Will Lotus Renault call on Raikkonen?

With the Lotus Renault GP team now effectively acknowledging that Robert Kubica could be out for the season, attention inevitably moves to the identity of who could replace him.

The fact that the seat is potentially available for the whole year – and that any driver signed in the next few days will still get six days of testing at Jerez, Barcelona and Bahrain – puts a whole new complexion on things. Assuming that Vitaly Petrov drives on the first two days, then there will be a car waiting for the new driver in Jerez on Saturday February 12.

Bruno Senna was revealed exactly a week ago today as the team’s main reserve driver, on the basis that he raced last year and would thus be relatively fresh, should he be called upon. However even the Brazilian would accept that given its ambitions to win races sooner rather than later – and the R31 was fastest in Valencia after all – for a full season the team has to take a proven driver who can get the job done.

Given the changes over the winter, the number of free agents who raced last year is surprisingly small. Of those who raced in 2010 and are without a current contract with a team, Kubica’s former team mate Nick Heidfeld has to be top of the list, while it’s unlikely that Tonio Liuzzi or Pedro de la Rosa would tick all the boxes for Genii and Group Lotus.

Of those already committed elsewhere, the only third driver with obvious qualifications is Nico Hulkenberg, but it remains to be seen whether his contractual situation with Force India would make it easy for him to take up a chance elsewhere.

While there are probably a few contracted race drivers up and down the pitlane who might envy the Renault seat, it would take a lot of shuffling around for anyone to jump ship.

The one name that keeps springing to mind is Kimi Raikkonen. He’s committed to a part WRC season with Citroen, and has been pretty ambivalent about a possible return to F1. He even had a bit of a war of words in the media with Renault last year after his name came up as a possible 2011 driver.

The difference is that the team didn’t need him then, and he would have been joining a team that already had Robert Kubica. Indeed Petrov was pretty much confirmed anyway, and the fact that the Russian always looked likely to stay means that any discussion of Kimi’s prospects was academic.

This time it’s different. He has the chance of a full season, with six days of testing, in a car that could turn out to be competitive. Group Lotus will certainly be keen to have a big name, and his presence will suit Dany Bahar, who was still at Ferrari when Kimi was there. He wants to be like Ferrari, so hiring the Italian team’s last World Champion is not a bad plan…

Bernie Ecclestone, who likes to get involved in these things, will also be keen to see Kimi back. The Finn still has a huge following, and it would mean yet another World Champion on the grid.

It’s probably not widely known that Kubica and Raikkonen are good friends off track – they share a dislike of the BS that floats around the sport, as well as a passion for rallying – and I am sure that Robert would be the first to tell Eric Boullier and Gerard Lopez that Kimi is the man for the job.

And Lotus Renault would have obvious appeal for Kimi, in that he won’t have the sort of PR commitments that he faced at McLaren and Ferrari. A one-year deal would at least get him back in the game – he could either walk off in 2012, or put himself in a position to go elsewhere.

It might seem a long shot, but then everyone laughed on Sunday morning in Hungary in 2009 when I suggested that Schumacher could stand-in for Massa, including Willi Weber…

There are complications in terms of his arrangements with Red Bull and Citroen, and the winter ‘misunderstanding’ would have to be cleared up. But in the end it’s likely to come down to one thing. Will Kimi want to do it?

61 Comments

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61 responses to “Will Lotus Renault call on Raikkonen?

  1. Alex Yarnell

    The other question would be what sort of terms would Kimi be coming back on. Would Kimi and Renault want the same things – the flexibility of a year-by-year contract or a longer term commitment?

  2. If Kimi is back, that would make Renault’s current army of reserve (and test..) drivers pretty useless!

  3. igoretas

    And why not Pedro de la Rosa? He is fast, hard worker, he knows the Pirelli tyres better than others, he has a lot of experience…

  4. Rae

    Raikkonen’s name has already been mentioned a lot, but the fact is that he didn’t *want* to come back to F1 this year. Even if he is friends with Kubica, I don’t see why this is going to have changed now.

