SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) - Kimi Raikkonen could be in pole position to replace Mark Webber at champions Red Bull, after the Australian announced on Thursday that he was leaving Formula One at the end of the season, but both sides face difficult decisions.
The Finn, world champion with Ferrari in 2007, is out of contract at Lotus at the end of the season and has been strongly tipped to become triple world champion Sebastian Vettel’s team mate next year.
Speaking to reporters after Webber made his decision known, Raikkonen did not rule out a move but nor did he talk up his chances.
“Obviously people will be more talking about the chances but it doesn’t really change what I will do next year or what my decisions are - even if there is obviously an open place,” he said in his usual monotone when asked about the day’s big news.
“I have nothing to inform people until there is something certain on paper and I will tell immediately because then everyone stops asking the same question. But until I have something done I cannot answer.”
Raikkonen said being in the same team as Vettel would not be an issue: “I have no problem to race with anybody. I have never been in the position to choose who I drive with, so it doesn’t change anything.”
The Finn has been backed by Red Bull in the past, notably when he took two seasons out to go rallying in 2010 and 2011, but he played down those links.
“There was a Red Bull sponsor at Sauber when I was there, and I had drinking bottles from Red Bull when I was in Ferrari,” he said. “It doesn’t mean there is something for next year (because of) what I had in the past.”
Red Bull also have a young driver program, with young Australian Daniel Ricciardo and Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne the leading lights at sister team Toro Rosso and hoping for the chance of a lifetime.
The team now have to decide whether their young talent has what it takes or look outside for proven success.
On paper, Red Bull might appear an obvious choice over Lotus for Raikkonen given that they are engine provider Renault’s favored development partner and designer Adrian Newey - with whom he worked at McLaren - has produced a steady stream of winning cars.
But Raikkonen, 33, is the clear number one at Lotus - a status he would not have at Red Bull where 25-year-old Vettel has long been considered the favorite.
The team have humored the Finn’s renowned dislike of media and sponsorship activities, giving him more freedom than any team he has driven for to date and playing up his “Iceman” image.
They too have provided him with a winning car, with the hugely popular driver triumphant in the Australian season-opener and challenging for the championship.
“It has been perfect,” said Raikkonen. “Without them I wouldn’t be back in F1. For sure they also got some good things out of it, so I have no complaints.
“Obviously there are certain things that have to improve but I have a great time with the team and that is why, whatever the decision will be will be difficult.”
Ricciardo, now set to be the sole Australian driver in Formula One next year, and Vergne both hoped they could secure the seat - just as Vettel did when he moved up from Toro Rosso at the end of 2008 - but accepted they had competition.
“Unfortunately I’ve had a pretty poor run in the last few races so that’s definitely my concern. My priority now is to get some results back on the board,” said the Australian.
“I haven’t really come off a strong few (races) to give me bragging rights to say ‘That’s mine, everyone,’” he laughed. “So I’ve definitely got to focus on the next few weekends to remind everyone that I’m here to be successful.
“I think ideally, in the perfect world, they (Red Bull) would love one of us juniors to go through and to do what Seb did. I think that’s the real philosophy of the program. I think they would love to see one of us really start to shine.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Tony Goodson