2014: What will Kimi do next?
Summer is here and things are heating up on and off-track. We are in the midst of contract-season, where team-driver rumours fly left, right and centre. For most at least. But what about Kimi? His two-year Lotus contract ends after this season and Red Bull are in the hunt for the Iceman. Kimi only has two logical options – either to stick it out with Lotus or join Red Bull alongside Sebastian Vettel. Kimi is centre-piece on this game of chess.
Given his successful comeback to F1 after running wild in other forms of motorsport and maintaining fitness, Kimi is as sharp as ever. He is as hungry as ever. If not more. He didn’t just leave F1 and go fishing. He was sick of it, took a break and returned. Those greeny-blue eyes have a steely determination to win, but he isn’t blinded by glory. Sounds like an oxymoron perhaps, maybe he is the oxymoron of F1 drivers, but he isn’t in F1 to prove anything – not going crazy after a win doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t passionate:
Kimi Raikkonen: “It’s not my style. Yeah, winning feels good, but I’m not the type of guy who jumps up and down and rubs it in everyone’s face”
After winning the Abu Dhabi GP in his comeback year, Kimi revealed he always believed in himself and it was others who doubted him. He loves racing and being away from F1 echoed that sentiment, thus the Iceman returned. Part of Kimi’s success at Lotus is his communication with Mark Slade. Slade was Kimi’s engineer during his five-year run at McLaren, after Kimi joined Ferrari Slade later went on to Mercedes. Kimi asked Slade specifically to join Lotus and work with him once again – which indicates Kimi’s strong will to get the best of what’s possible.
Lotus aren’t as competitive financially as say Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren. Lotus also had to bid farewell to technical director James Allison a few races into this season. Kimi’s teammate Grosjean has also been lacking in producing good results, affecting the Constructors championship. Things haven’t been looking good for the title fight for the Enstone camp, despite Kimi’s strong opening victory at Australia followed by consecutive podium finishes. Things began looking even worse after Kimi’s good run of results ended, losing ground in the championship to Vettel and Alonso at Monaco and Canada. Despite still finishing those races and equalling Michael Schumacher’s record of consecutive point finishes, Kimi is clearly frustrated. He has vented out his anger on over-aggressive drivers like Perez (there’s a fine line between fair racing and just plain cockiness.) But this outburst displays fire within the Iceman, which he has previously kept well hidden behind his monotone voice and monochrome shades. It’s safe to say he is hungrier than ever, even before winning his first title at Ferrari in 2007 (here’s Kimi’s response to those who think otherwise). Kimi is here to win the world championship again.
Putting Plan to Practice
Is teaming up with Vettel at Red Bull the best way to do this? Red Bull have been winning the last three years, they have the design wizard Adrian Newey, and Vettel has just re-signed for one more year. The key factor then must be whether Kimi and Vettel will be a productive pairing? Kimi is naturally a non-political person and driver. He doesn’t mind who his teammate is, he isn’t personal like that. Kimi and Vettel are good friends off-track too. But on the race track, Vettel suffers no one and it’s this attitude that may cause conflict. Not to mention how Red Bull’s motorsport adviser Helmut Marko’s (who is the right-hand man in F1 of the company’s boss Dietrich Mateschitz) relationship with Mark Webber has gone down. Red Bull’s ‘cool’ and laid-back ethos may appear to look different from other teams but it would be foolish to judge a book by it’s cover. Being the only logical option however, a switch from Lotus to red Bull will be attractive to Kimi. Apparently he has begun preliminary contract talks with Red Bull recently:
Kimi Räikkönen has stated officially that he has nothing to comment about possible Red Bull -negotiations. According to sources close to Red Bull who want to stay anonymous, Räikkönen has started preliminary negotiations with the team. The biggest obstacle is of course money, although Red Bull is willing to pay a bigger salary to Kimi than he gets from Lotus at this moment.
Red Bull has announced that Mark Webber is one of the team’s options for next season, but in reality the team has known about Webber’s departure for a few months already. Next year Webber will drive sportcars.
