Kimi Raikkonen, in a pronounced case of sour grapes, has said that winning a World Rally Championship title would now mean more to him than his Formula 1 crown. As reported in Autosport, the Finn went on to say, “I’m just starting out and I can sense what a long journey it would be to get to that point. It’s definitely the biggest challenge yet. I’ve got to learn everything from scratch. But I want the challenge…I’m looking forward to it. And you’ve got to set yourself some competition if you really want to know how good you are.”
Raikkonen was also realistic about setting reasonable expectations for himself: “The first few rallies are bound to be tough. Until I know how fast the other drivers are, I’m holding back on any personal expectations. I’m sure I won’t manage to keep up with the top four [Loeb, Dani Sordo, Hirvonen, Latvala].”
He also gave the impression that he’d had his fill of Formula 1 for the time being, and was looking forward to a more congenial atmosphere, which he expected to find in the WRC. “In F1, politics gets in the way of the exciting side of things,” he said. “The atmosphere in rallying is much nicer and there’s a lot less politics involved. It’s must more about how the driver performs.”
Making an oblique reference to a loss of motivation that had been noticed by many in the F1 paddock over the past year or two, Kimi indicated that rally driving had given him fresh inspiration. “I’m finding a bit of the young Kimi in me again,” he said.
Mind you, he’s saying this at the ripe old age of 30. It’s ironic that Ferrari nudged Michael Schumacher out of the way to make way for younger blood, when you consider that the Finn promptly became bored with the whole affair once he’d won his title in 2007, and delivered lackluster performances, on balance, in the two years that followed. Even in his title-winning year, Kimi proved to be only a shadow of a driver that Schumacher was during his glory years with the Scuderia. And now, Herr Schumacher is now chomping at the bit, eager to take his place back on the grid, and showing more youthful spirit than Raikkonen ever did.
Perhaps Raikkonen will be ideally suited to rally driving. He seems to become bored easily when confronted by anything resembling routine. In the world of rally driving, the road can be full of surprises, and one doesn’t keep following the same circuit 60 or 70 times within the course of two hours, which is the norm during an F1 event.
While Raikkonen has asserted that the door remains open for him to return to Formula 1 in 2011, one suspects that he might be leaving the series for good. If he enjoys even moderate success in the WRC next year, he’ll probably want to continue with the venture until he’s made a serious bid for the title. And once he’s been away from F1 for any length of time, the prospects for a comeback will begin to dim.
Mind you, the paddock was electrified at the prospect of Schumacher’s comeback, but Schumacher was the driver of a generation. If the Finn attempted a comeback after a similar period of time, he would likely generate about as much interest as former F1 champ Jacques Villeneuve has this year.
Villeneuve, who last raced in Formula 1 for the BMW Sauber team in 2006, has been working diligently to secure a seat for a comeback in the 2010 season. As of this writing, he has not yet been successful, and currently his last remaining option seems to be a vacancy at the fledgling USF1 team. One suspects that Kimi Raikkonen would never go to such lengths, considering that he actually turned down a drive at McLaren in 2010 because (a) they refused to match his salary demand of 25 million euros per year, and (b) they wouldn’t allow him to go rally driving on his weekends off.
Image by Mark McArdle, licensed through Creative Commons.