Kimi Raikkonen lies low as Red Bull rumours swirl around F1 paddock

Kimi Raikkonen was not even at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit on Thursday but the Lotus driver was still the main topic of conversation as intense paddock gossip concentrated on who will be driving for whom next year, following Mark Webber's decision to retire from Formula One.

Raikkonen missed the day's press conferences "due to illness" and perhaps all the rumours swirling round his head may have induced a certain giddiness.

The Finn had been favourite to fill the Red Bull seat until this week when his manager, Steve Robertson, said talks with the Milton Keynes team had broken down. Since then Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo has emerged as the favourite for the job but on Thursday Red Bull's team principal, Christian Horner, turned down the opportunity to confirm that move. He also refused to totally discount Raikkonen, who has also been linked with an unlikely return to Ferrari, with whom he won the world title in 2007.

Horner said: "Has [Kimi] signed for anyone else? Then there you go. It is up to him. There is no transfer window in Formula One and we are not obliged to make a decision until we choose to and we want to make the right decision and will take the time appropriate. We are in a position where a lot of drivers would like to replace Mark Webber next year."

Another piece of unlikely gossip linked the very quiet but extremely popular Raikkonen, who will be looking for his fifth Belgian Grand Prix win here on Sunday, with a return to McLaren, even though they are expected to retain Jenson Button and Sergio Pérez.

Raikkonen, it is felt, would be happy to stay at Lotus and they would like to keep him. But can they afford him? He is one of the best paid drivers, earning an estimated £15m a year, and Lotus cannot compete, financially, with the big three.

His pay structure is bonus-loaded and his brilliance this season – he has had a win and five seconds – is costing Lotus more than they anticipated. Another rumour – this one well informed – says that Raikkonen will walk away from Formula One at the end of the season, just as he did when Ferrari paid him off in 2009.

On Thursday night even Button got dragged into the rumour mill, with paddock gossip linking him with Red Bull and Ferrari. Button and McLaren are known to be happy in each other's company and the British driver is widely expected to remain with the team next year. McLaren have the option on a year's extension to his deal and are expected to exercise it.

When he was asked to pledge his future with the team he said, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye: "I need to be asked first. Where is Martin [Whitmarsh, the team principal]? He still hasn't asked me.

"I think Red Bull is done anyway. But I think Ferrari is a massive opportunity for a driver. It's a team that has a lot of history. I think they will be fighting for championships in the future. I hope that someone who deserves that drive gets it. I want to win the world championship again. If I thought it was the right option and I had the opportunity there that would be great for me. But is it the right option? I think here is my right option."

Powered by article was written by Paul Weaver at Spa, for The Guardian on Thursday 22nd August 2013 23.54 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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