Kimi Raikkonen will be a part of Ferrari's Formula One line-up for at least the next two seasons, having signed a deal that keeps him at Maranello until the end of 2010.
The contract extension will go a long way to quelling the speculation that the Finn was poised to quit the sport after a difficult season defending his world championship title, and should remove some of the pressure that appears to have been building on his shoulders in recent weeks. It will, however, also intensify speculation about another F1 champion, with Fernando Alonso now having his possible options for 2009 reduced.
Raikkonen's lacklustre performances during the middle part of the season refuelled speculation that he had lost the desire to compete at the top level and was merely seeing out time before announcing that he was to retire at the end of the year. That belief was heightened by the suggestion that, after crashing out of last weekend's Belgian Grand Prix having led almost all the way from lights to flag, the Finn would he asked to support team-mate Felipe Massa's championship challenge over the remaining five races of the season.
Now, despite insisting that it would not
be making any announcements at its home grand prix, Ferrari has confirmed, not only will Raikkonen be seeing out the remaining year of his existing deal, but has also tacked another season onto the end of it, taking him through to the end of 2010.
"Ferrari announces that it has extended its agreement with Kimi Raikkonen to the end of the 2010 race season," a brief statement from the world champions confirmed, "Therefore, the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro driver line-up remains unchanged for the next two coming seasons."
Confirming that the Raikkonen-Massa tandem would remain in force for another couple of years also served to quash rumours that Alonso had signed to join the team for 2010, as had been strongly rumoured at the Monaco Grand Prix.
The Spaniard has made no secret of his desire to be back in a race-winning car in the next year or two, but has steadfastly refused to comment on his plans for next season, despite rumours linking him, not only to Ferrari, but also to Red Bull racing, Honda and, most recently, BMW Sauber in the past few months.
While RBR took itself out of the equation by announcing Sebastian Vettel alongside Mark Webber for 2009, Honda boss Ross Brawn has openly admitted that he would like to see - and has been trying to get - Alonso on board for next year. BMW Sauber has been more circumspect, simply stating that it was in no rush to confirm its line-up, despite rumours in Belgium linking to a three-year deal with the double world champion.
With Ferrari having apparently closed the door on him - although many consider contracts to be worth very little in F1 - Alonso might have fewer options, but also a more defined period in which to consider his future. Instead of taking a possible one-year relationship to any potential suitor, he might now be more attractive if he commit for a couple of seasons. Alternatively, of course, he may simply decide to renegotiate with Renault, in the hope that the team can overcome the malaise provoked by focusing on his second championship campaign in 2006 instead of getting to grips with the impending switch to Bridgestone tyres - something that the regie
has pinpointed as a major contributor to its slide back into midfield.
The chances of Robert Kubica heading to Ferrari next season, as had also been rumoured in recent weeks, will also have receded, making it all but certain that he will be retained by BMW Sauber. If, or when, that it is confirmed, it will be interesting to note the team's intentions towards Nick Heidfeld who, despite taking several podium finishes this year, has been inconsistent as he struggles to get to grips with the F1.08. The German has been touted among the 'veterans' that could lead the resurgent Toro Rosso squad in 2009.