Raikkonen or Petrov: Its the battle of North-East Europeans for the final Renault seat
It has very recently been announced that Kimi Raikkonen is interested in the second seat with the Renault F1 team for 2011. The Finnish former world champion, who quit last year after failing to secure a 2010 race seat following his replacement by Renault driver, Fernando Alonso, stated that he would hope to return to Formula One in 2011 if a place was available at a team with the potential to win races, and Renault may just have answered his calls. (If you don’t want to read through this all, scroll down to the bottom for my final judgement!)
In 2005 and 2006, the French team based in Enstone won the drivers championship and constructors’ championships with Kimi’s 2010 replacement, Fernando Alonso. In 2007, the team finished a respectable third in the drivers’ championship with two new drivers – veteran Giancarlo Fisichella, and rookie Heikki Kovalainen. 2008 was a relatively bad year for the team, particularly in comparison to their recent success. Despite achieving two wins during the season at the hands of returning driver, Fernando Alonso (who came back from his new team, McLaren, following a bust up over favouritism toward their new driver, Lewis Hamilton), the team came only fourth in the drivers championship, and to rub a little salt into the wound, the team who finished third, BMW Sauber, only achieved one win in the whole season. However, 2009 was even worse. Alonso somehow became abysmally poor at racing, with his best finish in the season a measly third, meanwhile, the teams young, new, Brazilian driver, Nelsinho Piquet, son of former world champion, Nelson Piquet Snr, was just as poor, and was replaced in the latter half, by an even worse driver, Romain Grosjean. All in all, it was a terrible year for the team, and to add to the troubles, it was revealed at the end of the season that Piquet had been told to deliberately crash during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, causing the safety car to be released, and allowing Alonso to then take the win. However, the 2010 season has been much of an improvement for the team. For the new season, they had a whole new line up – Polish driver, Robert Kubica, and Russian rookie, Vitaly Petrov. Kubica has enjoyed three podiums consisting of one second place and two thirds this year, and has almost always put on an exceptionally strong and impressive performance during race weekends, particularly considering how fierce the competition is at the top this year. They have also seen some good performances from rookie Petrov, who has constantly performed very well in qualifying, but has failed to deliver during races. Kubica’s contract is renewed with the team for 2011, but the same cannot yet be said for Petrov, and many doubts have been cast over his potential to perform as a driver, which, with such brutal competition at the top of the table and Renault’s budding ambitions to dip their toes back into the big leagues of Formula one, cannot be aiding his bid for the 2011 seat. Cue Kimi Raikkonen.
Renault could potentially give Kimi what he wants, and Kimi could potentially give Renault what they want – which makes it a tough decision when it comes to choosing the driver for the seat. It has been reported that Renault have put Vitaly as their no.1 priority, meaning that if he wants the seat, and doesn’t have five straight retirements for the rest of the season, they will very seriously consider renewing his contract for 2011, but how long can they possibly go on with Kimi hanging right in front of their noses. They haven’t told him to sod off yet, so does this mean there is some, or maybe a lot, of deliberation as to who to pick? Even though their best interests may lie with Vitaly, what downfallen team could deny such a good racer when he’s standing right in front of them, offering himself up?
Kimi may have online cult status as a child hitter, drunkard, ice cream lover and is well known to have a fiery temper, but when it comes to racing, he can be truly great. In the 2009 season when he was told to get his arse into gear to save his Ferrari seat, he put on some exceptional performances. The thing with Kimi is that he can be very good when he wants to be. One thing about him is that he rarely puts on a bad performance – average at worst. He knows how to race; he is a former world champion and is driven strongly by determination to win – exactly what should be driving a Formula One competitor. Not only that, it is certain Kimi has a bigger following than Vitaly – he absolutely rakes in the money in terms of merchandise and publicity and undoubtedly, would do well for Renault.
