Raikkonen, Williams and the shares

By on Thursday, November 17, 2011

Kimi Raikkonen. Photo credit: Ferrari S.p.A.

The 2012 silly season seems to be centered on the possible return of Kimi Raikkonen to the F1 circus, driving a Williams-Renault. He would replace veteran Rubens Barrichello, since Pastor Maldonado and the substantial PDVSA sponsorship that he brings has practically secured him a seat with the team. Rumours even went as far as confirming that the deal between Raikkonen and Williams, which involved important Qatari sponsorship, was already signed and would be announced during the Abu Dhabi GP weekend.

But the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix came and went, and yet no announcement was made. Moreover, Raikkonen admitted last weekend during Wales Rally GB that he might keep on rallying next season. Furthermore, the German magazine Auto, Motor und Sport reports that Raikkonen contacted Renault between the India and Abu Dhabi GPs, which indicates that no deal has been signed yet. Additionally, according to Autosport, Williams insiders say that Valteri Bottas will get to race in 2012 next to Maldonado, if he impresses the team during the Young Driver Tests at the Yas Marina Circuit.

So, is this story just a little diversion invented by the media to fill pages now that the championship has already been decided? Luckily, it does not seem to be the case. Toto Wolff, one of Williams’ partners, as well as Raikkonen have admitted that talks have been held on the matter, although Wolff mysteriously told Austria's largest newspaper, Kronen Zeitung that the decision regarding drivers would be a "strategic" one.

What does Wolff mean by "strategic decision"? How is it possible that the options the team are considering are as different as a world champion and a rookie? Does it make any sense for Raikkonen to drive for Williams, a team that seems to be going backwards and are now experiencing its worst period ever? Although many people in the paddock have admitted they would happily welcome the Iceman back - Michael Schumacher and Raikkonen’s ex-bosses Martin Whitmarsh, Stefano Domenicali and Peter Sauber, there are many unanswered questions regarding this matter. Sauber, although looking forward to seeing the 2007 Formula One World Champion back, could not hide his doubts during an interview with Blick. “But Kimi needs to be motivated, or his comeback will not work. And Kimi is surely motivated only in a top car”, the Swiss said.

Ice1 Racing driver Kimi Raikkonen

At the moment, it does not look like Williams can provide Raikkonen with a top car. The team hit an all-time low during the last race when both cars had to start from the last row of the grid. Trying to go back to the success of the old glory days, Williams is involved in a radical reorganization; several changes have been made in key positions of the technical department and Renault will be their new engine supplier next year. The addition of a world champion driving the car could also motivate their employees. But all those changes cannot guarantee the success of the team. And even if everything works well, it will take time until podiums and victories arrive.

So why is Raikkonen interested in driving for Williams? According to British F1 journalist, Joe Saward and Auto, Motor und Sport, the Finn is interested because he wants equity in the team. That would make some sense because Raikkonen and his managers have owned Raikkonen Robertson Racing, a British Formula 3 team from 2004 to 2010. Additionally, at the moment, he is also the owner of ICE1 Racing, the team he drives with in the World Rally Championship, which also has a motocross division.

According to Auto, Motor und Sport, wealthy businessmen from the Middle East are interested in buying part of an F1 team - up to 20% according to some sources - and they would be backing Raikkonen in his new F1 adventure. Given that Williams shares have been floated on the Frankfurt stock exchange since March, it would be the ideal team to buy into. This would explain why Wolff talked about a “strategic” decision when he was asked about the possibility of Raikkonen joining the team. Raikkonen's contact with Renault would mean that Williams is not too willing to sell, though.

Will they be able to reach an agreement? Will Raikkonen drive for Williams if they do not give him the equity he is asking for? The whole issue could turn out to be very relevant for the team if problems arise with the Venezuelan sponsorship from PDVSA, rumoured to be in the tens of millions of dollars a year. A Venezuelan congressman thinks the sponsorship deal might be illegal...

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