Kimi Raikkonen has managed to earn more fans in a single year than any driver near his 40s would ever dream of. The Finn has been driving not only above relative expectations but actually pretty well, all considered. The disappointment of the fans is huge. There has also been a petition online, aimed at Ferrari to retain him as a driver. Why, then, would Ferrari not want him for 2019 and sign young Leclerc, instead?
Acknowledging the facts
Well, Sebastian Vettel is the undoubted No1 driver investment of the team in its efforts towards another championship win. However, Vettel is committed to the team till the end of 2020 and has been with Ferrari since 2015. He will be 33 in 2020 and will have spent 6 years in red overalls. Ferrari, like any top team, counts on continuity and its investments are not short-term.
There are three painful truths:
– Vettel might not go on with Ferrari after 2020, especially if success does not come.
– Ferrari might not want Vettel after 2020, especially if success does not come.
– Kimi Raikkonen most likely will not be driving after 2020, no matter the success or not.
What does each side really want?
So, Ferrari could end up with losing (or ditching) two drivers at the same time, beginning the new era from 2021 onwards. The usual pattern for top teams is some kind of overlap between drivers. It is almost most important than having two top drivers at the same time. By signing Leclerc, Ferrari know it will have a decent driver (some claim it’s more than that, but let’s wait and see how Charles takes on the high stakes) to keep going even if Vettel leaves (or is sacked) after 2020. If Leclerc rises up to the occasion, he might well be the No1 driver for the Scuderia and they will be just looking for a No2 partner. If he doesn’t, Ferrari will be looking for another top driver and Leclerc will be carrying on the continuity card anyway. It won’t be hard for Ferrari to get almost any top driver they want. Or keep Vettel, of course, if both sides are happy.
For Kimi… well it seems that Kimi just wants to race. He enjoys it more than ever, he is in good enough shape and he could do with less politics. So, Sauber is not a bad choice after all. And for Sauber, Kimi is a goldmine of experience and speed for what the team is pursuing the next two years.
The inevitable conclusion
It seems that the driver under the most pressure is Vettel. He has been criticized a lot for his costly mistakes and lack of competitive aggressiveness where needed. Leclerc is surely there to challenge him and Ferrari will be allowing the young driver to show his talent, in an effort to determine whether he is the man to play the No1 role in the future.
So, it looks like everything is done pretty much as it should. Raikkonen is still good enough. He does not fit the long-term plan of Ferrari, but surely does the job for Sauber. Ferrari is looking for continuity no matter what happens with Vettel after 2020 and Leclerc just got what he wished for.
And -to spice up things a bit more- let’s not forget the battle among the top teams for “third cars” or “support teams”. A stronger Sauber, under Ferrari guidance, would be more than welcome for the Reds…