The Formula 1 grid will have an unprecedented six World Champions on the grid, with Lotus Renault GP announcing that 2007 champion Kimi Räikkönen will return to the sport and join their ranks on a two-year deal.
The 32-year-old Finnish driver was famously pushed from the sport at the end of the 2009 season after a nine-year spell with the likes of Sauber, McLaren and Ferrari in which he won 18 Grands Prix.
Räikkönen has spent the last two years dabbling in the World Rally Championship, along with occasional outings in NASCAR.
“I’m delighted to be coming back to Formula 1 after a two-year break, and I’m grateful to Lotus Renault GP for offering me this opportunity,” he said in the team’s media release today.
“My time in the World Rally Championship has been a useful stage in my career as a driver, but I can’t deny the fact that my hunger for F1 has recently become overwhelming.
“It was an easy choice to return with Lotus Renault GP as I have been impressed by the scope of the team’s ambition,” he added, understandably not acknowledging that his near-deal with Williams fell through at the eleventh hour.
“All year long, we kept saying that our team was at the start of a brand new cycle,” added team owner Gerard Lopez.
“Backstage we’ve been working hard to build the foundations of a successful structure and to ensure that we would soon be able to fight at the highest level.
“Kimi’s decision to come back to Formula 1 with us is the first step of several announcements which should turn us into an even more serious contender in the future. Of course, we are all looking forward to working with a World Champion.”
The team has been forced to widen its search for drivers in the wake of Robert Kubica’s confirmation that he had not yet recovered sufficiently to be able to make a comeback by the start of the 2012 season.
[Image and video via Lotus Renault GP]