Former World Champion Kimi Raikkonen will return to Formula One in 2012, having signed a two-year agreement with Lotus Renault GP.
Raikkonen won the 2007 title with Ferrari, but left the squad two years later and has since competed in the World Rally Championship and various NASCAR events.
Initially linked to a 2012 comeback with Williams, the 32-year-old says he’s pleased to be joining the Enstone based Lotus Renault GP squad, which next year will be rebranded as simply Lotus.
“I’m delighted to be coming back to Formula 1 after a two-year break, and I’m grateful to Lotus Renault GP for offering me this opportunity,” said Raikkonen in a team statement.
“My time in the World Rally Championship has been a useful stage in my career as a driver, but I can’t deny the fact that my hunger for F1 has recently become overwhelming.
“It was an easy choice to return with Lotus Renault GP as I have been impressed by the scope of the team’s ambition. Now I’m looking forward to playing an important role in pushing the team to the very front of the grid.”
Starting the 2011 with podiums in Australia and Malaysia, Renault struggled to match the development pace of its rivals this season – ending the year a distant fifth in the Constructors’ Championship, just four points clear of Force India.
According to team owner Gerard Lopez, signing the 18-time Grand Prix winner is the first stage in the team’s rebuilding process.
“All year long, we kept saying that our team was at the start of a brand new cycle,” said Lopez.
“Backstage we’ve been working hard to build the foundations of a successful structure and to ensure that we would soon be able to fight at the highest level.
“Kimi’s decision to come back to Formula 1 with us is the first step of several announcements which should turn us into an even more serious contender in the future.
“Of course, we are all looking forward to working with a world champion. On behalf of our staff, I’d like to welcome Kimi to Enstone, a setting that has always been known for its human approach to Formula 1.”
Raikkonen’s return means that there will be six World Drivers’ Champions on the grid next season, with Michael Schumacher (1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004), Fernando Alonso (2005, 2006), Raikkonen (2007), Lewis Hamilton (2008), Jenson Button (2009) and Sebastian Vettel (2010, 2011) all set to do battle.
With Vitaly Petrov expected to again front-up for Renault in 2012, the news is less positive for Bruno Senna and Romain Grosjean, who had both been eyeing off the seat now taken by the Finn.
The confirmation of Raikkonen comes less than a fortnight after the team announced that former driver Robert Kubica would not be fit for the start of the 2012 season, as the Pole continues to recover from a rally accident in February.
In a bizarre twist, Kubica’s manager has since debunked the statement, telling Italian media that his driver – whose contract with Renault expires at the end of next month – will be fit for the first race of 2012, and is currently assessing his options.