Ex-F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen could be set for a surprise switch to Red Bull Racing in 2010, it has been rumoured – as the Finn's discussions with former employers McLaren-Mercedes appear to have hit deadlock over his financial demands, whilst Mark Webber's continuing allegiance to his disgraced manager Flavio Briatore has reportedly made him unpopular with RBR top brass.
Even prior to the announcement by Ferrari last week that finally confirmed the worst-kept secret in the F1 paddock – that Fernando Alonso will jump ship from Renault to the Scuderia
next season on a three-year deal – it had been speculated that Raikkonen was in advanced talks with McLaren, with whom he competed in the top flight from 2002 until 2006, triumphing eight times along the way and only narrowly missing out on the drivers' crown in 2003 and 2005.
However, according to German magazine Sport Bild
, the salary requirements being made by Raikkonen's management team have caused McLaren to think again – with the 18-time grand prix-winner having received a substantial pay-off from Ferrari for terminating his ongoing contract a year early, and understood to be seeking in the region of €25 million for 2010, a sum the Woking-based outfit is unwilling to pay.
The 30-year-old has also been linked with both Toyota and Renault for next season – with the former openly admitting it would love to snap Raikkonen up [see separate story – click here
] – and now, most intriguingly of all, with Red Bull, where 2009 incumbents Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber ostensibly have firm agreements in-place for 2010.
However, it is understood that Webber's unwillingness to end his collaboration with Briatore – one of the leading architects of the 'Singapore-gate' race-fixing scandal that has rocked F1 of late, and for which the Italian was banned indefinitely from all aspects of FIA-sanctioned competition, driver management included – has not gone down well at the energy drinks-backed outfit, with suggestions that the German Grand Prix winner could be side-shifted across to sister team Scuderia Toro Rosso to make way for Raikkonen.
Adding to the credibility of the latest rumours, Vettel and Raikkonen are reputedly good friends away from the race track, the latter's manager Steve Robertson has cryptically revealed that 'we are negotiating even with teams that everybody thinks have no vacancies' and the Espoo native's well-documented party-loving lifestyle and high profile would doubtless fit in well at the team credited with putting the fun back into F1 – and one that seemingly has the necessary backing behind it to meet his financial desires.
Elsewhere on the provisional 2010 starting grid, following the announcement that BMW-Sauber refugee Robert Kubica has – as had been generally anticipated – signed for Renault as Alonso's replacement [see separate story – click here
], it is believed that the French manufacturer is looking for someone other than rookie Romain Grosjean to partner the Pole, with Briatore's young Franco-Swiss protégé having failed to set the world alight since his graduation from the GP2 feeder series in place of the sacked Nelsinho Piquet two months ago.
Kubica's current BMW team-mate Nick Heidfeld, Toyota star Timo Glock and Force India ace Adrian Sutil are all rumoured to be in contention for the seat, with Renault in no rush to make a decision on who will fill its second cockpit. It seems increasingly likely, meanwhile, that F1 veteran Rubens Barrichello will move from Brawn GP to Williams, alongside debutant Nico Hülkenberg – leaving Kazuki Nakajima, Jarno Trulli, Heikki Kovalainen and Grosjean all seeking alternative employment and potentially needing to look towards the new teams in order to prolong their careers at the highest level.