There has been lots of talk in recent days about a visit by Kimi Raikkonen to Williams F1 in Grove. There is no question that this took place, but it was not as recently as some stories seem to suggest, but rather in the gap between the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix. It is not credible that his visit to Williams was a private one. Williams is looking for drivers for next year and now is the right time for such discussions to be taking place. The fact that Raikkonen was not the only unusual face spotted at Grove underlines this. The other man to drop by was Adrian Sutil, the Force India driver.
There is no doubt that Williams is looking around to decide what to do. It could keep Rubens Barrichello, but the relationship has not been an easy one and it has not been successful on the track. Pastor Maldonado will stay, if only because he brings a large sum of cash with him from PDVSA. That deal may be somewhat dependent on the future of the country’s president Hugo Chaves, but it is solid – and Williams needs solid money for the future.
Sutil is quick, but he is not famous for his technical abilities (nor is Maldonado come to that), but he has the added bonus of coming with money from Medion computers. This was bought recently by the Chinese firm Lenovo, but the restructuring since then seems to suggest a bigger involvement in the sport, rather than a reduction. Lenovo recently took on Gianfranco Lanci, a former CEO of Acer, as a consultant to help develop its consumer PC business. Lanci is from Turin and rose through the ranks of Texas Instruments and was appointed MD of Acer Italy when TI and Acer did a deal in 1997. He became president of Acer Europe three years later and soon afterwards agreed a deal to name Prost Grand Prix’s Ferrari engines Acers. After Prost closed Acer became a Ferrari partner. Lanci moved up to run the entire business, but left the company recently. His focus will be Lenovo’s integration of Medion.
A motivated Kimi would be a powerful weapon for Williams, which has struggled in the doldrums this year and is last of the established F1 teams. But Kimi is not going to be bringing cash and so it would have to be seen as a risk to try to attract other sponsors. The team is in the process of rebuilding. It has hired a new technical team and while there is a certain amount of doubt about the appointment of Mike Coughlan as the man in charge, there is no doubt that Coughlan has designed some decent cars over the years. New aerodynamicist Jason Somerville is highly rated and Mark Gillan is a solid pair of hands when it comes to applying science to motor racing. The team has signed a deal with Renault and that means that next year Williams ought to be back in the hunt in the mid-grid and not in the current mess. What will turn the team back into a stronger force is good leadership. Success brings cash in F1 so the aim of the team should be to climb as high as possible in the Constructors’ Championship.
Kimi left F1 two years ago, wanting to do something else. He has done two seasons in the World Rally Championship and made a limited impression and then he popped up in NASCAR, although that seemed to be another false start. The signs are that he is thinking more about getting back into F1, if he can. He is only 31 but his lack of interest in his final year at Ferrari did not leave a good impression. It was felt that he had achieved his ambition and won a World Championship and did not seem particularly motivated to win another. Getting back into F1 was always going to be a challenge, as was seen when Renault F1 decided on Nick Heidfeld rather than Kimi. Whether Kimi is the right man to lead a Williams revival is an arguable point, but it might be a good move.