Ferrari has dismissed reports in the Finnish media claiming that Kimi Raikkonen has decided to return to Maranello next season.
The 2007 world champion has become hot property since making a successful F1 return with Lotus over the past two seasons, with Red Bull courting him for the seat soon to be vacated by Mark Webber, and new reports linking him to Ferrari even as Eric Boullier does all he can to keep him at Enstone.
With Red Bull now apparently favouring protégé Daniel Ricciardo to partner Sebastian Vettel – the Australian is widely considered a less-threatening prospect for the German – the rumours linking Raikkonen with a return to Ferrari have gathered pace, with Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat
even going as far as claiming that a deal has been struck.
While it is questionable whether Raikkonen would return to the Scuderia while Fernando Alonso – who replaced him at the end of 2009 and has since made the team his own – remains in the other car, the thought of two world champions riding the Prancing Horse into battle with Vettel and Red Bull is undoubtedly a mouth-watering one, but Ferrari has moved swiftly to quash the speculation.
"Right now, we're really not giving any thought to the driver-market situation," a spokesman told the BBC
, "Drivers are not a problem for us even if we were to change Felipe."
Emphasising that bolstering Alonso's fading title campaign remained the priority at Maranello – the Spaniard is third in the standings, 39 points behind Vettel and one shy of second-placed Raikkonen – the team has also yet to cut ties with Felipe Massa, despite the Brazilian again struggling to match Alonso's contribution to its constructors' championship bid. Massa was retained alongside Alonso when the Spaniard's financial backing brought him to Ferrari in 2010, leaving Raikkonen to disappear to the World Rally Championship for two years.
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has already gone public in support of Massa, but there is no denying that the Brazilian's form has taken something of a nose-dive after a promising start to the season suggested that he may be returning to his best form since early 2009, when he out-scored Raikkonen. The Finn, meanwhile, may be tempted to return to the team that turned its back on him after former Lotus technical director James Allison was confirmed as heading to Italy next season…
Ferrari's claim that it is spoilt for choice suggests that some of the candidates to replace Massa before the Brazilian's results improved late last season remain in play, although it is unlikely that it would promote development driver Jules Bianchi after a single season at Marussia. Nico Hulkenberg, on the other hand, could be a strong rival for Raikkonen should the team decide it has seen enough of Massa, despite the German having struggled in an uncompetitive Sauber so far in 2013.
Paul di Resta was also listed as a potential team-mate to Alonso last year, and has turned some poor qualifying performances into points finishes this season, but a lot could yet hinge on Alonso's whereabouts next season. The Spaniard, despite having stated his intention to see out his career at Maranello, was being linked to the second Red Bull seat as F1 closed down for the summer and – unlikely as a Vettel-Alonso pairing sounds – could yet create bigger waves in the driver market.
Red Bull has said that it intends to name its replacement for Webber sometime this month.
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