Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lotus Renault GP Signs 2007 F1 Champ Kimi Raikkonen

Photo Credit: Lotus Renault GP

Ahead of the final grand prix for the 2011 Formula 1 tour, talk filled that paddock area on the possible return of the 2007 Formula 1 Driver Champion to the series. Sitting out of Formula 1 for two seasons, Kimi Raikkonen was the subject of the most interesting rumours in the premier auto racing series. Just two days after the Brazilian Grand Prix closed out the 2011 Formula 1 season, the speculation of the Finland native Raikkonen concludes with the announcement that the 18-time grand prix winner will pilot a Lotus Renault GP race car in 2012.

A two-year deal to drive for the team that will be officially known as Lotus Renault GP on the 2012 Formula 1 starting grid, Kimi Raikkonen commented “I’m delighted to be coming back to Formula 1 after a two-year break, and I’m grateful to Lotus Renault GP for offering me this opportunity." Before this announcement, the strongest speculation had Raikkonen teaming with Williams F1. Through the 2010 off-season, Mercedes GP and the now-defunct Toyota Formula 1 team were also been linked to Kimi Raikkonen.

Debuting in Formula 1 in 2001, Kimi Raikkonen's entrance into the series was one of some controversy when the young Finnish driver was granted a Super License despite limited car racing experience. Driving for Sauber, Kimi Raikkonen scored a point in his first event and would go on to run successfully for McLaren and later Ferrari. It was Raikkonen's first year with Ferrari in 2007 that he won the World Driver's Championship by merely one point over the young rookie Lewis Hamilton. Raikkonen won 6 races in 2007 but would win just 3 grand prix in the following two seasons. As the Ferrari Formula 1 team had lost its competitive edge and with the arrival of Fernando Alonso to the team for 2010, Kimi Raikkonen left the Formula 1 world championship altogether.

Raikkonen racing activities for the past two years focused around running the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). Winning a non-WRC event (the Rallye Vosgien 2010), a fifth-place finish at the Rally of Turkey was Raikkonen's best result. Raikkonen displays no regret for following his race passions away from grand prix racing saying "My time in the World Rally Championship has been a useful stage in my career as a driver, but I can’t deny the fact that my hunger for F1 has recently become overwhelming."

This past year also saw Raikkonen making a driving appearance in NASCAR during the May Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Driving a Kyle Busch Motorsport Toyota Tundra, Raikkonen showed some impressive rough talent for oval track racing finishing 15th in the truck race. While more races were planned, funding was believed that have limited Raikkonen to this single NASCAR experience at Charlotte.

Kimi Raikkonen's positioning inside the Lotus Renault GP team is set to demonstrate a stronger and more assured 2012 driver line-up. Entering this past Formula 1 season, the Lotus Renault GP team was thought to have had a stable line-up with sophomore pilot Vitaly Petrov driving alongside the seasoned grand prix winning wheel handling of Robert Kubica. Due a severe rally car crash early in February of 2011, Kubica was sidelined for the entire Formula 1 season leaving the newly-aligned force of Lotus and Renault to search for another veteran. Calling in Nick Heidfeld, the replacement driver for Robert Kubica finished in the points 6 times in 9 races including a 3rd place at the Malaysian Grand Prix. Despite some good runs, Heidfeld and the Lotus Renault GP time didn't finish the 2011 season together.

Hired as a test driver before Robert Kubica's injury, Brazil's Bruno Senna would take over the second Lotus Renault GP ride teaming with Petrov. Senna finished 9th in the Italian Grand Prix serving as the only points he would record in 2011. This recent acquisition of a past Formula 1 world champion to the Lotus Renault GP team will come as a change to their less experienced driver line-up the team ended the 2011 season with at the Brazilian Grand Prix Sunday.

Speaking for the Lotus Renault GP team, Chairman of equality owner Genii Capital Gerard Lopez spoke about 2007 Formula 1 champ Kimi Raikkonen's appearance with the team in 2012 as an important building block. “All year long, we kept saying that our team was at the start of a brand new cycle. Backstage we’ve been working hard to build the foundations of a successful structure and to ensure that we would soon be able to fight at the highest level." said Lopez.

Signing Kimi Raikkonen, it is speculated that Vitaly Petrov will retain his ride alongside the Finnish driver but nothing has been confirmed by Lotus Renault GP. As the 2012 Formula 1 season nears, the build-up for what the Finnish driver can do after a two-year absence should keep many fans eager leading up to the Australian Grand Prix.

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