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GP Week : Issue 225
OPINION miKe DooDson Once upon a time, the agency newshounds calculated that Kimi räikkönen's Ferrari retainer, i.e. before personal sponsorships, made him the best-paid sportsman in the world. Back in 2007, the year when the Finn was effortlessly winning GPs and a world championship, the story went that he was pulling down a cool US$51 million. Oh, how times have changed. Kimi's now in his second season back with the Scuderia, still banking millions, but he's yet to beat team new boy Sebastian Vettel in qualifying this year, and he was barely keeping up with him in Hungary on Sunday when yet again his car failed under him. Lest we forget, Ferrari President Luca Montezemolo thought so highly of the Kimster eight years ago that he engineered the departure of Michael Schumacher in order to accommodate him. Fast forward a couple of years, by which time the magic had also gone out of the Räikkönen/Maranello affair. Montezemolo had fallen for a Spaniard and snared Fernando Alonso, which required Kimi to be prematurely hustled out of the door at the end of 2009, allegedly with a full year's salary, plus change, to keep him sweet. Our Finnish hero subsequently spent 2010 and 2011 on the beach, amusing himself with some outings for Citroen in rallies and with Kyle Bush Racing in the lesser categories of NASCAR racing. Everybody was anxious to say nice things about his adaptability, but the reality was that Kimi's F1 skills didn't translate to the other disciplines. After two seasons in the forests and on the high banks, it seems unlikely that he drew much comfort from the discovery that he was only the second man in history, after Carlos Reutemann, to have won points in both the F1 and rallying world championships. According to the normally well-informed correspondent of an Italian newspaper, the option on Kimi's contract for 2016 will not be renewed and his seat will be filled by another Finn, Valtteri Bottas. The deal, which will involve Ferrari paying at least US$15 million to Williams for the unexpired part of Bottas's contract, is already agreed and signed. Now my experience of this Italian newspaper's stories about driver movements – at least the ones involving Ferrari – is that they come from the top and invariably turn out to be correct. But the recognised whistle-blower on such matters in the English-language media is the BBC's hired loudmouth, Eddie Jordan, who usually gets them from the horse's mouth (namely a Mr Bernie Ecclestone). Intriguingly, when asked about it in Hungary, Eddie confidently pooh-poohed the Bottas-to-Ferrari chatter. Now it may be that EJ, who had been busy on board his yacht in Monaco until condescending fly in on Sunday to enlighten The Beeb's viewers, had not had a chance to get the latest griff from Bernie. But he was confident enough to suggest that in the difficult financial climate "not even Ferrari" would be willing to splash out 15 big ones on yet another Finn. All I can say is that whatever happens, in due course there will be egg on the face of either an Italian hack or a self-regarding Irishman. BBC front-woman Suzi Perry took the precaution of grilling team boss Claire Williams. "If Ferrari asked you to sell Bottas, and he wanted to go, would you let him?" was Ms Perry's precisely worded question. Ms Williams fobbed her off with a non-answer by saying that it was "too early for any of us to comment." In my book, that means Yes. (In fact, that weaselly response hinted at something even more significant, namely that Claire might not be the person actually making the decision. So who, pray, is really in charge at Team Willy?) Harsh though it is to say this, the time has surely come for Kimi to think about knocking F1 on the head. He'll be 36 in October, two moths older than Jenson Button (about whom questions are also being asked) and 18 months older than the next oldest F1 veteran, Felipe Massa. What we know about Kimi is that his maverick lifestyle embraces much more than F1 and the tough business of staying fit. He hit the big-salary jackpot very soon after arriving on the GP scene back in 2001 and makes no secret of enjoying a little bit of this and quite a lot of that (if you get my drift), as anyone can check by trawling the Internet. Journalists love him for his independence (we remember those radio exchanges: "I know what I'm doing, leave me alone") and secretly admire his adoption of hedonistic James Hunt-style pursuits. Unfortunately, time seems to be catching up with him. Unlike the true greats of our sport, he has had difficulty adapting himself to machinery which doesn't suit his driving style, which explains his frankly disappointing performances with last year's on-the-nose Ferrari F14T. The Scuderia's new manager, Maurizio Arrivabene, who has known him well for years, has revealed that in fact Kimi is surprisingly sensitive and needs to be loved inside the team. Arrivabene even interceded in the development process of this year's car, to ensure that it more precisely suited the Finn's style. But the process hasn't worked. While there can be no denying that Kimi has had some appalling luck with his car's reliability this year, he has consistently trailed his new team mate Sebastian Vettel both in qualifying and races. "In outright race terms," commented BBC TV presenter David Coulthard in Hungary, "he has struggled over the past two seasons against his team mates." Then there are the crashes. We can perhaps overlook the seemingly unnecessary one in which he tangled with Carlos Sainz at the second corner in Australia, but surely not the first-lap bingle in Austria last month which ended up with Alonso's McLaren-Honda perched menacingly close to the Ferrari's cockpit. As David Coulthard has pointed out, "whatever caused the incident, it is not something you would expect from someone with Räikkönen's experience." The Iceman, it seems, is melting. If you're a fan (as I am), don't bet on him still being around in F1 next year. 16 GPWEEK.com // 16 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION is the iceMan being frozen out again?