  5. Rahul Shekhar

    I would be very surprised if either Kimi or Nico came to race for renault. Kimi has recently invested a lot of money in his own team ICE 1 in collaboration with Citroen. I dont expect him to abandon it just because there is a chance that Renault might be competitive.

    e would also ask what happens when Kubica comes back? Will he be booted out of the team? If there are doubts over the matter, will the team be able to bond with him.

    Bruno is a man who should be given the oppurtunity. Atleast for sometime. If he is not able to perform which, given that his benchmark would be Vitaly, should not be so difficult, he can be replaced mid season with Heidfeld.

    As for Nico, I dont think Force India would be to happy to relieve their test driver, to strengthen a team they are most likely to compete with.

  6. Vincent LS

    Contrary to Schumacher, Räikkönen is not missing F1. He also have a commitment with Citroën, and he had words with Renault last year.

    I think Heidfeld would be more commited and more professional.

  7. Vincent LS

    And don’t forget that the WRC is beginning this week. Hard to imagine Räikkönen stop it at the very last moment.

  8. jmv

    if the teams ambition for 2011 was to win races then with Kubica sit out for the year, these ambitions took a massive hit.

    Kimi is the only driver out there who is capable of winning races. He knows what it takes, has been driving pole laps, won races, been at the forefront fighting for WDCs. No intro here needed.

    Kimi softness on tires might also be an asset. His knowledge of KERS, and he drove slicks too. All he dont know is driving full tanks in F1.

    One question is how far advanced Kimi rally team is right now.. but no doubt another rally driver could take his place.

    I would be surprised if Kimi didnt receive a call by Renault folks.

  9. Diego P

    It’s a very long shot what do you suggest Adam. If the R31 is a truly winning car, the guys from Renault and their sponsors are urged to get a winning driver to replace Kubiça, who was very capable to get the job done.

    For the sake of the show, the comeback of a guy like Räikkönen, with almost no testing at all, in a winning car would be epic. Let’s see if the interests of KR and Renault coincide.

    Finally, I’m very shocked about the accident of Kubiça, I wish the best possible recovery for him.

  10. Anatoly Nechaev

    I think Heidfeld is perfect for the job.

    It would be interesting to know how the money flows are changed with Kubica’s inability to race. Whether Renault will lose some sponsor money?

  11. Seems a good move for all concerned to me. But as a flight of fancy, how about a bit of musical chairs? Kimi in to Red Bull, Webbo over to Ferrari and Massa over to Renault?

    Actually, that’s laughable.

    • I did say it will take a bit of shuffling! That’s what I meant, if they are to take a current race driver there will be one or two moves, although it’s a little unlikely that Ferrari would be in the loop…

    • F1 Kitteh

      Actually the last 2/3rds of it is exactly what I am thinking, if you are going to have Kimi then you might as well have Massa, of course if the Alonso thinks the R31 is really the fastest thing out there then maybe he will suddenly want Massa to stay as his best buddy at Ferrari? Or would he actually think its better for Massa than Kimi to take that seat for his own championship asipirations ;)

      It must suck to be Bruno Senna with all this talk coming up, so whats the point of having so many 3rd drivers who never get to drive? Do they pay for the privilege or something?

  12. I’d love to see Kimi back, but he will turn down the offer, if it will exists. Once he said that he’s tired of F1 in terms of political issues. On the other hand, it’s the money – Kimi is very expensive, and I’m not sure whether Renault is willing to pay that much money. Next, it’s the long term future and his, as Adam mentioned, the complications around his contract with Red Bull. Finally, it’s Renault’s confidence in car’s package – if they know it’s very competitive – they will do whatever is needed to bring capable driver, to make benefit of it. My guess is that Quick Nick can made into Renault’s seat or Hulk, if Force India agrees. Let’s see and last but not least, let’s wish Robert quick recovery and long F1 career.

  13. Chris Willard

    A fair appraisal Adam, and lets be honest, Raikkonen is probably the man best qualified to fill the seat, I dont hold with the “lack of commitment” theorists, nor would i question his commitment or motivation if he were to do it.
    Sadly though, for all that i would love to see Raikkonen in there, and for all the good that would do F1, i think his interests genuinely lie elsewhere, and we shouldn’t forget that unlike F1 Rallying is primarily a 2 person job, and Kaj Lindstrom has placed his faith in Raikkonen, I dont think Raikkonen would forgo that and something which he enjoys for the sake of a year in F1.

