Barely 24 hours after Kimi Raikkonen’s manager Steve Robertson announced that the Finn would be taking a sabbatical from Formula 1 next year, he is now backing away from this line. He is now suggesting that they would be open to an offer from Mercedes GP for 2010.
Whether Brawn/Mercedes have actually approached Raikkonen’s management team, or whether Robertson is merely trolling for an offer, is unclear. What is clear is that Raikkonen and his entourage are willing to consider an alternative to the McLaren deal that never materialized, even though the Finn had previously indicated that he would take a seat with the Woking squad, or none at all.
As reported in The Guardian, Robertson said, “This is Formula One, if they can offer, or convince us, that they can provide Kimi an opportunity that Kimi is happy with, and that we are happy with, and he feels he can win races and the championship, then never say never. There is always a possibility.”
This attitude seems typical of Robertson’s “show me the money” negotiating style. Steve Robertson, and his partner/father David, are known for driving a hard (and lucrative) bargain. Their tactics initially worked in Raikkonen’s favor at Ferrari, where his annual salary equaled one-third of the total amount paid annually to all the drivers on the grid. Of course, one might argue that this strategy backfired in the end. Ferrari ultimately viewed Kimi’s pay vis a vis his results, and decided there was a serious value gap. So long Kimi, hello Fernando!
Likewise, it appears that the hard line approach failed with McLaren. Faced with taking Raikkonen on his own terms, at his own price, or not taking him at all, the Woking brass had no trouble deciding on the latter.
However, it’s also possible that Robertson is signaling some wiggle room. He denied that Kimi’s primary interest was pecuniary, saying, “There are not many teams that would appeal to Kimi because he is honest when he says he has got to have a car to win. He is not interested in the money. Of course, money is a part of it but he doesn’t need the money. He wants a car where he can show his talent.”
It might be that Raikkonen and the Robertsons have taken a more sober view of the new economy at work in Formula 1, or it might be that this tidbit is just more bait on Robertson’s hook. Only time will tell if there is actually a deal in play. Many in the paddock are saying that Mercedes want an all-German team next year, which would probably guarantee that Nico Rosberg would be partnered by current free agent Nick Heidfeld.
Norbert Haug is on record, however, in saying that the team doesn’t necessarily want more than one German pilot. Ideally, Rosberg would be paired by the best driver available, irrespective of that driver’s Teutonic credentials. Raikkonen would certainly win that contest over Heidfeld based on merit alone. Whether or not they could agree on terms remains to be seen. If not, one assumes that Heidfeld is on Ross Brawn’s speed-dial.