By Alan Baldwin
LONDON, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Kimi Raikkonen is a Formula One throwback, a party-loving fan of the late champion James Hunt, but if the Finn returns to Ferrari next season it would be a blast from a past even more distant than the 1970s.
With speculation mounting on Tuesday about an imminent Ferrari driver announcement, media reports have put the 2007 world champion on pole position for what would be a sensational signing by a team he left in 2009 to make way for Fernando Alonso.
The 33-year-old with the glacial gaze, and 'Iceman' tattooed on his forearm, still has plenty of supporters among the Ferrari 'tifosi' as the team's first champion of the post-Michael Schumacher era and last to date.
Raikkonen is a man who refuses to be anything other than himself, an often taciturn soul who would happily skip most of his media engagements and likes to let his driving do the talking.
If he does return, and the whispers at Monza spoke of a done deal although Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali said no decision had been taken and Lotus were still hoping to retain Raikkonen, then it would be a break with years of Ferrari tradition.
Assuming Alonso does not produce any bombshell of his own and that it is Felipe Massa who is replaced, Ferrari would have a former world number one on both sides of the garage next season for the first time since most fans can remember.
In the 1950s, team founder Enzo Ferrari had Italian champions Albert Ascari and Giuseppe Farina racing in his cars together but current chairman Luca Di Montezemolo has been against having "two roosters in the same henhouse".
Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell were there together in 1990 but the Briton would have to wait until 1992 with Williams before he became a champion.
Since the arrival of Michael Schumacher in 1996, Ferrari has been a team with one driver clearly ranked ahead of the other.
The German notched up five of his seven titles with Ferrari, taking all but 19 of his 91 wins with the Italian team in the decade between 1996 and 2006.
His three team mates - Britain's Eddie Irvine and Brazilians Rubens Barrichello and Massa - managed just 15 wins between them over that period.
Even if speculation about Massa's future has been a regular occurrence of recent seasons, the Brazilian has done little to merit an extension even if Alonso would like him to.
In 70 races as Alonso's team mate, Massa has not won once. He has had eight podium finishes while the Spaniard has taken 11 wins and made 42 podium appearances.
"Between the improbable confirmation of Massa and the probable arrival of Raikkonen, it's not difficult to imagine what Alonso would prefer," said Tuesday's Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper.
"I have a lot of respect for Felipe. We've been working very hard and close for four years to give Ferrari the maximum," Alonso said in a response to fans on Twitter on Monday.
"Whatever decision the team will take will be good for me and we will keep working to give Ferrari the best results possible."
A Ferrari vacancy, the seat every aspiring racing driver dreams of, is in itself a rare occurrence - leaving aside the occasional stand-in role - and the signing of a champion even rarer.
"We are putting on the table all the elements," Deomenicali told reporters after the race on Sunday.
"We want to put all the consideration before taking the right decision and we will announce and say something on that as soon as we have finalised our discussion, because it is for sure not an easy decision for us." (Editing by Ed Osmond)
- Sports & Recreation
- Motor Racing
- Kimi Raikkonen
- Fernando Alonso
- Felipe Massa
- Enzo Ferrari