Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Raikkonen Takes Sabbatical From F1 To Focus On Rallying


(Left-Right) Ferrari Formula One driver Felipe Massa of Brazil, team-mate Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton of Britain react on the podium after the Spanish F1 Grand Prix in this file photo - Reuters pic

LONDON, Nov 18 — Kimi Raikkonen will focus on rallying next year after failing to reach a deal with McLaren, the 2007 Formula One world champion’s manager said tosday.

“They couldn’t afford him,” David Robertson, who manages the Finn with his son Steve, told the BBC. “It wasn’t in his interests to race for what they were offering so he’s going to go rallying instead.

“He wants to be back in F1 in 2011 but with all the money he has earned, he doesn’t want to go in a medium-type team for money,” he added.

“The same criteria would apply as this year. He’d only go where he feels he has the chance of the world championship.”

Robertson said he believed Britain’s Jenson Button, champion with Brawn this year, had already signed for McLaren as compatriot Lewis Hamilton’s team mate.

Raikkonen spent five years at McLaren before joining Ferrari at the end of 2006 and winning the title in his first season there.

He has now been ousted at the Italian team by Spain’s double world champion Fernando Alonso, despite having a year to run on his contract.

With a payoff in his pocket, he had already cast doubt on his Formula One future and said last month that any contract he signed would have to allow him to continue his rallying activities.

The 30-year-old, whose motivation has been repeatedly questioned, competed in this year’s Finnish round of the world rally championship in a Fiat after also entering three non-championship events.

In his nine seasons in Formula One, he won 18 races but finished only sixth overall this year with one victory in Belgium.

Hugely popular with the sport’s hardcore fans as an uncompromising and party-loving driver with little interest in media or sponsorship activities, Raikkonen may not be frozen out for long.

Red Bull, runners-up this season, look his best bet for 2011 with Australian Mark Webber out of contract at the end of next season.

Champions Brawn were never likely to meet the Finn’s salary demands while Toyota, who had made Raikkonen an offer, have since quit Formula One.

Robertson suggested McLaren were no longer “the powerhouse they were” following Mercedes’ decision to take over Brawn. As part of that deal, McLaren have agreed to buy back the carmaker’s 40 per cent stake in their team.

A McLaren spokesman would not comment.

Other champions have taken years out in the past and come back strongly, notably Frenchman Alain Prost who fell out with Ferrari in 1991 and sat out 1992 before returning to win the title with Williams in 1993.

Austrian Niki Lauda retired in 1979 before coming back in 1982 and winning his third championship with McLaren in 1984. - Reuters

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