It seems that Renault have pulled a fast one. Team boss Eric Boullier has been telling anyone who would listen that Kimi Raikkonen has been sniffing at his doorstep, hungry to join the team. According to Boullier, Raikkonen made the first overture, and contacted the team regarding a possible ride in 2011. Since new hire Robert Kubica is currently much beloved by the team, obviously this meant that number two driver Vitaly Petrov would be on the bubble.
On paper, the move makes perfect sense. Kimi’s severance package from Ferrari will be running out this year (although one suspects that he might have saved a bit out of his $15 million or so that Ferrari paid him to stay away from Formula 1), and it must have dawned on him by now that he won’t be taking the rally world by storm. Also, Kimi has a notoriously short attention span, so one would expect that, while a WRC gig might have seemed like an exciting novelty last year, by now it might begin to reek of stale lutefisk.
And if Kimi were going to return to F1, how many vacant seats might look attractive to him? The seats at the top teams are all sewn up for next year. What other opportunities might there be? Toro Rosso? Force India? Sauber? Williams? None of these teams seems to be a likely alternative. It would seem to be Renault or nothing. Actually, it would seem to be nothing.
It seems that Eric Bouillier’s recent boasts that Raikkonen was interested in joining the Enstone-based squad were something less than honest, and something more than what the had Kimster intended. Speaking to Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat, Raikkonen said, “I am very disappointed with how they have used my name for their own marketing. I have never even seriously considered driving for Renault, and I can assure you that I am 100 per cent sure that I will not drive for Renault next season.”
Of course, Kimi likes to go his own way. If you a place a bet that he’ll do A, he’ll very likely do B, just to keep you honest. Where the truth lies in this scenario, however, is a bit hard to decipher. Raikkonen hasn’t claimed that he never approached the team, only that he was never serious about joining the squad in 2011. It could mean that he was looking at 2012 and beyond. Raikkonen has acknowledged that his management team did approach Renault several weeks ago. So were they merely discussing a slot for Kimi in a general way, or were they simply taking a longer view?
Whatever the reality, it seems that Boullier decided to go public with this information, perhaps as Raikkonen suggested, simply to attract attention to draw potential sponsors. While rookie Vitaly Petrov has attracted Lada (the Russian carmaker) funding to the team, it’s unlikely that he will draw a diveristy of additional sponsors based on performance. Kimi Riakkonen might be another story.
So was Boullier merely floating the Raikkonen story to attract sponsorship money? Stranger things have happened in Formula 1. It seems clear that Kimi could probably have the second Renault seat if he wanted it. If he opts out, however, that certainly reduces that chances that he’ll return to F1 with any team next year, and if he doesn’t, that means that his comeback, should he make one, will come after at least a two year gap. As Michael Schumacher has found out, time marches quickly in F1, and the two-year gap in question will have ushered in quite a few technical changes that Kimi would have to adjust to. Clearly, the longer he says away, the less likely it is that he’ll return, and the more likely that such a comeback would turn into a bumpy ride.
Whether or not he will eventually return to F1 is anyone’s guess. What does seem clear is that he won’t be seen in yellow Renault livery in 2011.