Martin Whitmarsh has given the clearest indication yet that 2007 F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen will be a McLaren-Mercedes driver once more in 2010, admitting that the Finn is an 'attractive' proposition who 'would fit well' at his erstwhile employers next year.
Having seen his services dispensed with by Ferrari in favour of fellow former title-winner Fernando Alonso, Raikkonen is a free agent again – and whilst it was initially speculated that his future lay either in rallying or possibly at Renault, all the paddock talk of late has been that he is in advanced discussions with McLaren with a view to returning to the ultra-successful outfit with whom he competed in the top flight from 2002 to 2006, triumphing eight times along the way and arguably being unlucky to miss out on the drivers' crown in both 2003 and 2005.
The man himself has added fuel to the fire in insisting that he will only remain in F1 if it is with a team capable of challenging for glory, whilst Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug has opined that McLaren could adequately manage two world champion drivers of the stature of Raikkonen and reigning title-holder Lewis Hamilton – in the light of the turbulent relationship that developed with Fernando Alonso back in 2007 – and has hinted that the Espoo native would be welcomed back to Woking with open arms should he wish to return.
Whitmarsh, however, is continuing to keep his cards close to his chest, adamant that no decision has yet been taken and quick to point out that the underperforming Heikki Kovalainen – who has languished some way off Hamilton's pace for most of the 2009 campaign – is far from out of the equation in terms of hanging onto his seat.
One factor playing in the favour of Raikkonen's compatriot is that he and Hamilton get on well as team-mates, with Whitmarsh admittedly wary indeed of recreating the kind of eggshell situation that prevailed two years ago when two megastars were both desperate to lay claim to number one status within the team.
“The answer is simple,” the Englishman – who assumed the role of team principal from Ron Dennis prior to the start of this season – told the official F1 website. “We have not determined a driver line-up yet and we haven't set a timetable for doing so. We now have clarity about Ferrari's drivers, and we know now that other drivers are available.
“I think we are very fortunate at the moment as there is tremendous harmony in the team. Both of our current drivers aren't political; they are very open to one another and they genuinely like each other. Team-mates don't necessarily like each other – that is not a pre-requisite. They have to be honest and open and not political; that is part of the ingredients needed this year.
“We started in a very poor state with a slow car, and then we had other controversies at the beginning of the year. I have to say I am personally proud of how the team pulled together during the year. I credit that to the genuine harmony among people who enjoy working together – and for the future, whatever driver line-up we have, you want to have that.
“We try and give Heikki every opportunity to do a good job; Heikki is a very committed driver and a lovely chap, and we would like him to get some good results over the rest of the season. We are focusing on that and are not announcing a driver line-up for the moment. We will continue to review the situation and, once we know, we will announce it.
“Kimi is a fantastic driver, and I like him and know him well – he was with the team for five years. He is quick, he is committed and I think he probably would be very committed to beating Ferrari in the future, knowing him. All these are attractive things with Kimi.
“He is not political, he is absolutely straightforward – what you see is what you get with Kimi – and on top of that everyone knows that he is a winning driver. I think he has been underestimated technically. He is a very good racing driver and I think he would fit well in this team, if we choose to go down that route.”