McLaren-Mercedes is perfectly capable of successfully managing two top-drawer drivers in F1, Norbert Haug has urged – as the rumours swirling around the paddock to the effect that 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen is to return to his former team in 2010 gather pace.
It is understood that once Ferrari officially unveil current Renault incumbent Fernando Alonso alongside Felipe Massa next season – possibly in the run-up to this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka [see separate story – click here
] – so the driver market will accelerate into action, with the widely-held belief that in having to make way for the Spaniard, Raikkonen is on his way back to Woking.
The Finn competed for McLaren for five years from 2002 to 2006, triumphing nine times over that period and arguably being unlucky not to clinch the crown in both 2003 and 2005. Though it had initially been mused that the 29-year-old would be rally-bound after being ejected by Ferrari, it now appears he will not only remain in F1, but that it will be with one of the leading teams to boot – and Haug seems eminently open to the idea.
“Reflecting on our co-operation, I think it was positive,” the Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President is quoted as having said by Planet F1
. “We should have won at least two world championships – we missed one by two points in 2003, but I think an engine failure was one of the reasons, so without that he could have done it.
“In 2005 he could have done it, in fairness. The engines at that stage were not as good and reliable as they are now. To have Kimi in our team winning two world championships would certainly have been a fair outcome for him. I have a good relationship with him, and I'm sure he would say the same.”
The one stumbling block in the way of Raikkonen's McLaren switch is a question mark over just how good the multiple world title-winning outfit is at handling two fiercely-competitive and talented drivers alongside one another. Alonso left the team in acrimonious circumstances at the end of his sole campaign there next to Lewis Hamilton in 2007, following a year blighted by inter-team politics, bickering and accusations of inequality in terms of both treatment and equipment – resulting in both men missing out on the crown to Raikkonen by just a single point come season's end.
Haug, however, is confident that lessons have been learned – and is optimistic that there would be no issues with employing a driver pairing that between them have won 29 grands prix and two world championships and who would both be desperate to gain number one billing.
“Whatever you can do to get the best available drivers, that is what you have to do,” the German underlined. “It's a question of money, a question of capability, a question of the amount of talent. Managing two megastars, I don't think that honestly it was a problem.
“With Alonso there were some noises to the outside world, but in reality inside the team everybody did his job and in reality we should have won the world championship. It was not due to not having team orders. You can imagine what would have happened if Fernando had not blocked Lewis in Hungary – no penalty, one point more and you are there. This is how it goes sometimes. We won it by one point [in 2008] and we lost it by one point [in 2007].