Rumours that former world champion Kimi Raikkonen
could make a return to F1 with the Williams
team appear to have gained strength since the Finn was spotted making a visit to Grove between the Belgian and Italian grands prix.
While the association was largely dismissed as unlikely at the time, neither side has taken time to comment either way, leading to increased speculation that the 31-year old could be a part of the Williams
line-up, alongside Pastor Maldonado, in 2012.
Notorious for his dislike of debriefs and promotional activities, Raikkonen quit the top flight when Ferrari
signed Fernando Alonso
to replace him for 2010, and has spent the past two years campaigning a semi-works Citroen in the World Rally Championship, where he expected to 'have more fun'. However, a lack of results combined with the usual pressure of finding the finance to continue competing under his own ICE1 Racing banner, have seen Raikkonen's love affair with the category begin to wane - to the point where he was fined, and had his manufacturers' championship entry cancelled, for missing the recent Australian round - and led to him seeking alternatives for 2012 and beyond.
While a flirtation with NASCAR and a recent test with the Peugeot sportscar team suggested that he may be headed in either direction, Raikkonen's visit to Grove raised more than just eyebrows, amid disbelief that he may be considering joining a team at the 'wrong' end of the grid in a bid to restart his F1 career. The same questions regarding money and motivation remain [read story here
], but sources claim that the pair are closing on a deal to bring Raikkonen back into the F1 fold next season.
commentator James Allen points out that 'the timing is significant as Williams
are on the look out for a bold move to boost the team', while suggesting that Raikkonen could be looking to use the team as a springboard to better things in the future, where 'the F1 driver landscape is likely to change....at the end of 2012 and a strong season, reminding everyone what he can do, might open some doors'.
With more recent competition action than Michael Schumacher had under his belt at the time of his return last season, Raikkonen should be able to get up to speed quicker than his former championship rival - only the Pirelli tyres will be significantly different to the Finn's previous spell in the top flight - while Williams
are already putting the pieces in place as it attempts to claw its way out of the doldrums that have engulfed it in recent seasons.
man Mike Coughlan, who replaces Sam Michael as technical director, is already familiar to Raikkonen from their time together at Maranello, while Mark Gillan and Jason Sommerville have also signed on in recent weeks, leaving the 2012 driver line-up as one of the bigger unresolved issues at Grove.
Veteran Rubens Barrichello
is keen to stay on and prolong his record-breaking career, but Williams
could decide to opt for a younger hand to partner the well-backed Maldonado. Both Bruno Senna and Adrian Sutil
have been mentioned in regard to the second seat, but the former remains ensconced at Renault
- at least until Robert Kubica's future is known - and the latter insists that he wants to remain at Force India, despite apparently also making a visit to Grove in recent weeks..
Taking Raikkonen over either Senna or Sutil would have its risks, not least financially as the younger men will both bring sponsors, but could reap dividends if he helps aid Williams' rise back up the constructors' standings and, as a consequence, makes the team more attractive to backers as a result.
Should the Finn sign on the dotted line, he would likely become the sixth world champion in the field next season, joining Schumacher, Alonso, Sebastian Vettel
duo Jenson Button
and Lewis Hamilton. This year's haul of five competing champions is the current high in the sports 61-year history.