  14. How about Daniel Ricciardo?

    Young, fast, connected to Renault via Red Bull – so works on those fronts…

    Negatives are that he isn’t an established “number one” as they need, but they could do worse – and he would deliver a fair return on the mediocre investment it would require as opposed to a Raikkonen, Hulkenberg or Villeneuve…

  15. It makes “racing” sense, which is why perhaps I can imagine Bernie working some magic behind the scenes. I just don’t know that it makes Kimi sense – he doesn’t need the £ or the hassle and he doesn’t seem to be missing F1 at all. Could another option be a Will Power / Franchitti-type scenario or is that too much risk ?

  16. bbac

    The WRC season is just about to start and Kimi has many commitments to stay there for this season. A deal with Citroen, sponsors, his co-driver… do you think he is going to cancel all that just because some F1 driver got injured? I just don’t think so at all.

    Kimi still has a huge number of fans who were very disappointed of how he left F1 (as a result of a disgusting smear campaign executed by Montezemolo and Domenicali as I believe). But this is not the right way to get him back to F1.

    I would be glad to see Kimi back in F1. But I don’t think it’s going to happen this year.

  17. Ed

    Before the whole Lotus issue came up, Trulli or Kovalainen would have probably been the logical choice, as there was going to be the link between Renault and Lotus through the engines.

    Bahar and co. might have to swallow their pride a bit to not pick one of their 5 test drivers, and I don’t know if they are likely to do that, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Senna got the seat, especially with the historical connection.

    Someone eligible that has not been mentioned: Christian Klien

    • neither Senna or Klien are race winners or, to be honest, race winner pedigree though. I think they’ll go for a short term option like that as there seems some hope RK can return in a shorter timescale than first predicted.

  18. co

    I would like to see kimi back but it looks really complicated and I would also like to see a Senna in black-gold Lotus Renault again… (Its a shame for Bruno…)

    I think the more realistic and best choice is Niko Hulkemberg.

  19. Jana

    Wonder when people will realise that Kimi is serious with his rally project and that´s it´s not just an expensive hobby for him! Even if Renault would want him I doubt that he would give up everything just to race 5-6 races

  20. Nice idea in theory, but I don’t see Citroen agreeing to Raikkonen driving a Renault…

    • The point is A) he’s bringing a budget to Citroen and B) if he stops the WRC programme to go F1, he goes F1, it doesn’t matter who he signs for.

      • Diego P

        Probably one of the issues to arrange would be who will drive the ice-one car during the year. It looks logical to me that if there is a last minute switch to F1, his WRC team should be still operational in order to fulfil the sponsorship deals (and also to build up the Räikkonen brand in WRC).

        Everything should be unfolded this week, because of the start of WRC season and F1 testing programme. Interesting days to follow…

  21. Uppili

    I keep thinking that Timo Glock might be “loaned” from Virgin Racing till Kubica recuperates and may be Senna drives for VR till Glock is at Renault. This seems the most workable solution given Eric Boullier has already dealt with the VR folks in placing Jerome there and Timo is a pretty handy racer too.

    • Yep Glock is definitely not a silly idea given that these two teams are ‘friendly’, but Virgin would have to get someone pretty strong in return. I’m not sure that they’d be willing to go into a new season with Senna/D’Ambrosio.

  22. JamesC1991

    I totally get your points Adam about him getting (well likely) aquick car but I don’t see Kimi returning even if offered a chance by Renault.
    He is in WRC for the long haul and setting up his own team means a long term project must be the plan.
    The Passion was back in Kimi last year and he is very very determined to succeed in Rallying.
    Kimi no longer loves F1 as we seen in early 09.
    As a fan of his I hope he stays in WRC beacuse that’s where his heart lies.
    I would pick Hulkenberg to replace Robert but contract situation is obviously a problem

    • Some interesting comments here. As I said in the end it could come down to whether he wants to do it or not – and I think we should know by now not to second guess Kimi Raikkonen. I had a long off-duty chat with him in Monaco, and while that was some 9 months ago, he had far from ruled out F1 at that stage. This is a unique and unexpected opportunity – it’s not HRT or STR. And a one year deal, on the basis that Robert will be back, could suit both sides.

