Kimi Raikkonen will find it 'tough' to return to F1 should he so desire in 2011 after his off-colour performance for much of 2009 and the 'sour' manner in which he departed the fray come season's end - that is the view of former grand prix-winner Johnny Herbert, reflecting on the Finn's switch to join the World Rally Championship (WRC) this year.

After being ejected by Ferrari in order to make way for incoming double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso - and receiving a EUR17 million severance sum for his trouble, given that he still had a year left to run on his existing contract with the Scuderia - Raikkonen held talks with erstwhile employer McLaren-Mercedes, but was unable to reach satisfactory financial terms with the team for whom he had competed at the highest level from 2002 to 2006.

There was then a brief flurry of interest from reigning double world champions Mercedes Grand Prix - formerly Brawn GP - but before any serious discussions could take place, the 2007 title-winner's head had been irreversibly turned, and a deal for 2010 signed with the Red Bull-backed Citro?n Junior World Rally Team to partner S?bastien Ogier in the same model of car as multiple WRC Champion S?bastien Loeb.

The 18-time grand prix-winner has since hinted that he could effectively breeze back into an F1 seat at any time he so likes [see separate story - click here] - and Red Bull Racing has been mooted as a potential destination in 2011, following a year's sabbatical from the top flight.

However, having failed to consistently shine since early 2008 - save for a brief resurgence of the 'old Kimi' in the wake of Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa's life-threatening accident at the Hungaroring last summer - Herbert suggests the 30-year-old Espoo native is only kidding himself.

"It's a shame for him," the former British Grand Prix-winner turned BTCC star told Crash.net Radio. "At the end of the day, I think for Kimi to say he'll have a rallying year and then come back for 2011 is a bit tough, because he's left probably in a sour way.

"Felipe was basically beating him all the time and we never seem to see the old Kimi anymore, the old spark of Kimi. He had that good sort of mid-season from the Hungarian Grand Prix where he finished second, and he did well in Valencia and Belgium, so he had a couple of good races - but then at the end, it sort of faded again. I don't know all the ins-and-outs of Ferrari itself, but we never saw that sparkle from him.

"To go out of it and then try and get back in again I think is a very hard thing, because there's always new blood about and coming up, and if that new blood does the right thing in GP2 for example, then they're going to be trying to get in. We've got young drivers that are already there trying to make their point, so it's a sticky position because the places that he might think are there may not be there. He might come back and have to go to a lower team, which is not what he wants.

"It's a shame, because I think he's still a wonderful talent and he is a character in his own right. I like him a lot; once he's in an evening, away-from-racing situation he's great and he won't stop talking - he's just chat-chat-chat-chat-chat - but we only know him from almost a shyness. He doesn't enjoy the media spotlight side of it, which is why we see the Kimi that we see - but underneath it, there is a fun Kimi and there is a damn fast Kimi at the same time. Unfortunately, we didn't see it much last year, and that will I think only harm his chances of coming back.

"I think he needed to stay in and get through it and prove his potential once again to be available in a proper frame of mind for 2011, rather than going rallying and whatever might happen there. It's not a foregone conclusion that he's suddenly going to win the World Rally Championship. If he does that will help, but we'll see."

Regardless of Raikkonen's absence from the grand prix grid in 2010, Herbert predicts a thrilling campaign in prospect, echoing the belief of F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone that it will be a 'jaw-dropping' year with the return of the legendary Michael Schumacher, Alonso's arrival at Ferrari and the pairing-up of countrymen and the most recent two world champions Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton at McLaren-Mercedes.

"The movement has been very nice," the 45-year-old acknowledged. "It's going to be a very interesting season, because there are a lot of good drivers that have moved in a very positive direction. I think and hope it's going to be a better season than we had last year. With the refuelling ban, that's going to change things a little bit - we've got no pit-stops now as such, just tyre-stops. There's proper talent in the right cars probably at the right time, and that will make Formula 1 very exciting I think this year. I'm looking forward to it, for sure."

TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE

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