Raikkonen’s demands could see Heidfeld at McLaren

I was perusing Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport (actually translating through a suspect translation service) and discovered that there is a sentiment that could be pervasive around the offices of Germany’s leading automobile magazine. They were thinking, out loud, that if the rumored Kimi Raikkonen-to-McLaren deal isn’t sorted quickly, Nick Heidfeld could find himself “coming home” in a manner of speaking.


You’ll recall that Heidfeld was a McLaren-Mercedes test driver in 1998 and won the F3000 title for the McLaren Junior team. You may also recall that McLaren chose Sauber teammate Kimi Raikkonen over Heidfeld for the retired Mika hakkinen’s seat in 2001. I was incandescent at the time and couldn’t understand the decision (in hindsight I have been vindicated for my unnatural defense of Heidfeld) yet the Raikkonen/Heidfeld saga may just occur once again.

Apparently Raikkonen is being bullish on his salary demands. McLaren, it is rumored, is offering a low-ball figure as they know Ferrari have just handed the sacked driver a wad of cash and they figure this, coupled with their offer, would make a tidy sum and salary on par with what he is used to. That theory is apparently not going over well with Raikkonen’s management.

To add to the rumor mill, Toyota has just announced its immediate departure form the sport and conventional wisdom would say that the former BMW, now Qadbak, team will inherit the grid position vacated by the Japanese manufacturer. Should that happen, it is likely they will want to retain the services of Heidfeld as they have already lost Robert Kubica to Renault for 2010. Having a veteran in the team when making such a large transition (in ownership) seems favorable by anyone’s measure and one might assume that Heidfeld knows where all the bodies are buried.

Knowing this is the case, will McLaren continue to haggle with the Raikkonen handlers or take an option for Heidfeld as a good veteran to have with Lewis Hamilton? The McLaren offer is a crafty play on “total salary”. It has been rumored that Ferrari have offered $10M to Raikkonen if he joins a team for 2010. But it could be $17M if he would choose to sit our for the 2010 season. McLaren have taken the $10M sum and added $5M in additional monies to come to a grand salary of $15M.

Raikkonen’s handlers suggest that the Ferrari payment is not part of a total salary package and it is to be treated as additional monies outside the current salary negotiation. Effectively it is off the table and not an option to include when discussing total salary for 2010.

When thinking over the details of the haggling for Raikkonen, it becomes clear that Heidfeld would be considerably less, more of an asset as a car developer, more of a team player for Hamilton, a better number two driver than outgoing Heikki Kovalainen and a driver that could be a long-term prospect for consistency and results (aka, David Coulthard). All this at a fraction of what the interminably listless Raikkonen would cost. Oh, and Heidfeld is German which should make engine supplier Mercedes happy (which, if you believe rumors, are nonplussed about the prospect of a returning Raikkonen).

But all of this is supposition, theorem and rumors. The best machinations from sports writers idling away behind their desks with little else to report on after the shelling we received from the Bridgestone and Toyota announcements last week. There is no doubt in my mind that when Raikkonen is on, he is as strong a driver as I have ever seen. The real trial in that statement is getting him on song and invested in what is happening. It is part of his character.

Raikkonen needs to be in F1 and F1 needs him. He galvanizes people without really doing or saying anything. His off-track antics are the only clue we have that the Finnish star is actually a living, laughing human being and yet he leaves many speechless without any grand speeches. However even admitting that Raikkonen is one of the best, I would take Heidfeld in a minute over Raikkonen at McLaren. Hamilton is number one and what they need is a strong number two who will push Hamilton, without frazzling him, and help him learn car development.

Nick Heidfeld has unfinished business at McLaren and it would be nice to see him come home to show the team what they had seen in him in the first place all those years ago.

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