Kimi Raikkonen relaxing before Rally Finland in 2010. Photo by Red Bull GmbH and GEPA pictures GmbH.
Despite original fears that the 26 year-old might loose his right hand following the accident in Italy, surgeons have confirmed that he is expected to make a recovery but that he is not likely to return until the end of the year. This has left Renault with few options open to it to find a suitable replacement before the season kicks off in Bahrain on March 13th.
As the 2007 Formula One world champion, Raikkonen would seem to present the perfect choice in terms of previous success although he recently announced his plans for 2011 in the World Rally Championship. Last year, the Finn made his WRC debut with the Junior Citroen WRC team and now as team owner/driver – the same as Petter Solberg, and like Solberg, he has in place a contract with the French-based manufacturer to campaign the 2011 season with Citroen.
There are however, potential stumbling blocks over a possible deal with Raikkonen. A much publicised spat with the Renault management last year following reports the Finn was negotiating a drive for 2011 and also the salary demands he is likely to command. It was rumoured in his final year with Ferrari in 2009, the ex-world champion was in receipt of little less than £25m and while his absence from the sport will have devalued his stock slightly, the fact that his contract with Citroen may have to be bought – from their fiercest rival, that tally could possibly surpass the monumental mount he received 3 years ago.
Nick Heidfeld however, presents a safer investment option for the Enstone outfit. While unlikely to win races on a regular basis, he is a proven ‘points generating’ driver and the belief is that with all top line drivers unavailable for hire, if Renault’s aim is to collect as many points as possible in place of the injured Kubica, Heidfeld could be given the nod.
While Bruno Senna was confirmed as the teams third and reserve driver at the recent R31 launch, it is understood that Lotus Renault team principal Eric Boullier is now in the search for a more established ‘name’ to fill the seat vacated by Kubica and that negotiations with Raikkonen have begun to try and buy him out of his contract for a reasonable price.