The one thing is, you just have to feel for Petrov – he’s the underdog, and he has real potential – I feel the same way about him as I do about drivers like Adrian Sutil, Tonio Liuzzi, Heikki Kovalainen, Jaime Alguersuari, Seb Buemi and to an extent Mark Webber. He may not be the best, he may make mistakes, but he’s a pretty decent driver when he wants to be; just the trouble is, you have to compare him with Robert and the rookies this season. He has a competitive car, Robert proved that, but look at Nico Hulkenburg – he’s right up his arse in the standings with a barely competitive car. Kamui Kobayashi, who prior to this season, only raced two races, is not only above him in the league table, but he has a worse car and has crashed out of seven races! Look at the other young rookies too – Jaime Alguersuari, Karun Chandhok and Sakon Yamamoto. Look at how their season has been going; all have had impressive runs – Jaime has finished in the points twice, which is great for his first proper season of Formula One racing, particularly in the Torro Rosso, as for Karun, well he may not have completed a whole season, but he has failed to finish only four times, and considering he hadn’t driven the car prior to the season, he has driven very impressively. Sakon has crashed out few times, but is doing great under pressure as the team try to perform well with their limited resources.
Gerard Lopez, chairman for Renault F1 has stated that ultimately, it will be decided on money. Their main aim at the moment is to get as many good sponsors as possible, so they can be even more competitive in 2011, however, if they were to employ Raikkonen, it would come at a very hefty price – potentially much of their new sponsor money gone into Kimi’s pay check, and if he doesn’t perform to an reasonable standard, it could ruin the team. If they employed Vitaly, however, it would certainly secure them financially, but then, it is likely the new sponsor money would just go to waste, because quite frankly, Petrov is a little underwhelming during races, and has under performed many times this year; although Petrov might be the right person they are looking for if he signed a contract with the team as the second fiddle, they might miss out on a huge results improvement by not signing Kimi.
So, what do I think the outcome will be?
Hard to guess or estimate, but I have a feeling that we may just see a certain Mr Raikkonen sporting the yellow overalls next year. Just looking at the situation from a distance – we are pretty sure Kimi is strongly interested in a return to Formula One. He stated at the end of 2009, he would not be racing in 2010, but would consider a return to 2011, but he would ‘wait and see at the time’, basically meaning that he lost his seat to Fernando after all the other good seats were pretty much taken, and he would like his own back on Ferrari, so if a good seat is available in 2011, he would like it very much, but it depends if the team would want him or not, and if not, well he can just use the excuse he would like to build his rally career more (he already has several race seat offers for 2011). I think if he has approached Renault, he may be willing to bargain with them, potentially taking a pay cut to have the no.1 or no.2 seat with the team for 2011, which would also allow the team (if he did have a paycut) to still keep some of their sponsor money to spend on car improvements – potentially a win-win situation for Renault – and Kimi will have the extra boost of wanting to beat the man who stole his 2010 race seat to, so, some good results could fall on the team in 2011 if they employ Kimi.
Even looking at the situation from different angles, Kimi is still the most attractive option for the team. Even if the car were in its current state next year, Kimi could potentially get some good results out of it, and with their main aim stated as improving in their position in the championship standings from this year, surely the way forward is Raikkonen – I just see no attraction in employing Petrov if they want to get up the ranks next season, and Kubica may be pretty good, but he is no match for the likes of Button, Hamilton, Webber, Vettel and Alonso. Renault really need to throw a cat amongst the pigeons, because you can bet if Renault improve lots, Red Bull will certainly improve more (remember – the Red Bulls have Renault engines), and most likely, McLaren and Ferrari will improve more too, so Renault need someone competitive to give them the best chance. Re-employing Petrov is just bad for the teams improvement. End of. If I were in Renault’s position, I would offer Kimi a contract of reduced pay from the £25 million he got in 2009 to about £10 million-£15 million in return for the race seat in 2011; he would not be fully paid until the end of the season (throughout the season he would receive pay packets, increasing in amount the further into the season), and if he under-performs even occasionally at the fault of himself, them he will be fired on the spot and will seize being paid by the team (so he will not get his full contracts worth of pay if he is fired a quarter of the way into the season, for example). That way, he gets the money (if he does well), he gets to race, but if he isn’t the next best thing since sliced bread for the team, he has to go – that way the team can keep him, pay him what he wants, but not blow all the money at once, and if he is rubbish, they can chuck him out early on without loosing too much. Simple.
Ultimate decision? Wise bets should go on Raikkonen for 2011.