It’s here again; ‘Silly Season‘ and it’s come early this year, owing to the confirmed departure of Mark Webber from Red Bull, so the pit lane whispers have started long before the summer break.
Autosport led the way with their early June edition cover story, which was not so much breaking the news as making the fact more legitimate, that Red Bull were indeed making Kimi Raikkonen their main target for the empty seat.
Historically speaking it’s not too wild a suggestion. Kimi has long been a friend of the energy brand, even going back to the very beginning, when he joined Sauber, who were the original carriers of the logo, and when he went rallying, they were his main sponsor. He knows Red Bull, he fits well with the image of the company, which is the biggest supporter of extreme sports the world has ever seen. Kimi’s links with sports like snowmobile racing and his ‘IceOne‘ motocross team (which is currently competing in the FIM Motocross World Championship) also stack up into an intimidating portfolio, if anything he is more suitable for the Austrian giants than Sebastian Vettel himself!
The current Red Bull car, the RB9, has already proved itself to be a consistent challenger in what could be Sebastian’s fourth consecutive championship winning year. The team at Milton Keynes is a slick, well organised outfit, which is now accustomed to winning and would probably be quite happy keeping it that way, and financially speaking, the can will never runneth dry, so long as Dietrich Mateschitz doesn’t feel like walking away.
Kimi would be foolish to not seriously consider this prospect. Joining a team with such huge funding in a year where development will be paramount around the new engines, and the opportunity to drive a under the aerodynamic expertise of Adrian Newey are chances which most Formula One drivers could not expect to have in their entire career.
Many people argue that the Lotus is a race winning car, and it is, but so is the Mercedes and so far Nico Rosberg has two trophies under his belt this season to Kimi’s one, and that will not make the Iceman happy at all. Lotus has potential, and Kimi has managed on two occasions, both this season and last, to squeeze every ounce of that promise out of the car. But can Lotus give him what he came back for; a second championship? The budget at Enstone is less than a third of that which Red Bull currently have to play with, and whilst Lotus have made an absolutely stunning improvement on their mid-grid mediocrity of 2011, will they be able to keep up in 2014?
Kimi is a difficult beast though, and above all it is how he feels which keeps him where he is. He’s a racer, he wants to race and win, but at the same time if the comfort level disappears, so will he. It’s a well documented fact that he is not interested in the corporate side of Formula One, which is something which Lotus have managed to accommodate with relative ease around him. Can you honestly see him modelling cardigans and taking part in Infinity sponsored short films where he practises kung-fu? It sounds ridiculous because it is.
Finally, the elephant in the room, the question of team-mate hierarchy. Kimi Raikkonen is not a number two driver. Red Bull can claim that there would be no favouritism as much as they like, but history speaks for itself when it comes to their treatment of Mark Webber. Sebastian has been mollycoddled at Red Bull to the point that he expects his team mate to be there in a supporting role, Kimi will want to beat him the most, which could have some interesting results on the track, but may have detrimental effects on the opinions of those who still believe they play badminton after all these years.
Of course it would be necessary to find out how Lotus intend to approach 2014 before any decision is made. It’s a difficult choice because Lotus can keep him happy, but Red Bull have more chance of providing the wins that could lead to that illusive second title.
Who knows, maybe he’ll find something else to do next year anyway?