The financial situation in Lotus is on a shaky ground and the team can’t necessarily afford to pay Kimi’s salary. That’s why Kimi wants to ensure he gets a top contract as soon as possible.
With the lack of money being the issue here, to fund the team’s development and resources, Lotus risk losing Kimi. But we know Kimi isn’t tempted for just a bigger salary:
Kimi Raikkonen: “About the future, I am clear. I want to work with a good team and sit in a good car. Red Bull is a good team, they have been world champions and won everything in the past years. Basically, there are not many top teams to think about. With Lotus, we are not yet where Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull are.”
“Do you really think I would be here if it was just about money? I do enough fun things in my spare time than to have to listen to this bullshit. And I’m not exactly broke.”
If Kimi joins Red Bull, will he be up to speed quick enough starting from scratch with a new car, new engineers all over again? Kimi is driving superbly at Lotus, but the car is restraining him from better results. Much like how it was at McLaren, where poor reliability cost him two championships. Kimi doesn’t want to suffer five years like that again. So he will be looking elsewhere, it’s inevitable and the probability of him signing at Red Bull is very high:
The F1 driver market is waiting for Kimi Raikkonen’s next move, according to Oskari Saari, a commentator for Finnish television MTV3.
“Red Bull’s Helmut Marko said in Canada that driver decisions will be made in August, during the summer break,” Saari said.
It is strongly rumoured that Lotus’ Raikkonen, having firmly re-established his reputation in the wake of a rallying sabbatical, is now likely to return to a true top team in 2014 to replace Mark Webber.
Saari said he thinks Raikkonen is a better candidate than Red Bull’s youngsters at Toro Rosso, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne.
“They’re good guys, but not quite good enough,” he insisted.
“I think the probability of Kimi going to Red Bull is very high — it would be a logical move,” added Saari.
Saari also repeated rumours that Lotus might look to Williams’ Pastor Maldonado and his PDVSA sponsor millions to replace Raikkonen.
Turn of the tide?
Just when contract talks are getting underway, Lotus announce that its owner, Genii Capital, has sold a 35 per cent stake in the business to Infinity Racing Partners. This is good news for the team and it is also no doubt an attempt to retain Kimi. It has been reported since the new investors that Lotus are offering Kimi a ‘giant’ contract.
Amongst the investors is Mansoor Ijaz (pictured), a US investment banker and sometime media pundit, who is the founder and chairman of New York-based investment firm Crescent Investment Management. He boldly claims Lotus will be the sport’s top team in 12 months time but makes a good point about who is the best driver and why they are even more the driving force of a team’s success:
Mansoor Ijaz: “Next year, when there is a change in the way the races will be run, there’s a lot of opportunity going forward to differentiate one car from another technologically. Today the cars all have fixed parameters around them – there are simply things you cannot change – and then it becomes about who’s the best driver. We have really great drivers. In Kimi we have, in my view, the best in motorsports and he’s a fraction shy of getting to that very top spot. We’ve got terrific support team and staff around, so now it’s a matter of trying to make sure we get a differential advantage and that’s where we’re going to try and make our difference going forward.”
In 2012, Lotus had given Kimi the opportunity to come back and race and win – they have a good base car and it’s strong however they suffer massively in the development race during the summer – thus lack momentum. But more importantly for Kimi, Lotus have embraced the enigma that is Iceman and give Kimi his space in which he has been able to lead the team just by his performances alone. After the Ferrari-Santander-Alonso saga, Kimi will want to steer clear of any bullsh*t politics and sponsor-influenced driver pairings. Personally, I think Kimi has his own brand, he doesn’t need to join Red Bull because he suits their brand, it’s just a superficial distraction and Kimi goes deeper than that. He is very grateful for the atmosphere at Lotus and after this new investment with Infinity Racing he may reconsider sticking with Lotus and continue to build the next layer of bricks on a new legacy that he had begun last year. Whether this means more to him than just a fast car, we have to wait and see..
Words by Evenstar Saima.