Will he or won’t he?
That’s the question on everyone’s lips today, with renewed speculation that 2007 World Champion Kimi Räikkönen could make a return to the sport after a year’s absence, with the Finn apparently approaching the Renault team for a drive in 2011.
The former Ferrari driver was paid out of his contract with a year still to run and journeyed off to the World Rally Championship, where he has proven to be particularly quick – if rather accident-prone – in his maiden season with the Red Bull Citroen Junior squad.
Sources have told AUTOSPORT that Räikkönen’s interest in an F1 return – which has been the subject of intense speculation all year – grew on the back of Renault’s impressive form at the Belgian Grand Prix, and it is believed that either he or his management team broached the possibility of a drive with the French squad next year.
Räikkönen has always been keen to stress that he would only consider a return to F1 if offered
tons of money a competitive package, and it seems that the resurgent Renault outfit might be in a position to deliver an on-the-pace car for 2011.
Renault is now in a difficult conundrum and it has – aside from Räikkönen – been linked with several other drivers to join Robert Kubica for next season, including the likes of Adrian Sutil and Timo Glock. But with the outfit wanting to wait on Vitaly Petrov’s form to improve, everyone could be sitting tight for a little while yet.
On the back of a hard-charging drive from the rear of the grid at Belgium (which was blotted by yet another crash on Saturday), the Russian rookie had a difficult time at Monza and never ran close to team-mate Kubica’s pace all weekend, and certainly didn’t help his cause with a five-place grid penalty after qualifying for blocking.
However, he comes armed with a significant sponsorship portfolio – including from the Renault-owned LADA carmaker group – and the rather financially-strapped Renault team (85% owned by the Genii Capital group) would be reluctant to let this portion of their budget disappear without giving the GP2 runner-up further consideration.
“It is still very complicated for him to have a complete weekend and be faultless, and that is where he needs to work and focus on, and develop clearly his commitment and dedication,” Renault team boss Eric Boullier said, when asked about Petrov’s prospects of staying on for the 2011 season.
“He is not very far away [from being re-signed], to be honest,” he added.
Another potential line of thought is that Petrov could be offered to Lotus as part of its almost-certain deal to use Renault engines next year, who could perhaps take on Petrov as part of a discounted fee.
The other thing to consider is that Räikkönen is well-known to command a particularly hefty salary, and the rate he was earning – US$50 million a season when with Ferrari – would be well out of Renault’s scope. Unless the Finn was willing to take an enormous pay cut (which was something he seemed apparently unwilling to do when the negotiations with Mercedes GP and McLaren broke down during the off-season), then a berth at Renault would seem unlikely on this basis.
Either way, Renault boss Eric Boullier confirmed the speculation that Räikkönen had made an approach to the team.
“We have had more and more requests [to join us] – and the guy you mentioned [Räikkönen] is on the radar now,” Boullier told AUTOSPORT.
“He is on the radar because he contacted us.
“We need to think about it. But the priority is [the development of] Vitaly, and to see how he will develop. If we are convinced, then we will keep him, definitely. This is the first option.
But there are several other options, and one of them is Kimi,” he added cryptically.
It is expected that Renault will announce its final driver line-up before the end of the 2010 season.