I normally steer clear of the rumour mill as far as Formula 1 is concerned, but it’s hard not to at the moment as it’s churning quicker than ever thanks to one story, and that’s the supposed return of Kimi Raikkonen.
Yes, if rumours are to be believed, the 2007 world champion looks set to become a Williams man next year, with an announcement possibly coming as soon as this weekend during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Having suffered one of their worst seasons in its history, Williams are reportedly doing all they can to secure the services of Raikkonen, with a sponsorship deal with the Qatar National Bank resting on his signature and, supposedly, the much needed boost in enthusiasm that he will bring to the team.
Not my words of course, but those of team chairman Adam Parr who sees the Finn as the right man to lead Williams to greater things.
“From what we’ve seen he’s very hungry to come back,” said Parr during the Indian Grand Prix, “and having a world champion in a team energises people.”
I don’t for one minute doubt that Raikkonen is eager to return to F1. The two years he’s spent in the World Rally Championship have been largely unimpressive. He has struggled to adapt to the demands of rallying and, having made it perfectly clear he’s no longer prepared to fund any future WRC campaigns, he – or at least his management team, David and Steve Robertson – are on the prowl for a nice little earner next year.
He of course dipped his toe in NASCAR’s waters when he raced in the Truck and Nationwide Series a few months ago and, for an inexperienced oval racer, proved to be rather handy at lugging stock cars round in circles. But the desire to commit full time to driving in the States was sadly lacking, and with that, his NASCAR exploits came to a swift conclusion.
Raikkonen also tested a Peugeot 908 Le Mans prototype towards the end of August. He completed 35 laps of the Motorland Aragon Circuit and, although no times were revealed, sources suggest that he wasn’t blisteringly quick, but, there were signs that he could become successful in sportscar racing given time.
The problem with sportscar racing of course is that it doesn’t come with a big money salary, and so, with few options remaining, it seems likely that Raikkonen is destined to return to F1 and, with the driver market fairly static for 2012, his only real choice appears to be ousting Rubens Barrichello from his seat at Williams.
But would the Finn help reinvigorate Williams and lift them out of the doldrums as Parr is suggesting, nay, hoping? I’m not so sure.
There are only a few drivers who can single handedly drive a team on, of which the so-called Ice Man is not one. Lest we forget that he did not leave F1 on his own terms, with Ferrari electing to pay him off early in order to secure the services of Fernando Alonso, who, on the face of it, appears to have picked up and galvanised the team in much the same way Michael Schumacher once did.
I’m not entirely convinced that Raikkonen simply driving for the team would be enough to boost enthusiasm for the workforce at Grove either. Would I feel inclined to work that little bit harder, striving for the extra something when, at the end of the production line, is someone with a stoic and monosyllabic persona? Not the most endearing of qualities, is it?
There can be no doubt, however, about Raikkonen’s prowess behind the wheel of an F1 car. When he’s on it, he’s scintillating to watch, and I hope he can rediscover that form if he does decide to give the sport another go.
But I honestly wonder if he has the motivation and enthusiasm to trundle around at the back of the midfield were he to join Williams. And, when results aren’t forthcoming on track, sponsors will need to be appeased somehow, and we know how much Raikkonen loves that part of the job.
I know one thing though: I would be doing my damned hardest to land the third driver gig at Williams next year…