The speculation surrounding a possible comeback for ex-F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen next year has gathered pace, with Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug having paid a visit to see the Finn at his Swiss home – and McLaren-Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh reflecting that the sport would be 'richer' were he to return.
Raikkonen quit the top flight at the end of last year, having been dropped by Ferrari in favour of fellow title-winner Fernando Alonso, and having entered negotiations with former employer McLaren with a view to partnering Lewis Hamilton but in the end proving unable to reach financial agreement.
He was also linked to Mercedes Grand Prix prior to the news that Michael Schumacher was to spectacularly rejoin the grid three years on from 'retirement' – but ultimately, the 30-year-old elected to indulge his 'second love' on a full-time basis and signed to compete for the Citroën Junior Team in the World Rally Championship.
Though he has encountered the inevitable ups-and-downs and growing pains of being on what is undeniably a steep learning curve, Raikkonen ably demonstrated just how far he has come by running up in the leading quartet on last weekend's inaugural Rally Bulgaria until he unfortunately crashed out of contention.
'The Iceman' initially hinted that his WRC adventure could be merely a sabbatical, but since then he has remained elusive about his long-term plans, and whether or not he foresees a sustained future in rallying or else a return to F1.
Should he indeed wish to come back, the most likely options would appear to be Renault – alongside the recently re-signed Robert Kubica – current pace-setters Red Bull Racing if the fall-out from Istanbul and Silverstone ultimately proves too much for Mark Webber to stomach or else Mercedes, in the event that Schumacher decides that enough is enough and walks away early from his three-year contract come season's end.
Which only goes to make the reports in Finnish newspaper Iltalehti
that Raikkonen recently received a visit from Haug at home in Switzerland all-the-more intriguing. The German has since confirmed the visit, but sought to play down its significance, whilst the Espoo native's spokesman Riku Kuvaja has re-iterated that the situation remains 'the same as before'.
“I have been in contact with Kimi as a friend,” the 57-year-old – who worked closely with Raikkonen at McLaren from 2002 to 2006 and was a guest at the 18-time grand prix-winner's wedding – told MTV3
at Silverstone. “Kimi will make a decision [regarding his future] for himself. I do hope he comes back, because it would be a good thing for F1.”
“F1 would be richer for having Kimi back,” echoed McLaren team principal and Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) chairman Whitmarsh, according to the Daily Star
. “He is a very talented and intelligent driver, which is something that people underestimated – that's because he wasn't the most communicative of people on occasions.
“Kimi is one of the most exciting drivers in the world and, frankly, he should be in F1. If I could wave a magic wand for an F1 grid it would certainly include Kimi. That's why last year we were talking to him.”