Why on earth does the Renault-soon-to-be-Lotus Grand Prix team allow its new number one driver Kimi Räikkönen to race a snowmobile? Are you as puzzled as I am?
Last Saturday, barely two weeks after signing his contract, Kimi was in Austria to take his place in a Swatch-sponsored snowmobile race at Saalbach Hinterglemm. The fact that he was driving a Red Bull entry suggests that this was a commitment left over from his contract with the World Rally Championship team. If this be the case, surely Renault was aware and happy for him to proceed. There may, of course, be legal and contractual considerations on the Red Bull side here.
Anyway, Kimi crashed the snowmobile and injured his left hand. Nothing too serious, but it could have been. A ‘tweet’ from Renault told us: “There’s nothing to worry about, he only has a sore wrist.”
But surely there is something to worry about. Its new star driver is replacing a driver who could not take any part in the 2011 season because… he injured himself in an accident. OK, we learnt that Renault had been quite happy for Robert Kubica to take part in a rally, and that it wanted a real racer, not a ‘robot’ who only lived for Formula 1. Well, they’ve certainly got that with Kimi Räikkönen, which is surely even more reason to keep him away from potentially dangerous sports. Finns like going fast in the snow, they know how to do that, but accidents do happen. Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna must have been intrigued when they heard that Kimi had come a cropper.
Last week Eric Boullier, the team principal at Renault, or Lotus, or whatever it is currently called, said that the team’s relationship with Kubica was now at “point zero”. I am assuming this is not a misquote because the Pole has thus far refused to sign on the line for a return to the team. Maybe he wants to go to Ferrari in 2013 when, more than likely, Felipe Massa will be replaced. Maybe he no longer sees what he wants to see at the French F1 team. Whatever the facts, the team lost no time in signing Räikkönen for 2012. Monsieur Boullier (below) has declared that he wants to be in a position to win the World Championship within the next three years, so let’s hope that Kimi doesn’t develop a taste for hang-gliding.
What about the prospects for 2012? Well, it’s up to McLaren and Ferrari to build cars that can take on another Newey Red Bull right from the first day in Australia. If they do, we’re in for a great year. If they don’t, Sebastian Vettel will be marching towards Schumacher/Ferrari territory. Luckily Alonso, Button, Hamilton and Webber are very keen indeed to prevent that happening.
What of the others? It’s too soon to say, but Williams will surely improve with Mike Coughlan and Renault power. Badly bruised, the team will fight harder than ever to get back. Force India is making big strides forward and looks like continuing to do so. No lack of ambition there. Toro Rosso will produce a good car and the good news is that Jean-Eric Vergne will be driving one of them next season. Lotus will improve, but I reckon that may be about the extent of it. Money is tight, budgets are getting tougher to raise and the others will struggle. If I am wrong, that’s great, because it will be more exciting still.
Meanwhile let’s hope Kim is safely tucked away in the gym. I guess that’s where he’ll be in preparation for his much-publicised return. He says he has an “overwhelming hunger” for F1 again which is good news. The past is an unreliable guide to the future but, given a good car, he will be right on the pace very quickly.