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 on Tuesday.
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 champions Williams, said in a team statement.
The team, no longer owned by Renault, will race under the name of their title sponsor Lotus from next season. They did not say who Raikkonen's team mate 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 F1.
"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," he added.
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 them in 2008.
Never a driver with much interest in media or sponsor commitments, Raikkonen always did his talking on the track and Lotus will be hoping the man they get is more reminiscent of five years ago than the 2009 Ferrari version.
Raikkonen's presence means the Formula One grid will have six champions -- the others being Alonso, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel -- lining up to start the season in Melbourne next March.