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Will He or Won’t He? Kimi Ponders a Comeback

Kimi Raikkonen

Will the Kimster return to F1 in 2011?  Depends on which story you believe.  There have certainly been offers on the table since the end of last season, when Ferrari strongly encouraged the enigmatic Finn to broaden his career horizons — preferably with another team.

Kimi easily could have easily returned to McLaren for 2010, but at a cut rate. When you’re accustomed to earning 50 million a year, why should you settle for a paltry 6 mil?  Different corporate cultures, Woking and Maranello.  Ferrari treat their drivers as cultural heroes, while McLaren treat theirs as corporate drones.

(Style notes: in Jenson Button’s first major PR appearance as a McLaren driver, it was noticeable that he was clean shaven for the first time in several years.  And when Fernando Alonso first appeared in McLaren livery in 2007, he traded his rock star hair-style for something that wouldn’t have looked out of place at Fort Bragg.  On the other hand, after David Coultard left Woking for Red Bull, he was seen sporting a fashionable stubble.  The McLaren brain trust prefers their boys to be presentable for all manner of promotional events.  One wonders if a dress code is written into the drivers’ contracts.)

As for Raikkonen, faced with a dearth of F1 options this year, he decided to continue his much publicized flirtation with the WRC.  He’s on the Red Bull B squad, learning the ropes, and is being ranked more as a promising rookie than a new star in the formula. Experienced WRC hands say that Kimi could come good with more experience.  Kimi’s notorious ice-cold temperament (how many first-rank drivers can you think of who complain of being “bored” while driving an F1 car at top speed?)

The question now is, of course, has Raikkonen gotten rallying out of his system? Is it an extra-marital affair that’s quickly run its course, or is Kimi committed to his new love for the long haul?  Quite frankly, it’s difficult to imagine Raikkonen committed to anything on a long term basis.  When answering questions about his future plans, you get the impression he doesn’t think about much beyond what he might be having for breakfast.

When asked recently by Turun Sanomat if there were any truth to the rumors that he might return to F1 in 2011, the laconic Finn said, “We will see. There are still a number of things to be done and it may be that nothing happens.”

Raikkonen isn’t exactly a sports journalist’s dream.  Most of his responses sound like Zen koans.

On the same issue, he was a bit more definitive, however, in an interview with MTV3 Germany.  Asked if he would return to F1 in 2011, Kimi said, “I would have the opportunity to go, but I think I’ve seen off that career.”

That’s about as concrete as a Raikkonen reply is apt to be. Characteristically, it doesn’t reflect a burning desire to do one thing or the other, either stay put in the WRC or return to F1.

Some drivers have Jekyll and Hyde personalities: behind the wheel, they’re demons, but in person they’re as mellow as Quaalude addicts.  The great Jim Clark was something like that.  Fellow Scot and triple-champ Jackie Stewart, a friend and protege of sorts, tells the story of how he and Clark, the latter arguably the greatest driver of his era, were out driving through the countryside in a road car late one night when they came to a stop at rail crossing.  Clark was behind the wheel.  The legendary Flying Scot looked uneasily down the track in both directions.  There wasn’t a train in sight for miles.  But still Clark hesitated.  Stewart grew impatient.  Clark looked at his friend, and said, “Well, what do you think?”  Clearly, whatever propensity he displayed in an F1 car wasn’t carried over into daily life.

But you can’t say that about Kimi.  In or out of the cockpit, he’s much the same.  He’s a flatliner wherever you find him.  Nothing seems to disturb his stony cool.  Ultimately, it was this aspect of his character that truncated his tenure at Ferrari.  The Maranello squad doesn’t demand that their drivers be Italian, but they do expect them to be passionate, driven and fully committed.  With Michael Schumacher, they had this profile in spades.  And now, with Fernando Alonso, they have it once again.

The primary obstacle to Raikkonen’s return to Formula 1 is his indifference.  If he’d shopped himself and finagled in a way that’s second nature to the likes of Alonso, Kimi could be sitting with any team in the paddock.  At the very least, a seat with Renault would probably be on offer at the moment, if Kimi had bothered to campaign for it.  Instead, he makes it known that he could easily do without Formula 1, depending on his whim.  If he plays that game long enough, the major players in the F1 paddock are apt to decide the feeling is mutual.

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