2007 Formula 1 World Champion Kimi Räikkönen has been confirmed as one of the drivers for the Citroën Junior World Rally Team in 2010.
The deal has been backed by both Citroën and energy drinks giant Red Bull, which is also one of the major partners of the Citroën works team headed by six-time world champion Sébastien Loeb.
The team might be called junior by name, but it is certainly not junior by nature with the Finnish F1 star set to enjoy the same level of equipment and support of Loeb and Spanish teammate Dani Sordo.
Räikkönen and young French teammate Sébastien Ogier will contest all but Rally New Zealand in 2010 (12 rounds) in C4 World Rally Cars.
Räikkönen impressed many at this year’s Rally Finland with his pace behind the wheel of a Fiat Punto S2000. He also has experience in local Finnish events included the gruelling Arctic Rally which is contested in snow and ice in January.
A driver for Sauber, McLaren and Ferrari in F1, Räikkönen was dropped from the Prancing Horse team in favour of Fernando Alonso. At Ferrari Räikkönen was reported to have been earning US$50 million per season, and his payout from the Italian team for 2010 was rumoured to be around US$30 million. After missing a seat at McLaren to this year’s world champion Jenson Button, Räikkönen announced that he would not contest the 2010 F1 season.
30-year-old Räikkönen will be joined inside the car by the vastly experiences Kaj Lindström; who was four-time World Rally Champion Tommi Mäkinen’s co-driver in the final years of his driving career.
“I always wanted to compete in rally, especially in the World Rally Championship at some point in my career,” said Räikkönen. “Thanks to Red Bull, I have the opportunity to drive the best car of the series with the Citroën C4. This is a new but very exciting challenge. For the moment we have a one-year contract and we will see how it goes for the future. I am really looking forward to testing the car and taking the start of the first rally.”
Speculation of Räikkönen driving with Citroën has been circulating for weeks. Citroën Racing Director, Olivier Quesnel was forced only days ago to deny that Räikkönen would join the full works squad. The French marque considers the Manufacturers’ title as the premier trophy in the WRC and they were more than happy to keep the Loeb/Sordo duo in that position. Having Räikkönen join the Citroën Junior team clearly adds appeal to the French brand and the WRC in general.
“We will continue to count on Sébastien and Dani to defend our world titles in 2010, and we will also be prolonging our association with Sébastien Ogier who showed outstanding potential this year,” said Quesnel. “Last but not least, it is with immense joy that we welcome Kimi Räikkönen to our ranks. We are very proud that he has chosen Citroën. In addition to the confirmation of these four crews, we will hopefully be able to announce other programmes over the coming weeks.”
The WRC gets underway in Sweden on 12-14 of February.