Is Kimi Räikkönen one of 2012 championship contenders? McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh believes so...

McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh has heaped praise on Lotus F1 returnee Kimi Räikkönen, describing the Finn as “a real threat” in the 2012 championship, despite the 32-year-old having gone winless to-date since making his F1 comeback.

Whitmarsh is well-placed to judge Räikkönen’s talent behind the wheel. Räikkönen drove for the McLaren team between 2002 and 2006 – earning nine race wins – before he went on to join Ferrari in 2007, the year he claimed the Drivers’ Championship crown.

He was dropped from Ferrari’s line-up at the end of the 2009 season, and despite being linked with Mercedes GP during the off-season, he elected to take up a drive in the World Rally Championship.

Whitmarsh (centre) with Räikkönen after his win at the 2005 Monaco Grand PrixAfter a slow start to his 2012 comeback season, Räikkönen has quickly got up to speed and lies just 48 points behind championship leader Fernando Alonso, giving him the mantle of this year’s championship ‘dark horse’.

That’s certainly a sentiment shared by Whitmarsh, who told Brazil’s Totalrace: “He is very talented.

“I think he is one of the fastest men on the planet,” he added.

“People tend to underestimate Kimi, because of how little he talks. But he is a very intelligent and impressive driver.

“The Lotus is a good car and so, put together, they’re a real threat,” added Whitmarsh, whose team lies just one point ahead of the Enstone outfit in the Constructors’ Championship standings.

“I’m sure you’ve noticed that Kimi does not make many mistakes; he always does a good job.

“So I’m not surprised and I think he has the ability to improve even more throughout the season.”

Will Kimi make a return to Ferrari?

Such is Räikkönen’s form that he’s been tipped – rather curiously, we will add – as a possible contender to take over Felipe Massa’s seat at Ferrari at the end of the season(as was brilliantly depicted by F1 cartoonist Bruno Mantovani) .

Watch this space…

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.