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Kimi Raikkonen: Should He Return to Formula One?

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - OCTOBER 29:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari attends the drivers' press conference during previews to the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit on October 29, 2009 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)
Ker Robertson/Getty Images
Neil JamesFeatured ColumnistOctober 31, 2011

Over the past month, rumours have been intensifying that former World Champion Kimi Raikkonen will return to F1 in 2012 after an absence of two years. His most likely destination appears to be Williams, a team which once dominated the sport, but has since faded to mid-grid obscurity.

Comebacks are always risky, and this one would be no exception.

Raikkonen's story is one of unrealised potential. He walked away from his Formula One career in 2009 with one World Championship, 18 race wins, 16 pole positions and a staggering 35 fastest laps.

To call that a story of unrealised potential speaks volumes of how much talent the Finn actually had at his disposal.
 
After entering F1 with just 23 car races to his name in 2001, most fans could have picked him out as a future title-winner. He achieved this at last in his first season with Ferrari, 2007, having been let down more times than he'd care to remember by the McLaren he drove from 2002 to 2006.

In this early period of his career he was simply exceptional. He showed an ability at the very least equal to Fernando Alonso, a man still considered one of the world's best drivers and produced performances which marked him out as a man on the path to all-time greatness.

Question marks remained over his somewhat hyperactive private life, but his on-track performance silenced all but the most vociferous critics. 

And then he won his title. 

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - OCTOBER 21:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari celebrates on the podium after winning the race and the F1 World Championship at the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Interlagos on October 21, 2007 in Sao Paulo, Braz
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Raikkonen had, in the past, said he'd be more than happy with a single World Championship.  Once he had it, his motivation seemed to evaporate. 

His performances became those of a lazy, uninterested driver seeing out the final years of a huge contract. He just didn't care anymore, and it showed in his results. Seeing a man with such incredible skill driving as he did was perplexing and, most of all, terribly sad to watch.

When he left the sport in 2009, it was almost a relief for his fans.

So how successful a return would depend on which version of Kimi Raikkonen turns up to drive the car. The 'real' Kimi would drive the wheels off whatever car he was given and instantly turn the 3-way 'best in Formula One' debate into a foursome.

But if the lethargic, bone-idle Kimi climbs into a 2012 cockpit, it'll be an unmitigated disaster.

Much depends too on the quality of his machinery. He's certainly capable of driving a bad car faster than it should go, but no talent on Earth could have put the 2011 Williams within a country mile of the podium.

Raikkonen had the natural ability to earn a place alongside Schumacher, Senna and Clark as one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time. His off-track behaviour, attitude and lack of interest took this opportunity away, but he retains all the talent he was born with.

The Finn is still only 32, and if he wants it enough, he could certainly be World Champion again.  Not in a Williams, but if he impresses in his first season back, doors will open for the following year.

So over to you Kimi—the ball's very firmly in your court.

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