Monday, September 20, 2010

" Is Räikkönen to Renault realistic?"

This time last year, Kimi Räikkönen was on poor form. Apart from a notable (and perhaps slightly opportunistic) victory at Spa, Ferrari hadn't been able to provide the 2007 World Champion with competitive equipment. He eventually finished 6th in the standings, his motivation and enthusiasm for the sport at an all time low. Little did he know that in just a few months he would have embarked on a second career in the World Rally Championship, and proven himself surprisingly good at it.

In late 2009, it was clear Kimi was getting restless. Just a few months before, during F1's summer break, he took a trip out to his home country, Finland, and tried rallying seriously. He was quick. He crashed. No surprise there, the debutante was more used to high speed, single seater precision than grabbing a glorified road car by the neck and dragging it across all surfaces. Nevertheless, something about it the experience caused the Finn to start looking at rallying as more than just a hobby.

A few months later, Ferrari surprised nobody by revealing that they had signed Fernando Alonso for 2010, giving Räikkönen the boot. Kimi looked around - a return to McLaren, where he spent five successful years, looked very much on the cards. But Räikkönen was high maintenance and high cost, and the Scuderia paid the Finn a staggering $20m to simply stay out of the paddock for a season. Rallying was now a real option, and when Citroën's junior team offered him a berth for a year, he leapt at the chance.

The first couple of rallies were poor. A lowly 29th in Sweden and a DNF in Mexico. But then, just as it looked like he'd made a catastrophic career decision, he pulled out a very respectable 8th place in Jordan. His unique personality allowed him to perform well under pressure, and we’ve seen it a lot in Formula 1. His laid-back attitude and his no-nonsense ‘get on with it’ driving style took him to the championship in 2007 while Hamilton and Alonso squabbled amongst themselves.

Success bred success. A week later he took 5th place in Turkey. "Räikkönen" was now appearing higher up the timesheets, alongside the likes of established aces such as Hirvonen, Sordo and Wilson. After missing the New Zealand rally he saw a few more respectable finishes, troubling the top ten in Portugal and Bulgaria. It was Germany in midsummer that we saw his real potential - Räikkönen took his first stage win and with it gained the respect of the whole rally community. A one year rallying adventure was set to become a whole new life for the mercurial Finn.

Spa 2010. By the time the Formula One community rolled up in the cloudy Ardennes forest, Kimi's final victory a year previously was little more than a distant and irrelevant memory. Nobody was really speculating about a Formula One return for the man who dominated the Belgian circuit, not least because a majority of the top places look to be settled for next season, the driver market inactive after last year's musical chairs frenzy.

But then, just last week, the Räikkönen story returned. The resurgent Renault team are on the lookout for a more suitable second driver after Russia's Vitaly Petrov proves fast, but with a wild debut season so far. Team boss Eric Boullier dropped the bombshell and announced that Räikkönen, who for months professed no desire to return to the sport he once reigned over, had directly contacted him with a view to a 2011 seat. The Finn's manager, Steve Robertson, confirmed the approach. A decision is expected relatively soon, with Petrov's performances under scrutiny, yet his commercial appeal keeping him firmly in the cockpit.

Lots will be said over the next few months. Much of what we see in the press will be nothing more than negotiation tactics and clever PR. But there's a chance, a tiny chance, that Kimi Räikkönen may return to the sport where he made his name - and he'll have fans. A lot of people miss his cool, laid-back attitude and desire to get out there and race - maybe even his wildchild partying ways which are so rare amongst professional sportsmen. But there's no doubt that the Flying Finn is an extraordinary talent, and Formula One would be much richer for his return.

Stranger things have happened. Just ask
Michael Schumacher

Source: F1Lite's blog
Courtesy: YiNing

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