. I think this is likely.”
Although Raikkonen’s first full year in rallying hasn’t produced stellar results, according to multi-year rally champ Sebastian Loeb this is to be expected, and if Kimi were to throw in the towel now he’d only be wasting the valuable experience he’s already gained in the sport.
“This year he is only learning,” Loeb said. “He cannot be competitive this year and if he stops then he has lost this year. If he continues next year he will arrive on the rallies knowing where he is. He has the notes, he can modify them, which is much easier than this year when he had to make them all from the start. He will know better the stages in his head. He can improve a lot from this year to next year.”
As for Raikkonen, his own response to reporters, who questioned him recently at the Bulgarian WRC rally, was pure non-committal Kimi. “I don’t miss Formula 1 and I am enjoying what I am doing now,” he said. “I have still not decided what I am doing next year yet.” In other words, I’ll be staying put — unless I don’t.
Sound familiar? It’s essentially the same refrain he consistently uttered during his last year in Formula 1. I doubt he was being deliberately coy. Kimi simply knows that he can do whatever he wants. If he decided to return to F1 tomorrow, at least one major team (Renault) would sign him in a heartbeat, and perhaps even two (the Red Bull rumors have never completely faded away, and with the recent intra-team squabble with Mark Webber reaching the boiling point, it’s quite possible that the team could have a vacancy come 2012).
It seems that Kimi’s current rally employers are keen to hang on to him, so the Kimster certainly isn’t hard up for opportunities. But Raikkonen’s ambition no longer seems to have a clear path. Once he finally bagged the F1 title, a bit of push seemed to evaporate from his general approach to racing, and other like other drivers of his generation who seem determined to leave a long term, storied record as their legacy (a la Michael Schumacher), Raikkonen seems primarily concerned about having a good time.
In that respect, he barely seems like a professional racer at all. And, indeed, with the millions he’s amassed during his years at McLaren and Ferrari, one could argue that he really isn’t a pro anymore. His lackadaisical attitude seems much more typical of the gifted amateur, rather than that of the hungry young professional.
Will Kimi stay in rallying or go?
I suspect he’ll stay another year, and then decide whether or not it’s been a just an indulgence, or a valid career choice. In 2012, he might have his choice between a seat at Renault or Red Bull.
But if sparks are flying between Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull now, how would the introduction of Raikkonen affect the chemistry of the team? Kimi is known for keeping his opinions to himself, so he would probably be less excitable than the fiesty Aussie, which would translate into fewer on track contretemps between team mates. On the other hand, Kimi is known to be rather lazy, and certainly this wouldn’t bode well for his ability to give technical feedback to the team.
Frankly, I don’t see Red Bull hiring him. But Renault might be a different story. Unlike Red Bull, Renault wouldn’t be giving up a top tier driver if they dropped Vitaly Petrov to make room for Raikkonen. Any team principal would be well advised to carefully weigh potential outcomes before discarding Webber for Raikkonen, but the same couldn’t be said for Petrov vis a vis a Webber swap.
So the most likely scenario? Kimi back to F1 in 2012, behind the wheel of a Renault. Of course, another question lurks should Kimi make his F1 comeback. Will his performance be diminished? We’ve already seen one Comeback Kid this year, Michael Schumacher, struggle to regain his old form after a three-year layoff. And Schumi has a much different work ethic than Kimi’s. Of course, he’s about a decade older, as well.