      • Jake

        I like Hulkenberg for the job. We may not want to assume the RK will be back at all (I hope he will be back), it sounds as though he has taken a devastating injury. It might be in LRGP’s best interest to obtain a driver that is both young and talented, that they could hold on to for a few years.

  23. Jay

    Kimi has put too much of his own money into his Ice 1 racing team to even think about a return to F1. Getting the car off Citroen seemed hard enough for him (and even Petter for that matter), I doubt he’ll want to throw that away.
    Hopefully LRGP will look for a driver with lots of development experience.

    • Pronto

      Those days it shouldn’t be a problem to find a sound rally driver to subsitute Kimi for a season in WRC with a reasonable expectation he would do at least as good as Kimi, while in F1 Kimi is in it’s own league when it comes to a question “who can substitute Robert”. I guess it is more down to a commercial arrangements with Citroen (= money).

  24. CTP

    I don’t see it happening logistically, and I don’t think Kimi would put 100% into it either.
    Senna, Hulk or ickle Nick are the only sensible choices here, I think. Senna and Hulk have potential (that doesn’t mean they will be brilliant, but at least you know they’re not going to be mediocre like Liuzzi or De La Rosa), and ickle Nick, despite not getting the press of Kubica, was pretty much a match for him when they were team-mates.

  25. Typhan

    Hello Adam,
    At the start of last season there were lots of rumours linking Renault and Jacques Villeneuve, because of his connection with Lopez (iirc). Might be worth checking if there’s been any contact between them now? At least he wouldn’t have to bring money this time, instead it’s his experience what the team is in need of now.

    • I’m sure he’s been in touch! He’s a mate of mine but he’s 40 soon and he’s been away from single seaters longer than Schumacher had when he came back… Stranger things have happened though!

  26. melonfarmer

    Well, if we’re talking about former F1 drivers contracted to rival French car manufacturers, how about Sebastien Bourdais (not withstanding a potential Dale Coyne ride)?

    Seriously, this is the first real challenge for the Genii management – they’d be nuts not to go with Heidfeld even if it means having to listen to Couthard calling him “Hide field” all the time.

  27. First of all is necesary to know the real situation of Kubica’s hand, Kimi is not going to stop his WRC season only to drive some races for Renault.

  28. jose arellano

    its difficult but not impossible. so was the exhaust on the sidepods in the renault..

    kimi is the only available guy with the level that renault needs to take advantage of this car..

    and if I were kimi raikkonen after seeing what damage you can do to yourself driving a rally car i would definitely prefer to be in F1

    bring kimi back!

    • Jay

      And if I were Kimi, seeing what damage F1 can do to you ( ie. Massa’s accident) I’d be staying where I was!!

      • jose arellano

        theres a lot more safety in F1.. cars and circuits… both still dangerous. but i think rally is far more dangerous

  29. Irteza

    I Think If renault thinks that they have got a quick car that can win races then there is a chance that kimi can come back all he want is a race winning car…. and kimi is kind of person who can do anything if he likes it … and if kimi does come to renault we all should get ready for shocking season

  30. bichard

    It s unhappy situation, but I wish the best for the Pole. In the other hand, the play must be going, and in this case I wish Kimi want it to return. The fans of the speed, will be fine with him.

  31. I really see it difficult due to the compromises that ties Kimi to rallying…but just thinking about that idea…it’s great! And I agree with Adam when he says that he’s sure that Robert would be the first to tell Eric Boullier and Gerard Lopez that Kimi is the man for the job.

  32. paxdog57

    okay, throw out a wild card, Jacques Villeneuve. Keen to get back in, does he have any friends on the team?

  33. rafael

    I would try Kimi First. If he is not available I would try Heidfeld as the Benchmark an Bourdais as a dark Horse. I think Bourdais deserves a chance on a good team. He may have less experience in F1 than Hedfeld, but I think he has more potential. All The other experienced drivers have had already their chances.

