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Kimi to Return to McLaren in 2010?

Kimi in Taiwan, 2002.  A return to McLaren livery for the Finn?

Kimi in Taiwan, 2002. A return to McLaren livery for the Finn?

Ferrari have officially confirmed that they will be joined by driver Fernando Alonso beginning in 2010, in a deal that will see the Spaniard in red livery for the next three years.

To make way for Alonso, Finnish pilot Kimi Raikkonen will be leaving the team with one year remaining in his contract.  It is thought that is early departure involves a hefty payout by Ferrari.  Kimi is currently salaried at roughly $50 million per year, and it is thought that Kimi’s lawyers have been trying to extract most or all of this amount from the Ferrari treasury in return for Raikkonen’s cooperation in the switch for Alonso.  According to paddock gossip, the Spanish banking giant Santander, who will begin a sponsorship deal with Ferrari next year, have agreed to help finance the deal.

Santander will also continue their sponsorship of Mercedes-McLaren.  Santander has made successful use of McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton to promote their UK subsidiary, Abbey Bank.  A plan is underway to rebrand Abbey (and other UK subs, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley) as Santander, and the banking concern is eager to extend their use of Hamilton to help consolidate their UK presence.

It has also been rumored in recent weeks that Raikkonen would be returning to the McLaren fold, and certainly this makes fiscal sense.  As Santander will be contributing to the budgets of both Ferrari and McLaren next year, the bank would be in a position to help finance the buyout of Kimi’s Ferrari contract, as well as a portion of his new salary at Mercedes-McLaren.  It is unlikely, however that Kimi’s price on the drivers’ market would be anything close to $50 million per year.

While that sum seems staggering now, even by F1 standards, you might recall that Raikkonen was hired by Ferrari as Michael Schumacher’s replacement, and his contract provided him with a Schumacher-sized compensation package.  Unfortunately for the Scuderia, Kimi never quite delivered a Schumacher-sized performance.  Perhaps if he’d been paid one-tenth the amount he’s been receiving, Montezemolo, Domenicali, et al, would now regard Kimi as a better value.

On the other hand, the Ferrari marque has always symbolized quality over economy.  Their drivers have often been the best-compensated on the grid.  Alonso reputedly will be paid $25 million per year.  If so, the Scuderia will enjoy a 50% savings compared to what they’ve been paying Kimi.  A bargain, to be sure, but it’s not economy that’s the lure, it’s the promise of regaining a championship luster that has been missing from the team since the retirement of Michael Schumacher.

Image by Puresusan, licensed through Creative Commons.

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