Kimi Räikkönen has signed a 2-year deal to return to Formula 1 with Lotus Renault GP, according to ESPNF1.com.
There was speculation that Kimi would drive for Williams next year, and it was revealed in the press that he had spoken to a few teams, Williams included. During Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix, Martin Brundle stated in his commentary that the Räikkönen-Williams deal had fallen through, but gave no further suggestions as to what Williams or Räikkönen might do in 2012. Now, however, it seems confirmed that he will drive for Renault.
This means, of course, that there will be 6 world champions on the grid next year. In fact, the most recent 6 world champions will all occupy the grid for the first time. Schumacher, Alonso, Räikkönen, Hamilton, Button and Vettel have never before all taken part in the same Formula 1 event, yet between them, they have dominated Formula 1 for the last 12 years.
The LRGP deal does make sense for Räikkönen. Lotus Renault GP were bold, innovative and aggressive in their approach to the 2011 season. They were building around a top driver, Robert Kubica, until he was ruled out after a rallying crash just before the season started. They are backed by Group Lotus, who clearly have the resources and determination to take the team forward. Kimi Räikkönen has landed himself in the middle of a team with a great deal of potential.
This announcement does also raise a question regarding Williams. It was generally assumed that Rubens Barrichello would be replaced if Räikkönen joined Williams for 2012. Now there is the possibility that Barrichello might keep his seat. In fairness, he hasn’t done a lot wrong this season. The Williams FW33 has not been a competitive car, and there’s not a lot Barrichello could have done with it.
As Formula 1’s most experienced driver, Rubens still has a lot to offer the sport. He has a large fan base, is popular with the paddock, and is still driving as well as he ever has. It would be a shame if he were to leave Formula 1 for any reason other than his own decision.