Kimi Raikkonen returns to Formula One racing next year at the Lotus Renault team.
Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen will make an eagerly-anticipated comeback to Formula One next season after signing a two-year contract with Lotus, the team currently known as Renault said yesterday.
The 32-year-old Finn won his title with Ferrari in 2007 but quit Formula One two years later and switched to rallying.
"I'm looking forward to playing an important role in pushing the team to the very front of the grid," Raikkonen, who also had discussions with former champion Williams, said in a team statement.
The team, no longer owned by Renault, will race under the name of its title sponsor Lotus from next season. It did not say who Raikkonen's teammate would be, although Russian Vitaly Petrov has a contract for 2012. France's Romain Grosjean, this year's GP2 champion, had been widely expected to take the second seat.
The taciturn but party-loving Raikkonen, who has won 18 races with McLaren and Ferrari in a Formula One career that started with Sauber in 2001, remains hugely popular with the fans who know him as the 'Iceman'. He said the two years he spent in rallying had been useful for him as a driver, but that he had an overwhelming hunger to return to Formula One.
"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," added the Finn.
His prospects of doing that remain very much an open question, with Renault finishing this season fifth overall and without a win since double champion Fernando Alonso was driving for it in 2008.
Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, Raikkonen's Ferrari predecessor who started his comeback last year after three seasons away, has yet to return to the podium with fourth-placed Mercedes.
"All year long, we kept saying that our team was at the start of a brand new cycle," said Gerard Lopez, chairman of team owner Genii Capital.
"Kimi's decision to come back to Formula One with us is the first step of several announcements which should turn us into an even more serious contender in the future."
Poland's Robert Kubica, the Pole who was supposed to be Renault's leading driver this year, will not be there after missing the entire season due to life-threatening injuries sustained in a rally accident in February.