Kimi Raikkonen will take a sabbatical from Formula 1 in 2010, it has been revealed. The Finn, and his manager Steve Robertson, were in negotiations with McLaren over a possible return to the Woking squad after a three-year absence (he was a McLaren pilot from 2002 to 2006), but this effort ended in a stalemate. Apparently, the two sides were unable to agree on three crucial points: (a) salary, (b) Kimi’s contractual obligation to appear at sponsors’ promotional events and (c) Kimi’s freedom to participate in the occasional World Rally Championship event.
Having been given an early release from his contract with Ferrari, Raikkonen had said publicly that his only option for 2010 would be a McLaren drive. McLaren, however, today confirmed that they have signed a three-year deal with Jenson Button, who will partner Lewis Hamilton at the Woking squad.
As reported in The Telegraph, Steve Robertson said, “The options in F1 were with McLaren next season or not at all. Kimi and McLaren were unable to reach an agreement, so he will not drive at the F1 level – at least not next year. Kimi still exudes passion. A gap year does not mean anything in that respect. 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.”
According to the terms of his severance agreement with Ferrari, apparently Kimi will earn 17 million euros for his non-participation in Formula 1 in 2010. He would have been paid a mere 10 million euros by Ferrari if he had joined a rival F1 team. So clearly the prospect of taking a year off is not completely without allure.
In theory, the door would be open for Raikkonen to return to the series in 2011, if an attractive option were available. One possibility that has been mentioned in media reports is Red Bull. However, as Raikkonen’s asking price is reportedly 25 million euros per year, and the current Red Bull drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, each earn approximately one-fifth that amount, it’s a bit of a stretch to see Red Bull chasing after Raikkonen, unless he lowered his price significantly. And it doesn’t seem likely that Red Bull would be willing to meet Raikkonen half way.
Another point to consider: while successful comebacks in Formula 1 are not unheard of (both Niki Lauda and Alain Prost came back after sabbaticals to win championships), they are problematic. Formula 1 technology changes rapidly, and it doesn’t take long for a driver to become out of step with what’s current. There’s also the matter of conditioning. Formula 1 drivers train rigorously so their bodies can withstand the stresses of lateral G-force loading they experience at speed.
Raikkonen doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being obsessive about preparation and training. In fact, a few paddock wits have suggested that Kimi’s training is limited to hoisting supersize bottles of Finlandia. His party habits aside, one wonders if Raikkonen has the ambition and determination to reenter the Formula 1 fray after a year off.
Image by Vince Pettit, licensed by Creative Commons.