'Raikkonen a likely Plan B for McLaren'
Ted Kravitz reckons team's former driver most likely man to step in if Hamilton leaves
Last Updated: September 20, 2012 12:31pm
Sky Sports F1's Ted Kravitz suspects McLaren will make an approach for Kimi Raikkonen if Lewis Hamilton decides to defect to Mercedes at the end of the season.
With Hamilton's future still at the centre of paddock and media speculation as the season reconvenes in Singapore, but apparently no closer to a resolution as he and his management mull the merits of a big-money offer from Mercedes, attention has begun to turn to McLaren's alternative options should they lose the driver they have nurtured since the age of 13.
Although McLaren chief Martin Whitmarsh told reporters at Monza that the team had "no plan B" in place, newspaper reports over the weekend suggested they had since made an approach to Sergio Perez for a prospective 2013 drive.
Ruminating on McLaren's options should Hamilton ultimately decide to leave on Sky Sports News, Ted said while the likes Heikki Kovalainen - who, like Raikkonen, has previously driven for McLaren - and Perez could come under consideration, the only top driver who could come close to matching Hamilton from the off, and who might be available, is current Lotus star Raikkonen - a regular race winner for the team during his spell there between 2002 and 2006.
Asked by Craig Slater in the Singapore paddock if McLaren had an equivalent replacement for Hamilton available, Ted replied: "No, they don't.
"So the only other race winner who's available, strangely enough, is down the field in the shape of Heikki Kovalainen. But he's a previous McLaren driver and that didn't work out particularly well - he was well outpaced by Lewis Hamilton - but he did win a race for McLaren. He is someone who is available.
"But I think if they do need to find somebody they'll either go with a youngster - maybe somebody like Sergio Perez or Valtteri Bottas, although he's never actually competed in a grand prix so I don't think that's very likely.
"Or what's much more likely I think maybe is Kimi Raikkonen. He's won a championship, he's won races and he knows how to do it. You could parachute him into that McLaren and he could do the job."
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Raikkonen, who himself defected to Ferrari after five seasons at Woking in 2007, did hold talks over a potential return to McLaren at the end of the 2009 campaign but the negotiations subsequently broke down and the Finn ultimately left F1 for the World Rally Championship while McLaren brought in then newly-crowned World Champion Jenson Button to race alongside Hamilton.
Hamilton now has to make a similar dilemma over his future to the one Raikkonen faced six years ago and although Whitmarsh has remained confident publicly that Hamilton will stay, a report in the Daily Mail last week suggested McLaren "now have no better than a 50-50 chance" of holding onto the 2008 Champion.
Ted agrees that Hamilton's decision could indeed easily go either way and believes the Briton's ultimate choice will be dictated by whether or not he is still happy at Woking.
"I think we could have said it's only 50-50 he's staying at McLaren two weeks ago when we were at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, but that's only a little guess into Lewis Hamilton's mind," Ted said.
"Is he happy at McLaren? If he's not then he should absolutely go to Mercedes and they're the ones who are offering him the big money.
"If he is happy at McLaren then I think they'll figure out a deal that actually gets towards the nitty gritty of the contract negotiations over money, which is what many people think this is about - Hamilton trying to not take a cut in his fee at McLaren.
"I think that's accurate, 50-50, but if Lewis Hamilton isn't happy at McLaren he should go because he shouldn't drive there if he's not happy and more to the point McLaren don't want him if he's not happy."