Will Kimi Raikkonen return?

By on Thursday, September 29, 2011

Kimi Raikkonen. Photo credit: Red Bull GEPA

Kimi sells. That’s a fact. Even after two seasons outside of Formula One, he’s popular. So I know what you’re thinking. ‘Oh, another article speculating whether Kimi Raikkonen will return to Formula One with Williams, blah blah blah, make up a conclusion saying he will or he won’t return’

But I don’t know.

That is the truth.

And anyone that says they do know is lying.

Because they don’t know either.

The only man who knows, is Kimi Raikkonen. And would you even be certain that he actually knows himself?

Yet the very fact that the rumour is even circulating around the F1 world is reason to believe that there is substantial evidence behind the story. F1’s top journalists are reporting it, whilst the very nature of the situation is intriguing.

Kimi Raikkonen, 2007 world champion, winner of 18 grand prixs and ex-McLaren and Ferrari driver, visited the Williams factory at Grove; the same Williams team that has failed to win a race since 2004, take a podium since 2008 and currently sits 9th in the championship with a dismal five points to show from fourteen races.

Why? That is the crucial question. What was the purpose of the visit? When rumours arose of Adrian Sutil visiting the same factory, these rumours were vehemently denied and placed in the pile as ‘rubbish’. Yet a Williams spokesperson confirmed Raikkonen visited and refused to divulge further information.

At the moment, the pieces of the jigsaw haven’t been put together, but they fit.

Pastor Maldonado is likely to be retained by Williams. Insiders at the team are pleased with his progress; with some saying he is world champion material. The fact that he is sponsored so heavily though is more important. Seat numero uno is yours, Pastor.

That leaves the second seat open and there are several contenders. You could argue that up to 7 or 8 drivers could be racing there next season. Renault could be keen to offload one of their drivers – most likely Bruno Senna or Romain Grosjean – to limit the cost of their engines for Williams. Valtteri Bottas could be promoted, although that is extremely unlikely. Then there’s Sutil (strongly denied, and why would he move from Force India – 6th – to Williams – 9th?) That leaves Rubens Barrichello and Kimi Raikkonen.

The evidence against Barrichello’s retention is mounting. In 2010, many senior figures at the team praised Rubens:  his speed, developmental ability and his team spirit. This season though, those words haven’t come. Meanwhile, when he clearly stated his intention to continue into 2012, there was no comment from Williams. He said he wanted a contract and they didn’t respond. A curious way to deal with the supposed number one driver.

Rubens Barrichello is 39 years old. Kimi Raikkonen is seven and a half years younger. That is a crucial difference. Many believe that Barrichello’s powers (levels of which are debatable) are receding. 2012 seems as good a time as any to rebuild a fallen squad.

Williams' 2011 has been woeful

After a woeful 2011 (still ongoing by the way), Adam Parr is keen to save the team (and his job) from falling off the face of the earth. After every season since 2005, articles have been written claiming that Williams will be stronger next season. However, there is real justification behind seeing 2012 as a way forward.

Sam Michaels is gone. He’s now making the tea at McLaren (or other such jobs, they’re just keeping him as far away from the car design as possible). Mike Coughlan is back in F1 – with his roles presumably increased having just been the photocopier boy at McLaren – whilst Parr has also hired Mike Gillan and Jason Somerville.

Hiring Kimi would be a bold statement from Williams, whilst they’d also hope that sponsors would be interested (and not just drinks and ice cream, a joke that got old two years ago), allowing the team to alleviate the damage of finishing a lowly 9th in the constructors championship.

Raikkonen has been praised by much of the F1 paddock in the past. In 2009 when Ferrari stopped developing the F60, his engineers were astonished at the speed he unlocked from the car, as Fisichella and Badoer struggled near the back. Any talk about a lack of motivation is complete rubbish too. Without delving too deep into explanation, Raikkonen probably felt like Ferrari was alienating him – a strong driver needs a team built around him and throughout 2008 and early 2009, Kimi didn’t have that. Williams would provide Kimi with such a team. Would a multi-millionaire with a model wife really be entering rallies and NASCAR events without motivation? No. Did Kimi tire of F1 politics? Perhaps; that’s certainly a more creditable explanation than simply brandishing the motivation card time and time again.

Raikkonen may also have been buoyed by Schumacher’s F1 return. Granted, it’s taken Schumacher a season and a half to catch up – and now beat – Nico Rosberg in terms of pace, but Raikkonen could find it easier than Schumacher. Remember, Michael always had unlimited testing, tyres made for him and a team built solely around his every need. At to that a neck injury more serious than once thought, a body ten years older than Kimi’s and the fact that everyone sees him as a prize and you can see his struggles.

For Raikkonen – a man who has competed in top level motorsport since his F1 exit – he may struggle with the Pirelli tyres, but there’s no reason to suggest that he couldn’t be as competitive as before. The way he left Ferrari (or rather, Ferrari shoved him out of the door) always left a sour taste in the mouth and one that had the atmosphere of unfinished business.

Will Kimi come back to F1 in 2012?

I don’t know.

Would I like to see it happen?

Yes. Very much so.

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