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McLaren Chasing Big Talent, Not Big Names

Mercedes motosport boss Norbert Haug

Mercedes motosport boss Norbert Haug

Norbert Haug, president of the Mercedes motorsport division, has indicated that Mclaren-Mercedes will choose a team mate for current number one driver Lewis Hamilton based on the driver’s raw talent and motivation, rather than simply hiring a marquee-name driver at an exhorbitant price.

In a pointed reference to Kimi Raikkonen, Haug recently told Autosport, “Kimi is an option, but there are lots of options around. One thing is for sure though – guys who are out for money are not the right ones for us – whoever it may be.  I won’t name anyone, but we want to have full commitment from someone who is success-oriented, not someone saying ‘I am a big name, pay me a lot of money and I will drive for you.’ The team has to be convinced that a driver is hungry, motivated, focused, and that his first thought is not to get more money.”

This seems to be a double swipe at Raikkonen, who (a) is apparently steadfast in his asking price of 25 million euros per year, and (b) during his three-year stint at Ferrari managed to develop a reputation for having motivation problems.  At 25 million euros per year, Raikkonen would be the most highly paid driver on the grid.  It is thought that Fernando Alonso will be paid 20 million euros per year in his new Ferrari contract, and Lewis Hamilton is said to be receiving 15 million euros in his current McLaren deal.

Meanwhile, newly crowned world champ Jenson Button, whose name has also been linked to a possible switch to McLaren, is asking for a mere 8.5 million euros. This might sound like a bargain to the brass at Woking.

Haug’s statement reads like a litany of reasons not to rehire Kimi (the Finn was with McLaren for five years previously before joining Ferrari).  This is interesting, as McLaren chief Martin Whitmarsh recently made public statements confirming his high regard for the Finnish pilot.  One wonders if there’s a good cop/bad cop routine at work here.  At the very least, Haug seems to be giving Kimi a wake-up call.  While Raikkonen is saying, in effect, “Show me the money, if you really want me,” Haug’s response could be distilled as, “Prove to us how badly you want the drive.”

It is difficult to imagine that McLaren would pay Kimi 10 million euros more per year than they’re currently giving Hamilton.  The young Brit is still in the upward slope of his career, is still hungry, and would certainly be perceived as a better value for the money, even if Raikkonen proved to be his equal or better, in equal equipment.

However, Kimi’s general attitude is likely as much of a stumbling block as his asking price.  His “Iceman” nickname is probably coming back to haunt him.  His icy temperament might be an asset in pressurized situations on the race track, but outside of the cockpit it could double for apathy.  And clearly, McLaren aren’t interested in hiring an apathetic driver, even at bargain rates.  If Kimi isn’t careful, he might chill himself out of a job in 2010.

Image source: Wikimedia, licensed through Creative Commons.

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