Raikkonen off for year

HELSINKI - Kimi Raikkonen will take a year out of Formula One after failing to reach a deal with McLaren for next season, the 2007 world champion's manager was quoted as saying yesterday.

HELSINKI - Kimi Raikkonen will take a year out of Formula One after failing to reach a deal with McLaren for next season, the 2007 world champion's manager was quoted as saying yesterday.

"The alternatives at F1 level for next season were McLaren or nothing. Kimi and McLaren did not reach an agreement, so he will not drive at F1 level at least during next year," Steve Robertson told Finnish regional daily Turun Sanomat.

McLaren confirmed yesterday that they had signed a multi-year deal with Britain's Jenson Button who won this year's title with Brawn.

Brawn, who have since been taken over by Mercedes, had wanted to keep their champion, but Button was unveiled as Lewis Hamilton's teammate yesterday .

Raikkonen, who spent five years at McLaren before joining Ferrari at the end of 2006, has been replaced at the Italian team by Spain's double world champion Fernando Alonso despite having a year to run on his contract. With a payoff in his pocket, he had already cast doubt on his F1 future and said last month that any contract he signed would have to allow him to continue his rally activities.

The 30-year-old, whose motivation has been repeatedly questioned since he won the title, competed in this year's Finnish round of the world rally championship in a Fiat after also entering three non-championship events.

Hugely popular with the sport's hardcore fans as an uncompromising and party-loving driver with little interest in media or sponsorship activities, the "Iceman" may not be frozen out for long.

"Kimi still lives and breathes the ambition to drive. A year off in that sense does not mean anything," said Robertson.

"More significant is to find a place for Kimi where he can fight for victory and a world championship."

Raikkonen had made clear he only wanted to drive for a top team.

"If I do decide to stay in Formula One, I wouldn't go to any of the small teams where I would not have the chance to fight for the championship," he said. "Otherwise there is no reason to be in Formula One. I achieved what I wanted."

Red Bull, runners-up this season, have Germany's Sebastian Vettel and Australian Mark Webber under contract while champions Brawn were never likely to meet the Finn's salary demands. But there will be an opening at Red Bull at the end of next year when Webber's contract runs out.

Toyota, who had made Raikkonen an offer, have since quit Formula One.

Other champions have taken years out in the past and come back strongly, notably Frenchman Alain Prost who fell out with Ferrari in 1991 and sat out 1992 before returning to win the title with Williams in 1993. - Reuters

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