Rumours oven the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend that talks between Williams and Kimi Raikkonen had broken down can now be confirmed - and explained - following the surprise announcement that the Finn will be returning to F1..... with Lotus Renault GP!
The Enstone team sprang a surprise on the F1 world by announcing the Finn as one half of its 2012 driver line-up two days after the 2011 season officially ended at Interlagos, confirming speculation over the Sao Paulo weekend that the much-hyped conversations between the 2007 world champion and Williams had come to an end. At the time, however, no-one predicted that Raikkonen would pop up anywhere else on the grid, particularly at Lotus Renault, which already appeared to have a glut of talent to choose from for next season.
“I'm delighted to be coming back to F1 after a two-year break, and I'm grateful to Lotus Renault GP for offering me this opportunity," Raikkonen commented, "My time in the World Rally Championship has been a useful stage in my career as a driver, but I can't deny the fact that my hunger for F1 has recently become overwhelming."
Raikkonen's return with LRGP also comes as some surprise following the reported falling-out between himself and team principal Eric Boullier after the team tapped him up to replace the injured Robert Kubica at the start of 2011, but the Finn said that he had no problem inking a deal with the former champion squad.
"It was an easy choice to return with Lotus Renault GP as I have been impressed by the scope of the team's ambition," he claimed, "Now I'm looking forward to playing an important role in pushing the team to the very front of the grid.”
Raikkonen, who quit F1 at the end of 2009 to pursue a career in the World Rally Championship, has signed a two-year agreement with the team, which was rumoured to be deciding between the contracted Vitaly Petrov, stand-ins Bruno Senna and Romain Grosjean and established stars Adrian Sutil and Rubens Barrichello for its two-car line-up for 2012. Expected team leader Kubica has already ruled himself out of an early return with the squad in time for the start of next season, and it remains to be seen what happens to the Pole, who has apparently been offered the chance to test his fitness with Ferrari....
“All year long, we kept saying that our team was at the start of a brand new cycle," Gérard Lopez, chairman of team owner Genii Capital, explained, "Backstage, we've been working hard to build the foundations of a successful structure and to ensure that we would soon be able to fight at the highest level.
"Kimi's decision to come back to F1 with us is the first step of several announcements which should turn us into an even more serious contender in the future. Of course, we are all looking forward to working with a world champion. On behalf of our staff, I'd like to welcome Kimi to Enstone, a setting that has always been known for its human approach to F1.”
Raikkonen's F1 roll of honour includes 18 wins, 62 podiums and 16 pole positions, all of which would have been welcome at Williams as the Grove team looks to pull itself out of an ongoing slump. The squad is now expected to pick up Sutil to partner the well-backed Pastor Maldonado in 2012, leaving veteran Barrichello out in the cold after 19 seasons in the top flight.