Unravelling Raikkonen and the rumours

31/10/2011
NEWS STORY

Mat Coch writes:

There have been a lot of wild suggestions flying around lately, and it stands to reason. We're fast approaching the end of the season and with it the silly season also. Traditionally it tends to get going around the time of the Italian Grand Prix, though in recent years it has started as early as Silverstone, as excitable journalists begin speculating the future landscape of Formula One, often coming up with especially creative proposals.

One such idea this year is that Kimi Raikkonen will be behind the wheel of a Williams when the lights go out at the start of the 2012 season. It seems an extraordinary claim, yet is strangely in-keeping with the spirit of the silly-season (which has previously seen the likes of Jacques Villeneuve associated with just about every team on the grid). The Raikkonen story has some legs though, fuelled by the supposed visit the Finn paid to the team's Grove base and for one reason or another just doesn't seem to want to go away.

Of course the team hasn't enjoyed a good year, or a good couple of years come to that, and is now looking dangerously similar to Lotus (the original rather than the current garden varieties) and Brabham. It may claim otherwise but it is in need of money, with Pastor Maldonado's performance barely masking the fact the team hired the Venezuelan for his pocket book. There are other business being launched to supplement the company's income, but it's no secret the Grove team isn't as flush as the likes of McLaren.

Also on the books, though on the other side of the ledger, is Rubens Barrichello. The plucky Brazilian has been an ever-present in the sport since 1993 and holds all the records when it comes to the number of races started. Only Michael Schumacher can beat him in terms of career length, but he went swimming for a couple years in the middle there. So Barrichello is immensely experienced, and given the team is loitering around the wrong end of the grid it seems logical that the team uses that knowledge to help rebuild. That all makes sense - one driver bringing in some money to help finance the team a more experienced, senior driver helping push the team back towards the front end. The problem for Barrichello however is experience isn't the be-all and end-all, and there are other drivers around who have good levels of experience, with reasonable quantities of talent mixed with a tidy helping of sponsorship backing.

One of those is Adrian Sutil, the Force India driver who seems on the way out of the team he's led since 2007. It seems the worst kept secret in Formula One that the German is out of a drive next year, the team having allegedly already signed Nico Hulkenberg alongside the impressive Paul di Resta. Our sources have confirmed as much, and while Sutil appears defiant every indication suggests otherwise. In the lead up to the Singapore Grand Prix there were suggestions Sutil had visited Williams teams factory, which were denied at the time. Pitpass however has received information which totally contradicts the denials: "He was there," our informed source told us. "He was f*****g there!" Just why Sutil has chosen to deny the claims poses an interesting question.

There's no doubt Force India, at the moment, is the more competitive package. Any driver worth his salt will chase the fastest drive available and that, to Sutil, would appear to be his current seat. However with Force India having recently taken on fresh investment - something one suspects has been in the pipeline for some time, and possibly used at the bargaining table in discussions for next year - the investment Sutil brings in from Medion is suddenly less important.

While it may seem unimportant now, Medion may prove to be an important link between Sutil and Williams for a number of reasons. Believed to bringing in $5million the funds would certainly help the struggling team. Interestingly the computer company has recently been bought out by former Williams backer Lenovo, and while it no longer has any ties to the team - it's a partner with McLaren now - it provides an interesting link. Lenovo built Williams supercomputer in 2007.

Back to Raikkonen, though. The 2007 world champion has spent the last few years trying his hand at most things on four wheels, and if truth be told, without a great deal of success - certainly not when compared to his Formula One career. He was linked with Renault when Robert Kubica was injured at the start of the year, however for one reason or another that fell through. Now of course there is this persistent rumour linking the 'Ice Man' with Williams, but you've got to wonder - if Renault couldn't seal a deal, why should Williams? More to the point, if Raikkonen wasn't interested in a Renault drive, why would he be interested in a less competitive team unless he's now decided he wants to be in Formula One no matter what?

There is still potentially a seat at Renault should he want to be back on the grid in 2012, and no doubt other teams would look to make space for him. There seems no definable reason why Raikkonen would go to Williams beyond convenience, and that seldom has any place in Formula One.

The problem however is the Finn doesn't seem committed. He's dabbled in rallying and NASCAR though neither with the determination and single-mindedness one would expect from a Formula One world champion. His penchant for the finer things in life is well known - he's raced in a number of events under the pseudonym James Hunt more than once - and has been one of the sports wilder personalities throughout his career.

Nonetheless he is still well known, and clearly talented - you don't win the Formula One title by accident. To have Raikkonen back on the grid, alongside Vettel, Alonso, Schumacher, Button and Hamilton is a prospect which gets the heart racing and the mouth watering. It would add to the spectacle to have another world champion on the grid, and Raikkonen's name remains a draw card.

There are however two problems.

The first is money. Raikkonen is used to enjoying a good sized retainer, which wouldn't be forthcoming from Williams. Perhaps a smaller retainer with a bonus scheme is an option, but even then it's unlikely to reap the sort of financial returns he's grown accustomed to. For any deal to go ahead that would have to be among the points addressed. On the other hand if he's speaking with Williams as is suggested perhaps money is not such an issue after all, in which case why not speak with Renault?

Secondly, William's isn't in a position to give him a competitive car. As one insider suggested it all looks good on paper, but as soon as he qualifies fourteenth, finishes outside of the points and starts to get bored it's going to fall apart. It wouldn't be a surprise for those frustrations to boil over before the end of the season and the pair parting ways before the final chequered flag. That scenario isn't in the interest of the team, and wouldn't help Raikkonen's reputation either.

That may be the case but as far as Williams is concerned the rumour doesn't hurt one little bit. The team is being linked with one of the most exciting drivers in recent history, a former world champion, which makes him a hugely marketable commodity. The team simply has to not deny the links and potential backers will likely be intrigued. It might not get a deal done, but it might start a conversation.

There's one twist however. Williams has already signed its drivers for the 2012 season, it's just not telling anyone. Pitpass has it on good authority that the final decision has been made, a point Williams did not dispute when put to the team, who simply said it will make an announcement when it's ready.

With Sutil pleading with Force India to make a decision sooner rather than later it would suggest the German hasn't signed, while Barrichello, who had been vocal about his future, has gone very quiet. It seems unlikely Maldonado will be going anywhere, and with the team having all but swatted away suggestions Raikkonen is to join, expect to see Barrichello lining up for yet another season in F1, his twentieth. Still, the link to Raikkonen doesn't hurt the team one little bit.

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Published: 31/10/2011
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