The Iceman Heats Up Silly Season

Over the past few years, ‘Silly Season’ has been rather pathetic, with the drivers at the top teams signing contracts to stay where they are early on. This year looked to be much the same, with Alonso and Vettel extending their stays long-term, Button putting his squiggle on a multi-year deal, Webber signing up for another year, and Hamilton, Massa, and the Mercedes duo already contracted. When the top teams are sorted, the rest fall into place. And then, out of the blue, come the rumours; Kimi Raikkonen wants in.

The idea of 6 world champions on the grid is an exciting prospect, but would Kimi be able to challenge for the title? I doubt it. For a start, he’s race rusty, having been out of the sport since the end of 2009, and has since tried his hand at other disciplines. It will take him a while to get back up to speed, especially with the new Pirelli rubber and the DRS to play with. And then there is his choice of team: Williams. The saddest thing about this season has been the performance of this once great team, who have suffered their worst season ever, scoring just 5 points all year. Can they improve for next year? From where they are, the only was is up, and are moving across to the Renault powerplant, which is a better engine than the one they’ve got now, but losing team personnel like Sam Michael could prove costly, especially as the new guys (including the infamous Mike Coughlan) will need time to settle in. Suffice to say, it’s unlikely that the team will be challenging for the championship next year, but here’s hoping they do.

It seems like a rouse by the team to get sponsors, but not so, according to Christian Wolff, who told AFP News Agency that ‘This isn’t a publicity stunt’. These are serious negotiations. Kimi was reported to have visited Grove recently, and his management was spotted in the Williams hospitality at Abu Dhabi. Earlier this month, Kimi confirmed he was in talks with the team, but hasn’t signed anything yet. Perhaps he’s unsure about how well the Williams freezer is stocked.

The question is, if this isn’t to attract sponsors, why is Kimi looking at a team down on their luck? Italian Autosport claims that Raikkonen is just looking for a one year deal, before going off to replace Schumacher at Mercedes for 2013. That seems to work well for everyone, as Mercedes will get Kimi when he’s got his eye in, whilst the Williams PR department can have a field day, albeit only for the one year. The same, although not rumoured, could be said for Red Bull, who sponsor him in his rally exploits. It’s clear that Webber is not a favourite with Helmut Marko, and with only a one year contract, could be replaced by the Finn for 2013. To sweeten the deal, Red Bull, who are not strapped for cash, could even pay his retainer for the year, making Kimi free for Williams; useful as finances are tight at Grove, and it is unlikely they can afford to pay what he wants. Again, not speculated, but it looks like a good idea. Can you imagine Kimi and Vettel in a top team together? The rest would be quaking in their boots.

There’s stiff competition for the seat, with Barrichello (who insists Brazil will not be his last race), Sutil, Valterri Bottas, and Giedo van der Garde all trying for a drive, along with many others. It could become a lot easier as, although Maldonado is contracted for next year, the Venezuelan Parliament is reportedly investigating the Williams sponsor PDVSA, as no-one knows how much they are spending on the team. That, along with his poor performances, could really jeopardise his drive for next year. There is hope yet for those queuing outside the Williams doors. We expect a decision on who will drive for the team in the next week.

Another team we are waiting on is Force India. The boss, Vijay Mallya, has said he will announce his drivers in December, by which point everyone else will have their line-ups confirmed, leaving one driver out in the cold. Hulkenburg, di Resta, and Sutil are the three vying for the seats, and the word on the street it that Sutil is the one likely to be dropped, hence why he’s looking at that other Williams seat. Toro Rosso too are remaining tight-lipped on who they are going to be running, with Alguersuari, Buemi, Ricciardo, and Jean-Eric Vergne all in contention. That is a very hard one to call.

Otherwise, Caterham (nee Team Lotus) have the same drivers, Marussia (nee Virgin) are reported to be putting Charles Pic alongside Timo Glock, and HRT have signed McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa on a two year contract, a move which must surely signal the start of the end for the Spaniard’s career, with Dani Clos the most likely candidate to join him at the Spanish team.

Everything else seems to revolve around whether Kubica can return to Lotus (nee Renault) or not, and we expect a decision soon. To be honest, not is the most likely. In this situation, Romain Grosjean, the reigning GP2 champion, is the favourite to replace the Pole. Petrov is contracted for next year, but put his future in doubt with some hot-headed comments after the Abu Dhabi race. Luckily for him, the team decided to put it all behind them. At Ferrari, Massa has been told his contract will be honoured for next year despite the shocking performance this year, during which he has not set foot upon the podium, but if he doesn’t improve for 2012, he’ll be out of the team for 2013. Who will replace him? They seem to want Kubica if he can drive again, but Perez is a strong candidate too. But that is for next year’s silly season.

Most of this, of course, is speculation. Only time will tell who ends up where.


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