…but what will the Finn’s return mean for Ferrari?
Kimi Räikkönen is far from the first Ferrari driver to make a return trip to Maranello – the list includes such as José Froilán González, Alberto Ascari, Mike Hawthorn, Maurice Trintignant, Pedro Rodriguez, Jacky Ickx, Mario Andretti, Clay Regazzoni and Gerhard Berger.
He is, however, the first to return after being paid a huge sum to walk away from a valid contract to make way for an incoming driver – Fernando Alonso, the very man who will be his team-mate in 2014. Räikkönen and Ferrari are in effect indulging in a remarriage of convenience, one that suits both parties.
Kimi was seriously frustrated by the way he was chased out at the end of 2009 to make way for the Spaniard. Being paid millions not to drive a Ferrari in 2010 might have had its upsides, but Luca di Montezemolo has clearly had to convince the Finn that the past is the past.
The key to his return is that Ferrari wanted him. Heading into the complicated turbo era – when teams need experienced drivers who can deal with changing circumstances, bring the car home and score points – an Alonso/Räikkönen combination looks as good as it gets.
Räikkönen was growing increasingly frustrated with Lotus, where his wages were not being paid on schedule and there remain doubts about the team’s financial health at a time when costs are escalating. In addition the team lost one of its biggest assets, technical director James Allison, to Ferrari.
Long-standing links with Dietrich Mateschitz – stretching back to his debut with Sauber in 2001 – made Red Bull an obvious choice, but in the end the team preferred to promote from within, leaving Ferrari and McLaren as the only possibilities.
Kimi talked to McLaren about a possible return as long ago as the autumn of 2009 – when Jenson Button got the job – and again last year, before Sergio Pérez was confirmed. This time around McLaren wanted to keep its existing line-up, and in any case would not have wanted to meet Räikkönen’s financial demands.
Kimi also talked to Ferrari last summer about replacing Felipe Massa this year, but chose to stay loyal to the people who had the faith to bring him back to F1. This time around he had no ongoing commitment to Lotus and clearly lost patience.
It would be naïve to suggest that Ferrari has not considered the pros and cons of having to manage potentially its most difficult combination since Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell in 1990. Alonso has long been accustomed to a role as clear team leader, based on performance rather than any contractual claims. He certainly wasn’t happy when Räikkönen emerged as the preferred candidate and plans to take Nico Hülkenberg were dropped.
But this is not Alonso/Hamilton all over again. Räikkönen is the least political driver in F1 and is respected by all his rivals, Fernando among them.
Ferrari knows both men well and clearly believes the situation can be kept under control. Crucially Kimi is also very familiar with the key technical men who have joined since he was last there, Allison and Pat Fry, and both understand what makes him tick. One thing is for certain – bosses of some key rivals will be a tad envious of this line-up…
Nigel Roebuck’s Reflections, page 50