In a surprise announcement, the 2005 Formula 1 World Champion revealed today that he will drive for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes in 2007.

The announcement came just a few days after Vodafone joined McLaren Mercedes in a long-term deal as title sponsor, starting in 2007. Team Principal and McLaren Group chairman and CEO Ron Dennis said in the team’s announcement, “It’s great that our strong belief in the strength and competitiveness of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes package has been further endorsed by the World Champion.”

The team is currently in contract negotiations with Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya, whose contracts expire at the end of 2006. Raikkonen has been rumored to be going to Ferrari in 2007, and today’s announcement makes that seem more likely.

It also casts doubt on Renault’s future in Formula 1. As the automaker faces tough decisions to cut costs, the Formula 1 effort has been suggested as a highly visible target. Interestingly, Renault team manager Flavio Briatore (whose contract expires at the end of 2006) is also Alonso’s agent - suggesting that Renault were aware of McLaren’s offer and chose not to match it.

If Raikkonen is indeed going to Ferrari, then Michael Schumacher’s retirement in 2007 seems likely, as Schumacher has always been Ferrari’s number one driver, and Raikkonen would not sign up to be anyone’s number two. More info from McLaren Mercedes, Reuters and grandprix.com.

[via emercedesbenz.com


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