Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gray Matter: Kimi’s comeback conundrum

Formula One was devoid of a ‘silly season’ this year until Renault’s newfound form generated rumours of a return for Kimi Räikkönen – but why did it surface and how likely is it to happen?

This year’s title battle is one of the most hotly contested of the year and all those involved in it will be thankful they have not had to cast one eye on their future as the front-running trio of Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren all had their seats tied up by mid-season at the latest.

Fourth-placed Mercedes, too, have long been locked-in with Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, so that left Renault, who only have Robert Kubica confirmed for 2011, as the closest team to the front with a potentially open seat. And with the team still apparently under financial pressure, the potential for siphoning off Russian billions through Vitaly Petrov seemed inevitably hard to resist.

Not much excitement for those who enjoy the rumour mill, then.

But suddenly Kimi Räikkönen came back on the scene. The former Ferrari man is now with Citroen in the World Rally Championship but has been having a tough time proving he is as good as he thought on the slippery stuff and, it appears, all is forgiven in Formula One. The Finn is still unsigned in WRC for 2011 and he put the call in to Renault about a drive back in F1 this week – but at the same time admitted he expects to be competing in rallying again next year.

So does this confusing approach suggest he truly wants to find a way back or is someone somewhere playing a game with the rumour mill?

From Räikkönen’s point of view, he is still in a good position in rallying. He has retained his ‘super cool’ reputation, despite wrecking a few cars this year, and he is in the right mould for Citroen sponsor Red Bull. He also fits the mould of Monster, the other energy drink brand interested in motorsport, and they sponsor Citroën’s rivals Ford.

It is quite likely that Räikkönen is just trying to up his ante again, reminding everyone of his continued ability to generate publicity when his name pops up in F1 circles – and with the WRC still struggling to match the popularity of its more wealthy ‘cousin’ any help with PR is appealing to sponsors and teams.

If that is the case, however, Renault has handled it perfectly.

Petrov is still favourite for the Renault seat, but they will need more money fast if they are to keep up their relentless push to get back to the front in F1. So this could just be a way of getting the money needed to secure Petrov’s future flowing quicker.

Alternatively, Adrian Sutil, Heikki Kovalainen and Roman Grosjean are also in the mix.

Kovalainen is a long-shot and Grosjean, now a valuable knowledge source having just been named as the Pirelli test driver developing the new F1 rubber for 2011, is already part of the stable so that knowledge will filter through whether he is racing or not. So neither of those are particularly likely candidates.

Perhaps then the Räikkönen rumour is designed to also stir Sutil into action, with the likely need for him to draw in more backing to go along with his serious driving talent.

Ultimately, though, the best solution is a top driver who brings in the money – so perhaps Räikkönen’s approach is a serious one after all.

The Finn will not be cheap but if he does want to come back to F1 then it makes sense that he would get Renault to do his sponsor-hunting work for him.

By putting his name out there now and making it clear he is so serious he called them to ask about a drive, it could just stir up sponsor interest and if they can generate the same level of money Petrov could provide, everyone (except Petrov, who would no doubt end up as the test driver to still bring in some of the cash) is a winner.

Ultimately, Räikkönen’s comeback will be down to money – so for the sake of Formula One, let’s hope Renault finds some...

Will Gray / Eurosport
Courtesy: WHATEVER

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