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Monday, December 26, 2005

Where Will Kimi Go?

The Formula 1 headlines in 2005 have been dominated largely by Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. Even now with the season long over, they continue to make the headlines. Well we know where Fernando is heading but speculation intensifies as to where the young Finn will head off to once his McLaren contract runs out in 2006.

Many are saying Ferrari will be his next port of call. Some like Bernie are saying that he'll be there only if Michael Schumacher retires or leaves Ferrari. Some are even saying that a possibility exists that Kimi would partner Schumacher if the mighty German decides to stay. Bernie is speculating that even Renault is a possibility.

And now this headline appears on Pitpass. According to it, even big budget Toyota is setting their eyes on the Finn. According to the article, Ferrari's finances or lack of it, may put paid to their plans of signing Kimi. And so, Toyota might be one of the teams to be able to afford the undoubtedly large retainer the Finn is demanding.

12 months ago I doubt if Kimi would have demanded such high pecuniary benefits. A recap of his career would illustrate why. Kimi entered Formula 1 along with Alonso and Montoya in 2001. Whilst Alonso had won the World Series by Nissan and Montoya had just come from great successes in Champcars, young Kimi came to it with nothing more than 23 car races and a season in Formula Renault! Despite such lack of experience, his manager Steve Robertson (who also oversaw Jenson Button) had the temerity to recommend the Finn to Peter Sauber.

Such is his talent however, he hardly faced any problems whatsoever and Peter Sauber is known to have been highly impressed not only with his talent but the fact that he simply knew what was going on. Some people may have the speed but to make sense of the fast paced and highly complex world of grand prix racing even on his first test with Sauber, is on the level of genius.

I think its easy then to see why Ron Dennis chose him over Nick Heidfeld. Nick arguably did better at Sauber but that was only down to his relatively vast experience. Kimi showed much more potential. Still, the Finn was no without choices. Apparently Ferrari too made him an offer for 2002 but Kimi would choose McLaren because it offered equal treatment for its drivers.

A winless 2002 was followed by a single victory and runner up in the 2003 championship. I'm proud to say that I had the pleasure of witnessing Kimi's first victory in Sepang that year. Another victory and a diffcult 2004 followed that.

So, after years in Formula 1 in one the most successful teams in the sport, Kimi emerged only with a couple of victories in hand. While most were tipping him for future championship honours but up until the end of 2004, doubts lingered on his ability. Funny how the pundits do that. I remember that even Ayrton Senna after 3 seasons at Lotus with no world championships and only 6 wins to show for it had his doubters as well. These were those who would compare him to Mansell, Piquet and Prost who were taking championships or winning more races. If Kimi was feeling a little frustrated by Woking, it was up until then, staying there was still his best option. This season, given a car befitting his considerable talent, Kimi notched 7 wins matching Alonso. And no one doubts that had he a more reliable car, he would have won considerably more than that.

With those seven wins and being named as driver of the year by many including Autosport, Kimi has truly arrived right smack into superstardom, at the very same time as Fernando Alonso. It seems that with that status, he (or his management) wants the cash to go with it.

I think if McLaren had produced the goods and he had won the championship this year, in all likelihood Kimi would not be entertaining any thoughts of leaving Woking. But this year as in 2003 and 2004 has been yet another frustration and the Finn is fast losing his patience with a team that to me, has been letting its drivers down for a long time ever since Mika Hakkinens final two seasons.

However, is Ferrari really the best option? If he were to share the team with Michael Schumacher, he'll face a monumental task gathering support to himself. If Michael, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne aren't there, then in all honesty I think it simply wouldn't be the same winning team. Given also that Ferrari are strapped for cash, it doesn't seem wise. In fact, staying put at McLaren seems to be the best choice.

If Renault does stay in Formula 1 in the long term, then at this present moment, it would seem a good idea to join them. However, I feel this team could be dominated by the two big spending Japanese teams Honda and Toyota even if they did stay in the long term. I have a feeling by 2007 these two teams will be a major force and the only team I do see staying apace with them is McLaren. Red Bull, despite signing a superstar engineer recently have got a lot of work to do. Their task is still harder than that of Toyota and Honda to make it to the top step.

Still for Raikkonen, it must be nice to have lots of options and lots of people knocking on your door. Its nice to have money of course but any serious driver's priority would really be all about the best option for winning championships. At moment, I think Kimi should give serious consideration about being Alonso's partner in 2007 even if the money won't be as much as he'd hope.

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