Kimi Raikkonen has expressed his desire to fight for both pole position and the podium in this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest – as rumours persist that the 2007 F1 World Champion will no longer be on the grid this time next year.
Reports in the Finn's native country continue to suggest that Raikkonen will move over to full-time rallying in 2010, a discipline in which his countrymen have invariably excelled, with world championship triumphs for Markku Alén, FIA Presidential hopeful Ari Vatanen, Hannu Mikkola, Timo Salonen, Juha Kankkunen, Tommi Mäkinen and Marcus Grönholm – accounting for 14 of the 32 drivers' titles since the first one was awarded back in 1977.
The 17-time grand prix winner – who has not now stood atop the rostrum in the top flight since the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona more than a year ago – has been increasingly indulging his other passion for rallying of late. He has entered on three rallies this year already, and is due to make his official WRC bow on Rally Finland during the four-week mid-summer F1 break next month, behind the wheel of a Fiat Grande Punto Abarth.
According to speculation, those outings may become rather more frequent next year, with a reputed €28 million pay-off from Ferrari for cutting short his contract – due to expire at the end of the 2010 campaign – expected to be financed by new sponsor Santander, and freeing up a space for double world champion Fernando Alonso to jump into the breach following two unhappy seasons at Renault. The deal would also allegedly preclude the man from Espoo from signing to compete for any of the Scuderia's
rivals at the highest level.
The driver dubbed the 'Ice Man' has faced repeated accusations in recent months that his heart is no longer in F1 – not helped by climbing out of his car and changing into a T-shirt and shorts with an ice-cream in his hand whilst organisers debated the wisdom of continuing with the rain-lashed Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang earlier this year – and that with lagging motivation, he should simply walk away as he is no longer the same driver he once was.
Raikkonen has notched up just ten points so far during the 2009 campaign – barely one per race – whilst team-mate Felipe Massa has tallied more than twice as many with 22 on the board, but he has always insisted that retirement is not on the horizon, and he has re-iterated his commitment and will to win ahead of F1's annual trip to the Hungaroring, where he triumphed for McLaren-Mercedes back in 2005 and has either won, been on pole position or set fastest lap in each of his last five appearances.
“They say that Hungary is somehow similar to Monaco,” he mused. “True, the corners are very slow, but the Hungaroring is definitely more 'forgiving' than the Principality, where the tiniest slip will almost certainly make you end up in the barriers. Having said that, the next race will definitely be the most similar one to Monaco.
“This year we gained a place on the podium in Monaco, and this is our objective for Budapest; we were able to fight for pole until the last moment and I think if we had gained it, the race would have gone in a completely different direction. We'll retry in Hungary, but it will be difficult. The F60 should adapt pretty well to the track, but we know all the other teams have improved their cars considerably since Monaco, so there will be fierce competition. We'll get a better picture of the situation on Friday morning after the first free practice.
“The qualifying result is really important in Budapest, because overtaking is even more difficult than usual; if you don't start from one of the front rows you risk the race transforming into a long, hot and difficult afternoon, without any hope for a good result. After two race weekends not really with summery weather at Silverstone and the Nürburgring, there should be finally some high temperatures; our car is quite kind to the tyres compared to many others, which means that these conditions should help us more.
“This year the tyre performance has varied a lot over the weekends. The crucial point is the temperature, and it's clear that the perfect window to use them is really narrow – but it's the same for all the teams, as we could see in the last races.
“We're at the tenth race of the championship, which has been very difficult up to now. We've been working hard to close the gap we had since the start between us and the leaders; naturally all the others have also been improving their cars. Furthermore, with the fact that we can't test this year during the championship, it's even more difficult to make up ground. How the season's second part will go also depends on the decision of how to use the resources, because the work on next year's car is now already in full swing.”