Former F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen has insisted that the fact that he is due to make his official World Rally Championship debut in his homeland later this month emphatically does not mean that he is set to hang up his single-seater helmet at the end of the year and switch disciplines – a move that could cost Ferrari £25 million, the figure that presently makes the Finn the second-highest paid athlete in the world behind only Tiger Woods.
There have been further rumours and speculation in the grand prix paddock at the Nürburgring this week that Raikkonen will be replaced come season's end by current Renault incumbent Fernando Alonso, curtailing his contract with the Scuderia one year early and allowing him to instead indulge his passion for rallying on a more full-time basis.
There have been question marks over the 2007 title-winner's motivation ever since he clinched his one and only drivers' crown in the top flight, and with but a scant two victories in the intervening 26 grands prix his continuing desire remains in doubt. Accusations that he has taken his eye off the ball and is mentally already retired have only been fuelled by instances such as this year's Malaysian Grand Prix, when he was spotted wandering about the Ferrari garage in a T-shirt and shorts and eating an ice cream, even though the race directors had not at that stage resolved to abandon the event and all of his rivals were sat in their cars on the grid.
With suggestions that Alonso-to-Ferrari is all-but a done deal – at a reputed £175 million for five years, to be officially announced over the weekend of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in early September, reports claim – most within the paddock believe it will be Raikkonen rather than Massa who makes way. The Brazilian has consistently out-performed his team-mate over the last two seasons – and is on a considerably lower retainer to-boot.
What's more, if it is indeed to offload the 29-year-old, the Maranello-based outfit will need to pay him his full €28 million salary for 2010 – but it is similarly understood that new Spanish sponsor Santander, coming on-board alongside Alonso, may foot the bill. Another school of thought is that the figure owed to him will reduce with every rally on which he competes.
Despite having made an increasing number of competitive rallying appearances of late, however, Raikkonen is adamant that for the moment it is nothing more than a busman's holiday – and that his outing on Rally Finland is merely a means of occupying himself during F1's annual mid-summer break, something he was always precluded from doing when he raced for McLaren-Mercedes between 2002 and 2006.
“You ask the same question [as usual], so I will give you the same answer,” the 17-time grand prix-winner told international media ahead of this weekend's German Grand Prix. “I have a contract with Ferrari in 2010. Maybe you can ask them if there are any changes planned.
“Just because I am doing this rally, it doesn't mean I don't want to continue in F1 next year. I would have done some rallies a long time ago but I could not. It's just because Ferrari is kind enough to let me do the rallies that I am doing them now.”
German GP - Sunday Quote
Kimi Raikkonen (9th, 1:34.710): "It was a pretty complicated session, with track conditions changing all the time. Therefore, it's difficult to say if this result reflects the real standings down the order. Clearly, we were penalized by not having a single set of new tyres for Q3. I believe that in normal conditions we could have got a better grid position. Having said that, we are not in bad shape for the race: we have a good strategy and we will try and make the most of it."