It’s fair to say that Kimi Raikkonen is the absolute best Formula 1 driver not now in an F1 car. (Especially since Nick Heidfeld is back where he belongs: on the F1 grid.)
But Kimi’s clear skills, winning resume and high-profile are not all that will go into Renault’s decision on who will drive for the team next year.
Commercial, money, markets — the business side to F1 is going to be critical.
That’s according to team chairman Gerald Lopez, who talks to Autosport:
“It’s funny because people now think things are going well and we’re going to change drivers,” he [Lopez] said. “There’s a certain rally driver that wasn’t interested in Formula 1 but now has made contact and is interested in coming back to F1, funnily enough with us, but we’re not there yet.”
Lopez says that the team’s decision on its second driver will still be motivated by financial factors – as the outfit seeks the levels of sponsorship and investment that it believes it will need to fight for the title next year.
“It’s very important, ” he said when asked if financial considerations were still important. “As I said, we use Formula 1, and we have to push our team to succeed because we use the platform to do business. And you know, it’s a question of image.
“People like to do business with winning teams, so it goes hand in hand. For us still, the main consideration in this outside of Eric’s [Boullier] mission and the team’s mission to start winning races again, is the business one. And it has become more important now that we’ve solidified the team, that we’ve found the sponsors, that we’re bringing the sponsors, that we’re doing whatever needs to be done.
“It’s even more important now to build the team, to use that platform for the business side of it. And the fact that we’re doing more and more deals with companies that come through Renault Formula 1 because we provide other things, I think it’s even more important for 2011 than it was for 2010. In 2010 we had to rebuild. In 2011 we can focus on business.”
Lopez goes on to say that Vitaly Petrov isn’t a pay driver, but did bring a major sponsor with him (Lada). And he applauds the guy’s skills, not to mention the 250 Russians who might be a nice little fan base for Petrov and Renault.
It strikes me that this decision — and Lopez isn’t willing to commit entirely that the team is at the point of deciding between the two — comes down to a few factors:
1. Proven marketing (Kimi) versus huge promise of marketing (Petrov).
2. Playing to the F1 base (Kimi and Scandinavia) versus a possible new market (Petrov)
3. Possibly new sponsors (signing on for Kimi) versus known partners (Petrov)
Both sides of the equations have merits. And what I think makes this an interest question is that it isn’t as though one side were all “unknowns” and the other all “certainties.” Maybe new sponsors wouldn’t jump back aboard Kimi, for instance. But maybe Russia won’t prove a good F1 market.
As I said from the beginning, this is why Lopez gets paid the big bucks.
Our earlier posts have been pretty in favor of Renault hiring Kimi. Is that still true for you? Does anything Lopez say make you rethink your position?