Kimi Raikkonen has expressed his conviction that he could breeze back into F1 should he so desire, but as he prepares for his maiden full campaign in the World Rally Championship in 2010, the Finn has dropped his strongest hint yet that he will never be back – and admits that a WRC title would mean 'more' to him than his 2007 drivers' crown in the top flight.
After being evicted by Ferrari to make way for the incoming Fernando Alonso a year before his contract was due to expire, and subsequently failing to reach agreement with former team McLaren-Mercedes on financial matters, Raikkonen turned his attentions to his other main love of rallying, and swiftly concluded a deal with the Citroën Junior Team to join Sébastien Ogier in a Red Bull-backed C4 WRC identical to that of multiple world champion Sébastien Loeb.
Though he has been linked with a return to the grand prix grid in 2011 – possibly with Red Bull Racing, in-place of either Sebastian Vettel or Mark Webber – the Finn has revealed that with off-track politics continuing to prevail over on-track action, he has little real interest in coming back.
“I'll watch a race on TV every now and then, and perhaps for fun I'll go to the Monaco Grand Prix,” he told the Red Bulletin's
German website. “As it looks now, I would get another F1 cockpit – but do I want it? A lot of unpleasant things are happening in Formula 1, with one manufacturer leaving after the other or selling their teams.
“In F1, too many things overshadow the racing. There are too many politics, and no-one is willing to say what they think in public, because they are afraid it will be taken out of context. In a year, we'll talk again, but I'm glad I don't have to worry about it at the moment.”
Confessing that F1 had 'become a routine' over the nine years during which he featured as one of its leading lights – with 18 grand prix victories and 62 podium finishes to his name from 156 starts for Sauber, McLaren and Ferrari – Raikkonen is now palpably rejuvenated, with the fire inside him having been re-lit by his new challenge.
Admitting to feeling like he did back when he made his debut at the highest level as a fresh-faced 20-year-old newcomer in early 2001, he added that winning the World Rally Championship would mean 'more than my F1 World Championship title'. He begins his assault on the WRC on the Rally of Sweden on 12 February.
“I'm just starting out and I can sense what a long journey it would be to get to that point,” recognised the Espoo native. “It's definitely the biggest challenge yet – I've got to learn everything from scratch – but I want the challenge. I have to get to know the car, the rallies, how to work with my co-driver, everything.
“I'm looking forward to it, and you've got to set yourself some competition if you really want to know how good you are. The first few rallies are bound to be tough, until I know how fast the other drivers are, and I'm holding back on any personal expectations – I'm sure I won't manage to keep up with the top four (Loeb, Mikko Hirvonen, Dani Sordo and Jari-Matti Latvala).
“The atmosphere in rallying is much nicer – it's more about the performance of the drivers. In F1, each lap is more-or-less the same. When it rains it becomes more difficult, but otherwise it soon becomes a routine. In rallying, every corner or hill might be different from what you expected – that makes it interesting. There is a little bit of the young Kimi in me again; I'm curious and excited.”