Belfast Telegraph

Raikkonen and Meeke could be team players

By Sammy Hamill

Former Formula One World champion Kimi Raikkonen is being linked to a role alongside Ulsterman Kris Meeke in the new BMW Mini rally team.

The Finn, champion in 2007, was the highest paid driver in F1 before being displaced at Ferrari by Fernando Alonso at the end of the 2009 season.

Rather than move to another team, he switched to rallying and has been part of the Citroen junior team this season, mixing accidents with fast stage times.

Despite stories suggesting a return to F1 next season, Raikkonen has insisted he wants to continue in rallying and now is poised to test the new Prodrive-developed Mini Countryman which will make its World championship bow in the Spring of next year.

Meeke, the 2009 Intercontinental Challenge champion, is the first driver signed by the team but is expected to be joined shortly by Dani Sordo, World champion Sebastien Loeb’s No.2 at Citroen. But Mini, it seems, are interested in Raikkonen as well. Prodrive managing director Richard Taylor said: “Kimi has brought a lot of profile into the WRC so of course he would be of interest to any manufacturer.”

Apart from Raikkonen’s profile there are other reasons for Mini’s interest.

He would come with personal sponsorship from Red Bull — as does Meeke — and the four-wheel-drive Mini Countryman road cars are built in Austria, home of the energy drink company’s founder, Dietrich Mateschitz.

The Mini is also the company’s promotional vehicle of choice. Red Bull are committed to one further year of sponsorship with Citroen but a switch to Mini would coincide with the team’s full assault on the World championship in 2012.

Meeke, meanwhile, has said he would be happy to see Spaniard Sordo join the team.

Currently continuing the Mini development programme in Sardinia, he said: “Apart from the fact we have been friends since out Junior World championship days and have worked together regularly on Citroen’s test days, Dani has good knowledge of the new Citroen DS3 and would bring that expertise with him.

“There are not many guys around with his experience of the new breed of cars which will appear in the World championship next season. He would be a good addition to the team.”

Former World champion Marcus Gronholm had been expected to join the team. But the Finn has changed his mind, saying he “doesn’t want to do a Michael Schumacher.”

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