Former F1 world champion Kimi Raikkonen has given the first hint that he may be considering a possible return to the top flight, after being spotted during a visit to Williams' Grove headquarters recently.
The Finn walked away from F1 when Ferrari opted to sign Fernando Alonso for 2010, but has yet to settle in any other discipline, with his supposed love affair with rallying seemingly on the point of fizzling out and a brief flirtation with NASCAR appearing little more than just that. He has constantly been linked with a potential return, however, most recently as a replacement for the injured Robert Kubica at Renault, but, while Eric Boullier has dismissed that possibility, other teams are not necessarily closing their doors.
According to several sources, Raikkonen was given a personal guided tour of Grove by none other than Williams chairman Adam Parr, but it remains unclear why the 2007 world champion was spending time with one of the sport's current strugglers. Williams has not been a force since before Raikkonen won his world title, when the then McLaren driver was fighting off the likes of Juan Montoya as their teams lead the pursuit of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari, and it appears unlikely to return to former glories in the near future, despite inking a deal to return to regie
power from 2012.
Raikkonen, who drove for Sauber, McLaren and Ferrari in his F1 career, is still only 31, and recently tested with Peugeot's sportscar team in Spain, leading to speculation that he may be bound for the endurance scene rather than returning to a category he notoriously detested for its PR requirements. He also commanded hefty retainers from Woking and Maranello, something that the cash-strapped Williams would struggle to match in the current climate.
It could be that, with his stock demoted a little by his well-publicised struggles in the WRC, Raikkonen may be looking to return to the scene of his greatest triumphs, and joining Williams would certainly enable him to do so without pressure and expectation, but how motivated would he be if there is only a slim chance of points, let alone a sniff of the podium?
On the flip side, the Finn's pace would not be in question, but he was never regarded that highly by engineers who hoped he would spend more time in the paddock after testing, practice and races to run the rule over set-up and any changes that were being suggested. He would also not be bringing sponsorship to the team, although his presence may be helpful in attracting some.
Williams remains in limbo regarding its 2012 line-up, although rookie Pastor Maldonado is thought likely to stay for as long as Venezuela and oil giant PDVSA is happy to stump up the dollars. That leaves Rubens Barrichello 'on the bubble', despite the Brazilian having been retained for 2011 on the strength of his development ability. While test driver, and new GP3 Series champion, Valtteri Bottas is not considered a candidate to step up, the position of his fellow Finn could be complicated by ongoing rumours linking Force India's better-funded Adrian Sutil to a move to Williams.
The German has been linked to Grove for the past few seasons, and was reportedly also a recent visitor to the F1 facility there, although he continues to insist that remaining at Force India remains his priority. Unless either Paul di Resta or Nico Hulkenberg move on, however, the money is on Sutil being the odd man out when the team makes its decision at the end of the year. di Resta has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Michael Schumacher at Mercedes, while Hulkenberg admits to having been approached by several teams for 2012, but general paddock opinion sees the pair in harness at FIF1 next season.
Williams has recently strengthened its technical team, despite Sam Michael stepping down after Korea, with the addition of new technical director Mike Coughlan and aerodynamicist Jason Somerville, as well as the highly-experienced Mark Gillan, complementing its return to Renault power.