Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo has refuted suggestions made by Kimi Raikkonen that the Finn's departure in favour of Fernando Alonso in F1 2010 was to a certain degree political – as he confessed that he did have concerns about the new arrival's ability to act as a team player.
Raikkonen was bought out of his existing contract with the Scuderia
a year early in order to make way for fellow F1 World Champion Alonso – and the 2007 title-winner has since hinted that his dismissal had more than a little to do with the advent of new sponsor Santander, which as a leading Spanish bank perhaps understandably wanted a leading Spanish driver in the team.
Money, Raikkonen claimed, had also played a not insignificant role – certainly a far greater one than his on-track performance – but di Montezemolo argues that it was the Espoo native's questionable off-track
commitment that ultimately led to the decision to make a change.
“We had already reached an agreement for 2011, when both our drivers' contracts would have expired,” the Italian explained. “Then, we realised that our team needed a driver capable of really getting involved with the engineers – a characteristic that was not part of Kimi's genetic make-up, even though he is an amazingly talented guy.
“Then came Felipe [Massa]'s unexpected accident and, before taking a decision, we needed to know what his prospects were. Once we were certain he was fine, in light of what was going on at Renault, we decided to try and bring Alonso on-board a year ahead of schedule.
“Let's make one thing clear – we were very happy with everything Kimi did for Ferrari during his time at Maranello. He won the world championship in his first year and played a vital part in our taking the constructors' title in his second year, while in this difficult season he at least managed to secure us one victory.
“However, we were aware that something else was needed for the way we operate, and therefore we opted for Alonso. The role of Santander? Certainly, they are happy, but it is not the sponsors that choose the drivers – we have never operated like that and we never will.”
Prior to the official confirmation that he was set for a future in scarlet, Alonso's arrival at the Prancing Horse had been one of the worst-kept paddock secrets of the year – and whilst admitting that he had been interested in the 21-time grand prix-winner's services for some time, di Montezemolo acknowledged that the infamous McLaren-Mercedes episode of two years ago and very public fall-out with both Ron Dennis and Lewis Hamilton had left him a little on his guard.
“We have been watching him since 2007,” the 62-year-old revealed, “and [Stefano] Domenicali discussed it with me this summer. He is an extremely talented driver, quick and good at working with a team, while being totally focussed on winning. I think he is coming to Ferrari at just the right time in his career.
“I spoke about [Alonso's ability to be a team player] with Domenicali maybe 1,000 times, and I spoke with Alonso. I told him: 'If you come to drive for us, you drive for a team, you drive for a group, you don't drive for yourself. If you want a team, then you do your own team, fantastic, like John Surtees. In Ferrari we want to put you in the best condition to win. If not, we will never hire you.”