McLaren thanks Kimi, confirms Ferrari deal
McLaren has officially bid farewell to Kimi Raikkonen, underlining that the Finn is the man to be confirmed later today as Michael Schumacher's replacement at Ferrari.
Although the move has long been talked about, the Scuderia has prevaricated over an official announcement, saying that all would be revealed at the Italian Grand Prix. The added time no doubt allowed Schumacher to make up his mind about his future, the German eventually confirming that he was to call time on his career in the wake of an emotional 90th grand prix at Monza.
Raikkonen's move ends a long, and generally successful relationship with McLaren, although their five years together failed to produce the world title that both desired. Nine race wins, ten pole positions and 321 championship points were the output from the partnership, which will end at the culmination of the Brazilian Grand Prix next month.
"Whilst I have taken the decision to leave Team McLaren Mercedes, I want to stress that I really enjoyed my time with the team," Raikkonen said in a prepared statement issued in the aftermath of Schumacher's retirement, "I have the deepest respect for everybody and will be giving my all in the remaining races."
With Juan Pablo Montoya quitting F1 for NASCAR mid-season, today's confirmation ensures that McLaren will head into the 2007 season with a completely new line-up, although its deal with Fernando Alonso has been known since the turn of the year. Speculation still surrounds the identity of the Spaniard's team-mate, with current number two Pedro de la Rosa and untried British pair Lewis Hamilton and Gary Paffett the only ones in the frame to partner him. Despite Hamilton clinching the GP2 title at Monza, the team refused to comment on the future while paying tribute to Raikkonen's contribution.
"I have enjoyed working with Kimi over the past five seasons and, as a team, we have achieved a lot of success," Ron Dennis said, "He is a very special driver and, obviously, everybody at McLaren wishes him all the best in his future career. Looking forward, we remain confident that our 2007 line-up will be a strong and exciting one."
Mercedes-Benz's Norbert Haug also thanked the Finn for his part in the past five seasons.
"During that time, he has become a great racing driver," Haug insisted, "On behalf of DaimlerChrysler and our premium brand Mercedes-Benz, I would like to thank Kimi for all that he has done for us and I wish him well for the future. I am sure we will continue to have great respect for each other and will remain friends."