With the 2011 season now officially brought to a close, the next focus for F1 fans and pundits will be on gets the few remaining available seats that will make up the 2011 grid, or who will get booted from the seats they thought they had in the bag.
One this is for certain through, that being that the rumoured deal for Kimi Räikkönen to join Williams is now off. The Finn is now said to be trying his luck at getting one of the seats at Lotus Renault GP.
For the last few months, the former World Champion has been in the headlines as a possible candidate to replace Rubens Barrichello at Williams. There have been many meetings between the parties, and Kimi’s management team was spotted at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
But questions have always remained about his motivation – or apparent lack of it – at wanting to stage a comeback after two years in rallying, and now it seems that the old chestnut of money is the latest stumbling block.
Both parties are, behind the scenes, calling it a personality clash between the Räikkönen and Williams camps. But if there’s ever someone with a reputation for being particularly frugal (and given the team’s current financial position, that’s hardly a surprise), then its Sir Frank Williams.
On the flipside, Räikkönen’s management has earned itself a reputation of demanding far more than the perceived going rate for their drivers’ services, and many a deal has slipped through their fingers as a result. The Finn has lost out on drives at Renault, McLaren and Mercedes GP in recent years on account of this very stumbling block, if rumours are to be taken seriously.
The latest rumours are that Williams will take on its reserve driver Valtteri Bottas, who won this year’s GP3 title and impressed the team at the recent ‘Young Driver’ test at Abu Dhabi.
With the team’s massive technical restructure, it either needs to plump with a line-up that has an experienced driver who can lead and motivate the troops, or it invests for the future with two young chargers who can either bring backing or be put on the books very cheaply. It looks ever likely that the latter prospect is becoming the reality.
So Räikkönen will need to throw his lot in with Renault, which is now rumoured to have up to five drivers – Romain Grosjean, Bruno Senna, Räikkönen, and even Heikki Kovalainen and Adrian Sutil – to choose from to partner Vitaly Petrov.
Signing Räikkönen would be a great ploy for Lotus Renault GP to boost its flagging profile after its truly rubbish second half of the season.
But it needs to seriously consider the terms of any offer it pitches to Räikkönen. He has a well-earned reputation as an overpaid, underworked driver, and a reputation like that tends to be hard to disprove once its entrenched.
Their smartest move would be to sign him on a pittance of a base and dangle hefty performance bonuses to get him to extract more from himself. The question is whether Renault will actually see sense to do this…