Formula 1's driver market merry-go-round burst into life this week when Jenson Button made the shock switch from Brawn GP to McLaren for 2010. One of the consequences of that move is that it appears to have forced Kimi Raikkonen to take a sabbatical from grand prix racing – although there are rumors now he could take the seat vacated by the World Champion.
With speculation linking Raikkonen with moves to the World Rally Championship or Le Mans, Raikkonen's manager Steve Robertson in Macau offers the latest on the situation now that Button's future plans have been decided.
Q. Can you clarify what the current situation with Kimi Raikkonen is? Is it 100 percent that he will not be in Formula 1 next year?
Steve Robertson: Pretty much so – although you could never say 100 percent. Kimi had a goal and a team he wanted to be with, but it didn't work out. We tried. We had many meetings with McLaren, but, unfortunately, there were a few issues there that we could not find common ground on. And we realized in the last four or five days that it would be very difficult for a deal to be done.
And Kimi, if he cannot get a competitive drive in F1, where he feels he can win races and the championship, then he does not need to do F1 for the money. He does it because he wants to win. He would rather take a year off, with the possibility of coming back in 2011.
Q. Does he have the hunger to get back into F1?
SR: Yes. As far as Kimi is concerned he has unfinished business – if the opportunity is there to win races and another championship. That is his main goal. Now that it looks like he is not doing F1 we will look at other options. Rallying, or something else – but there is nothing firmed up in that area yet because F1 has only just finished for us in the last few days. Now it is the time to discuss other things.
Q. Are there any ongoing talks with F1 teams right now? There has been speculation that Kimi could take the Mercedes GP seat vacated by Jenson Button.
SR: This is Formula 1. If they can offer, or convince us, that they can provide Kimi an opportunity that Kimi is happy with, and that we are happy with, and he feels he can win races and the championship then never say never. There is always a possibility.
Q. What do you think is most likely for Kimi next year if he does not get anything in F1? Is rallying the preferred option?
SR: In all honesty, he wanted to do a couple of rallies with F1. Since F1 has no testing, Kimi gets a little bit bored during the week because he cannot do anything. He feels it does not do him any harm. If you look at what happened this year, when he rallied and then came back to F1, his results were always strong. For him, it keeps him sharp. So, if he does not do F1, then I am sure he will do something in the World Rally Championship.
Q. What would you say percentage wise his chances of eventually returning to F1 are, because a lot of fans are disappointed he will not be there in 2010 after what he did with Ferrari in the second half of this season?
SR: It is true that Kimi had a fantastic second half to the year when you consider that there was no development with that car – and he still won a race at Spa. But listen – a lot of F1 teams are interested in Kimi. He is one of those unique drivers, who gets in something and instantly he is quick. He does not need days and days of testing. It has always been that way.
There are not that many teams that would appeal to Kimi because he is honest when he says he has got to have a car to win. He is not interested in the money. Of course, money is a part of it but he doesn't need the money. He wants a car where he can show his talent. He was very frustrated this year by the fact that he could not win more races, and challenge for the championship. When you have been in F1 for nine years and been a World Champion then you need challenges – and for Kimi the challenge is to win championships and races.
Q. So, it is fair to say that the phone will always be on for anyone willing to offer him something?
SR: Yes, for sure. Kimi has made it clear that he wants to return in the right situation.
Q. What is your reaction to Jenson Button's decision to join McLaren?
SR: Obviously, after McLaren could not get Kimi, they looked at what they thought was the next best option. People say that to have two British drivers in one team is not a good thing, but McLaren has never operated like that. They want to take the best drivers available, irrespective of nationality. It will be interesting that they have two World Champions in their team next year – and I am watching with interest, like everyone else, to see how that develops.