Op-Ed: Anyone other than Kimi Raikkonen in 2011 will be a big fail for Renault

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Pretty much immediately following the news today that Robert Kubica has signed on with Renault through the end of the 2012 season, one question rose: Who should be his team mate?

By most accounts, Vitaly Petrov has done a pretty solid job as Kubica’s team mate this season. While his points total — six — is dwarfed by Kubica’s 83 (and good for sixth in the drivers standings), Petrov has shown some good, racy moments. He’s arguably the best rookie driver on the gird, perhaps a “title” he could claim in part thanks to a superior car.

So Petrov would seem to be an OK partner for Kubica moving ahead, especially if he continues to bring money to the team as a pay driver.

But is OK enough? In the team’s release, principal Eric Boullier said:

“Our clear goal is to become title contenders over the next two years. To do so, we need a driver of Robert’s calibre: somebody who is fast, totally committed and doesn’t make mistakes. His performances during the first half of the 2010 season were flawless, and we hope to achieve great things together in the future.”

Is Petrov really a driver that will help a team become a title contender? I’m not quite convinced.

But there is a driver out there who is. A driver who has won the drivers championship.

Kimi Raikkonen.

And just about as quickly as the question, “Who should partner with Kubica?” came up, Kimi’s name appeared as the answer.

How could it be anyone else?

Kimi is fast. He knows how to win. He remains one of the most popular drivers today, one who could sell a lot more yellow Renault gear than Kubica.

In many ways, in fact, Kimi seems the opposite of Kubica. The somewhat dull Polish driver vs. the drinking, swearing Finn.

I think it might be a pairing of opposites that would work — really well. Where Kubica comes across as high maintenance and — as Grace has often noted — a bit too quick to air his grievances in the press, Kimi is always nonplussed. He’s the Iceman, after all. (And the Ice Cream Man.)

If Kubica got an upgrade before him, it seems like Kimi would shrug it off, go out and do his job — drive the car — and then go home. That’s the way Kimi is.

And by now Renault knows that. There’s no mystery, no questioning who or what Kimi is all about. The team could go into the deal with eyes wide open. Keep the sponsor dealings to a minimum. Pay him to drive, and more or less leave it at that. And because Kimi has so many fans, I think the balance will work out in Renault’s favor. Lots more merchandize sold, maybe a few less hand-shakings for some sponsors.

Plus, there’s the fact that as great as the 2010 season has been, and as many great drivers as we are being privileged to see, we’re missing one of this moment’s best. Kimi added to the grid next year could make us forget 2010.

Think about it. McLaren with Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. Ferrari with Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa. Red Bull with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. Mercedes with Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg. And Renault with Robert Kubica and Kimi Raikkonen.

That’s 10 drivers who could be in the hunt for the title. Five teams that could battle it out for the constructors championship.

If Renault can’t make that happen, it will be a big fail — both for the team and for us fans.

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