The ongoing discrepancy between Kimi Raikkonen's wage demands and the salary that his most likely F1 2010 employer McLaren-Mercedes is willing to pay him could drive the Woking-based outfit to look to out-of-work BMW-Sauber refugee Nick Heidfeld instead – as it emerged that the Finn might do better financially by taking a year off.
Following the official announcement that he was being released by Ferrari to make way for fellow F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso next season, Raikkonen was linked with a number of teams, from Renault to Red Bull and Toyota to McLaren.
However, whilst the 2007 title-winner wasted little time in making clear that only the latter option was of interest to him [see separate story – click here
] – having competed for the Silver Arrows for five years from 2002 to 2006, triumphing nine times along the way and arguably being unlucky to miss out on title glory in 2003 and 2005 – it soon became apparent that there was, and remains, quite a gap between his own valuation of his financial worth and McLaren's estimation.
Due to having been forced to terminate Raikkonen's contract a year ahead of schedule, Ferrari promised to pay the 18-time grand prix-winner €17 million if he does not compete in F1 in 2010, or €10m if he does. To that end, German magazine Auto Motor und Sport
reports that McLaren is offering a deal of just €5 million, reasoning that his total would thereby be a still more-than-acceptable €15 million – but the 30-year-old's management team of Steve and David Roberston is said to be unwilling to budge on its demands, as well as the stipulation that Raikkonen has to attend fewer sponsor days than would be the norm.
Should no agreement be forthcoming, it is being mused that of all the other names mooted as potential team-mates to 2008 F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton – assuming, as is widely anticipated, that Heikki Kovalainen is not retained for a third consecutive season at the multiple title-winning concern – Heidfeld is near to the top of the list, with team principal Martin Whitmarsh having told spox.com
that in his opinion the experienced German is perhaps the most underrated driver on the grid.
Heidfeld himself has admitted that he is 'not ruling out any team' in the wake of BMW's withdrawal, and should 'Quick Nick' indeed join McLaren, it would doubtless please engine-partner Mercedes-Benz and represent a deserved boost for the oft-overlooked man from Mönchengladbach.
The 32-year-old acted as McLaren-Mercedes test driver back in 1998 and triumphed in the International F3000 Championship (now GP2 Series) for the McLaren Junior Team the following year, only to be passed over in favour of then Sauber team-mate Raikkonen when Mika Hakkinen retired at the end of 2001, to the general surprise of paddock observers. Whilst Raikkonen's career subsequently took off, Heidfeld's has yet to really accelerate out of neutral – but a McLaren seat in 2010 could finally offer him the chance to fulfil his undoubted talent and, after more than 150 starts in the top flight, belatedly break his grand prix duck.