    If younger boys is the way to go, Hulkenberg, Senna and finally Grosjean. I do think Bourdais is the best choice

  34. Jimmy

    The Hulk makes sense to me IF Renault gain confidence that Bob will be back. They can pit the two top rated young guns against each other.

    Genii can throw down on the table, “Robert’s out this year. You two are racing for the second seat next year. Hulk, let’s see some more poles. Keep it on the black stuff Petrov.”

    Im only half joking with that too. Heidfeld has shown he doesn’t have quite enough for the top step so might as well use the seat to test out the kids.

  35. Kalao

    Forget Jacques Villeneuve as a replacement. I’m a huge support of his but here are some statements from Eric Bouillier 8 months ago.

    http://en.espnf1.com/renault/motorsport/story/20428.html

    “Jacques is a world champion and a driver of exceptional talent for whom I have great respect,” said Boullier. “There is no doubt he could help a team looking for a driver with his profile. This was not the case for us.”
    “Boullier also said that Villeneuve, who has not raced in Formula One since 2006, would struggle to rediscover his old form with the current testing limitations in place”. (source: ESPNF1)

  36. Kookiez

    Wishing a quick recovery to kubica

    How about Anthony Davidson?

  37. schooner

    From what I’ve been reading, it appears that the long term prognosis for Robert’s general health is not dire, but I fear that his F1 career could be over. I’m sure that we all hope that this isn’t the case, but it’s very likely that Renault now has it’s lead seat available for (at least) the entire 2011 season. I’d like to see Hulkenberg (contractual obligations allowing) get the ride. I suppose that Heidfeld’s vast experience would make him the most likely candidate, but as competent as he is, I’ve never viewed him as a stand out talent. Hulkenberg, given the chance, could be. As for Raikkonen returning, that would be very cool, but unlikely IMO. Anyway, a decision will have to be made soon, and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

  38. Mark

    I have a feeling we could see Webber take over the seat as Hermutt could then put his 2 youg guns in the RB team together..Red Bull and Renault have the engine link, Webber is on a year by year contract and Webber would be able to lead the team with a race winable car..

  39. Why are there suggestions of Bourdais ? He was a big disappointment in the STR. Hulkenburg has a lot more potential and has a point to prove – he’d be the obvious choice (bar Raikkonen). Just anyone but DC…….!

  40. Jon Wilde

    Having met Kubica in the Monza paddock in 2009, I’ve found the past few days very distressing. I wish him a speedy recovery and sincerely hope to see him back on the grid at some point in the not too distant future.

    As seems to be the feeling of most readers here and on other blogs I would love to see Kimi fill the vacant seat. His transition to the WRC has been a huge loss to F1. Whilst it may be unlikely, would it be possible for Kimi to compete in both series? how many clashes are there over the course of a season? Kimi isn’t signed up for a full WRC season anyway (only 10 rounds) His entry into the WRC isn’t manufacturer backed, so Citroën may not have any say in what he does. ( not forgetting that Renault are only engine suppliers to Genii F1, so also wouldn’t have too much to say about the move )

    Kimi would be the dream guy to help out Kubica and the team for 2011, and may be able to contribute to building a stronger car for Kubica’s return in 2012.

    WRC is undergoing a revolution of it’s own this year, Kimi in the WRC DS3 could be awesome (equal footing to Loeb). Imagine him being in the position of taking both titles in one year!!! ( I know I’m living in a dream world!!!!)

    All the best to Robert and his family & friends at this time.

    It’s been touching to see the human side of F1.

  41. Stone the crows

    As I mentioned on another thread, though Hulkenberg did well last year and Senna has considerable talent, I wonder if Renault is willing to team up two sophomore drivers. I think they’d prefer to have an experienced driver alongside of Petrov. Heidfeld fits the bill pretty well, he’s consistent and fairly quick. Liuzzi is experienced, but not as good as the others, and would probably not be a prime choice, and I doubt Raikonnen would step up to the plate at this late date, but you never know. I wonder how he’s doing since his father died.

  42. formulasfera

    Sutil is the man for Renault.

    Take it or lose it.

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