Now that the first reports are out of the way, it is a good moment to analyse the idea of a Formula 1 return for Kimi Raikkonen. The 31-year-old won the World Championship in 2007 with Ferrari, after five seasons with McLaren. He then seemed to lose interest somewhat and in 2008 was eclipsed by Felipe Massa. The same happened in 2009, although Massa’s head injury put Raikkonen back into the spotlight towards the end of the year, although by that point it was clear that Ferrari had decided that its future lay with Fernando Alonso. Raikkonen wanted to get out of F1 and try his hand at rallying, believing he would have more fun. He made the ambitious decision to leap straight into the World Rally Championship, with a Citroën Junior Team car and produced a solid first season. This year, driving for his own team, which is nonetheless under the Citroën banner. It has been clear, however, that Raikkonen has been missing circuit racing and this was underlined recently when his ICE 1 Racing was excluded from the WRC manufacturers’ title after the team failed to show up for Rally Australia, due to “logistical and organisational difficulties”. The team was also ordered to pay the entry fee to the event organisers and was fined $22,000 by the FIA. The cars were run by Kyle Busch Motorsports. In August Kimi popped up in Spain where he was testing a Peugeot Le Mans sports car at the Aragon circuit, the Peugeot company being part of the same PSA Peugeot Citroën company as the Citroën brand.
And then he was spotted on a quick visit to Williams F1. The team is in need of more finance at the moment and while there is an option to go for a second driver with money associated with his candidature, alongside Venezuela’s Pastor Maldonado, the team is hoping to avoid that situation and get a top class driver, which would attract money based on the promise of better performance. That is not easy to achieve in the current economic climate, but with Raikkonen on the books, the team would have the only World Champion of the last 10 years who is not currently competing. Williams needs success and has instigated a completely new technical team in an effort to stop the rot that has seen the organisation slide to the back of the F1 field in the last 15 years. The success or failure of this new team is likely to decide the fate of the team’s chairman Adam Parr, who has been running the team in recent years, following the decision by Patrick Head to step back from a daily role and Sir Frabnk Williams’s acceptance that he needs more help to do do the job. Williams had previously employed another young executive Chris Chapple, but he lasted only from May 2005 until November 2006.
Williams last won the World Championship back in 1997 – 14 years ago – but then slipped to third in 1998 and fifth in 1999, before starting a new partnership with BMW and bouncing back to third 2000 and 2001 and second in 2002 and 2003. Things began to go wrong in 2004 when the team slipped to fourth overall and the relationship with Munich turned sour and ended in 2005, when the team was fifth in the Constructors’. With Cosworth engines in 2006 the team was eighth (hence Chapple’s departure) but a switch to Toyota engines in 2007 resulted in fourth that year, but since then the slight upward trend from eighth to seventh to sixth ended this season with a dive to ninth overall.
For Kimi there is little to lose. If things go badly the team can take the blame, but if the results are better this will reflect well on him. Negotiations over contracts will mean that Raikkonen will have to compromise on his normal level of earnings, but he is not short of money and a healthy bonus scheme would be a very good way to motivate him.