Raikkonen linked with Ferrari seat

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The Independent Online

The Schumacher rumours began after the Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul last week. Their "logic" then cast the winner Raikkonen as his replacement. But one has to question why either would actually want to move.

Schumacher has won five of his seven world championships while racing with the Scuderia (the others coming with Benetton in 1994 and '95). The 2005 season will be the first of the new millennium in which he has not been crowned champion. Though Ferrari have had an appalling year, 90 per cent of their problems have been tyre -related, and Schumacher is astute enough to know they will recover.

Raikkonen only lost the 2003 title with McLaren after the sport's governing body, the FIA, decided on a retrospective reinterpretation of its own rule regarding tyre wear which switched things in Bridgestone's favour as Michelin were hurriedly obliged to change their design just before the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September, thus losing ground at a critical stage of the championship fight.

His disappointing season was last year, but McLaren have not looked back since. Their MP4/20 is the fastest car in the field, but is lacking in reliability and has probably cost the Finn this year's crown.

If the issue centred only on current form, rather than form two years hence, Schumacher would step into the best car again, while Raikkonen would give up the best car.

Rumours have linked Raikkonen with Ferrari for several years, but yesterday his manager Steve Robertson dismissed them. "These stories have come to light again after all the rumours about Michael and Mercedes-Benz. People are just making assumptions; Michael is going there, so Kimi must be replacing him."

In fact, McLaren have not been averse in the past to running two stars, having matched Alain Prost with Niki Lauda in the early 1980s and Ayrton Senna with Prost later that decade.

"It's just speculation," Robertson continued. "Kimi is not happy with the reliability at McLaren this year. He is happy with the speed of the package at his disposal, but he knows he should be leading the world championship. He has a contract with McLaren until the end of 2006, so we'll wait and see what happens then."

BMW will require the best driver they can get by 2007, and Toyota must surely seek soon to replace Ralf Schumacher with a topline racer who can help move them forward.

It does seem likely, however, that Michael Schumacher is seeking an extension to his contract with Ferrari. The latest speculation may simply be shrewdly placed talk designed to drive his price up further, though it remains to be seen whether Ferrari can still afford him, as their purse strings are already seriously stretched.