With the 2009 Formula 1 season over, next on the agenda is for McLaren is confirming who their second driver will be, the man who will be Lewis Hamilton’s team mate next season. At the moment there are three possible contenders, so let’s go through those three options.
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Currently at Ferrari where he has been for the past 3 seasons, Raikkonen has been linked with McLaren ever since it was clear that Fernando Alfonso was moving to Ferrari from Renault and even before. Though he won the Drivers Championship at Ferrari in 2007 it never seemed like he was a good fit for the Italian team, and though Felipe Massa is yet to win the World Championship, as soon as rumours of Alonso moving to Ferrari started people naturally assumed it would be Raikkonen who would be leaving.
If Raikkonen did come to McLaren it would be a return to the team that was his home from 2002 – 2006, and one where he had great success, especially the 2003 and 2005 seasons where he finished 2nd in the Championship to Schumacher and Alonso respectively. Raikkonen seemed to have much more drive and desire to win back then, maybe a return to McLaren will see that passion re-ignited for the cool Finn.
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Nick Heidfeld is nothing if not consistent, but is that enough? At BMW he has played second fiddle to Robert Kubica, at least in the eyes of the critics who see Kubica as one of Formula 1’s future stars. Just read this opening paragraph from his Wikipedia entry:
Despite his recent success, Heidfeld is yet to win a race during his nine seasons in Formula One. This means that amongst the current drivers, he has had the most GP starts without standing at the top spot on the podium. Heidfeld has now started over 150 races, so if he were to eventually win a race he would break the record for most starts before a maiden victory. This is currently held by Mark Webber, who claimed his first victory on his 131st attempt. Heidfeld also currently holds three other dubious records; he is the driver who has scored the highest number of world championship points without a Grand Prix win, shares the record for the most podium finishes without a Grand Prix win with Stefan Johansson, and has the most second place finishes without a win, with 8. He also holds the record for the most consecutive race classifications with a tally of 41, as well as the most finishes in a season when he finished all 18 races in the 2008 season.
While interesting, that’s hardly a list of achievements to get you excited about a driver. However, as a 2nd driver and someone to grab a decent haul of points in support of Lewis Hamilton he could be a good fot for the team. There is also the fact that he is German and as a team that has Mercedes as a major shareholder, that can only be a good thing, especially in a sport that seems to more about the PR than ever before.
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When Kovalainen did a straight swap with Alonso, between Renault and McLaren, to start the 2008 season, it seemed like the young Finn was set to have a great career in Formula 1. In 2008 he ended up 7th in the Championship, while team mate Hamilton won the World Championship. If his first year was unspectacular then his second year with McLaren was even more so. McLaren didn’t have a competitive car in the first half of the season but when they came good for the last 8 races, unlike team mate Hamilton, Kovalainen didn’t seem to make the most of his opportunities and while he often qualified pretty well he couldn’t carry that form through to the actual race. In a season that Hamilton battled up to 5th place in the Championship, Kovalainen ended the year in 12th place. That quite frankly is not good enough for a driver wearing the prestigious McLaren team colours.
Looking at Kovalainen this season it seems as though he’s lost a lot of confidence, and in a team that could well be renamed at Team Hamilton, that may not be easy to get back if he were to stay where he is. However, Kovalainen is reportedly very good with all his PR commitments, something that McLaren is putting more emphasis on with every passing season. This is something that Raikkonen has always tried to steer clear of so from that respect Kovalainen is a better fit than his Finnish compatriot. If Kovalainen were to stay with McLaren he would certainly need to step up his performance, but that’s something that the team need to help with just as much as Kovalainen himself.
All three of these drivers have one thing in common, something that makes them a good fit within the team and a natural fit as the second driver at McLaren – they would all be happy accept their position as the number 2 driver in the team and let the lion’s share of the attention fall on Lewis Hamilton.
In my mind Kimi Raikkonen is head and shoulders above Kovalainen and Heidfeld from a racing point of view, it’s just his aversion to interacting with people that may hamper his chances, but surely that’s not worth giving up championship points for?