Should Renault gamble on Kimi Raikkonen?
17 September, 2010
Sep.17 (Daniel Chalmers) If Renault could bring the best out of Kimi Raikkonen then it would prove a huge coup, but much would depend on the car and changes to his demands and work ethic.
There is no doubt that the on-form Kimi is a driver any team should sign without hesitation. When he is in the mood he is potentially quicker than any of the current generation of drivers.
His incredible win from 17th in Japan 2005 is evidence of that. The speed, race craft and bravery he demonstrated that day was at good as anything we have seen in F1. When he chased down Giancarlo Fisichella in those final stages he delivered lap times that just shouldn’t have been possible.
McLaren always seemed to extract the best out of the Finn. In 2003 Raikkonen nearly won the championship in a car that was two years old. In 2005 he was regularly quicker than champion Fernando Alonso but was let down by reliability issues.
Many forget about these performances earlier in his career, with too many mediocre performances at Ferrari being the dominant memory.
Raikkonen could well have left F1 in 2009 having the same number of titles as Ayrton Senna.
A huge plus with Raikkonen is that he is uninterested by F1’s politics and just does his talking on the track. The benefit of that was evident in the last third of 2007, when Kimi ignored the spy-gate saga and the in house battle at McLaren, and snatched his first and only driver’s title to date.
Renault is very much a team on the up with the turmoil of the last couple of seasons all but forgotten. Having two top drivers would send a huge statement of intent to the likes of Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari.
There is positivity and huge spirit back at Renault. That would only get stronger with two top drivers in the team.
The first stumbling block to this move happening would be money. In 2009 Raikkonen topped the F1 driver salary rankings with a wage of 45 million dollars. When he was looking for a drive in 2010 he priced himself out of the market, when teams were looking to trim their budgets significantly.
Kimi would have to lower his wage demands considerably to have any chance of joining Renault. Renault pay Kubica around six or seven million pounds, whilst Vitaly Petrov brings money to the team.
Therefore it would be a huge jump on Renault’s wage bill. It’s true that the team has solid finances, but possibly not so much to invest a large amount on just their drivers. Gerard Lopez already admitted recently that F1 is costing more than he anticipated, and that’s with a relatively cheap driver bill.
An argument Renault will consider is whether it would wiser to put Kimi’s potential wages on car development instead. This could potentially give the 2011 Renault the extra few tenths they need to win races.
Obviously having the finances and facilities to develop a quick car is at the forefront of the team’s thoughts. There’s no point in having two of the best drivers in the world if you don’t have enough money left to deliver them a quick car.
The vital question is do the team really need to sign Raikkonen?
In Kubica they already possess a super fast and reliable driver who is more than capable of challenging for the driver’s championship. In 2008 he challenged for the title in a car inferior to the McLaren and Ferrari.
However it would be reasonable to suggest that they don’t have the pairing to win the constructors championship. For this the team must have two drivers bringing home big points.
Petrov isn’t doing that, having scored only a tenth of Kubica’s points in 2010.
In 2005 and 2006 Fisichella was comprehensively beaten by Fernando Alonso. Despite that he still contributed enough points for Renault to win the constructors titles both seasons. It’s possible that Petrov could improve to this sufficient level in his second year.
Would we see the best of Raikkonen alongside Kubica? That’s debatable.
It would be very similar to the current McLaren situation where you have two drivers who are complete opposites on the driver’s spectrum.
Kubica is the ultimate under steer driver. Raikkonen is similar to the likes of Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton who love a touch of oversteer on their cars.
We didn’t see the best of Raikkonen at Ferrari because understeer featured heavily on their cars.
Although such a sheer difference in style isn’t necessarily a disaster. McLaren appear to have effectively accommodated both Lewis’s aggressive and Button’s smooth driving styles
The other notable difference though (which doesn’t apply to Lewis and Jenson) between the pair is their work ethic. Kubica has to be one of the most dedicated and hard working drivers in F1. He will happily work with his engineers to the early hours of the morning to get his car exactly how he wants.
Raikkonen on the other hand is far more content just to turn up and drive. This is precisely what could lead to Kimi’s downfall alongside Kubica.
Whilst Raikkonen is out enjoying himself between race weekends, Kubica will be with his mechanics taking the Renault in the direction that suits his style, and away from the iceman’s style.
Exactly the same thing happened alongside Massa in 2008 and Kimi was soundly beaten. Interestingly after Felipe had his horrific accident Kimi suddenly re-found his form.
Clearly this indicates that when the team focuses on him, as McLaren did when he drove for them, that he produces results. However it’s hard to see this happening in a team that Kubica is currently making his own.
There are other issues such as whether Raikkonen can adapt to the non-refuelling era of cars. His main rivals will already have had a year’s experience of them. Kimi was never renowned for nursing the car or his tyres, something that is critical under these regulations.
The new Pirelli tyres could also make or break his success. If he gets on well with them as he did with the Michelins he could fly, but if they are similar to the Bridgestone tyres, which he was never been as at ease with, he will struggle.
It goes without saying that having the Iceman back in F1 would be great for the sport. He provides some thrilling moments on the track, along with moments of comedy gold off the track.
If one of the Red Bull drivers wins the championship and Kimi returns we would have the tantalising prospect of six world champions going to wheel to wheel next season.
Ultimately if Raikkonen is serious about a return to racing he needs to change. He has to be realistic about his wage demands and work much harder with his mechanics if he is to be repeat the form from his McLaren days, and his championship winning season with Ferrari.
Whilst this huge gamble could pay massive dividends, it would be costly if Kimi didn’t deliver the goods.
Overall finances is going to be the decisive factor here which is why I predict Renault to retain Petrov and seek the potential commercial opportunities in Russia.
Or they will go for Sutil who will cost far less than Raikkonen and has all the ingredients to be the second top driver the team need
If the teams can negotiate to receive more of F1’s revenue or Renault regain a larger stake in the team then signing Raikkonen would become more viable.
If Renault can easily afford Kimi they should sign him, but if they can’t then there are better options.