11 September 2018

Raikkonen, Leclerc and the implications

So Kimi Raikkonen has finally been announced as on his way out at Ferrari and the hullabaloo that has been going on can now end. The other shoe still needs to drop with Charles Leclerc being confirmed at Ferrari, but that will happen in the days ahead (if not hours). Kimi will be at Sauber for two years (so he says), which will mean that he can go off into retirement at the end of 2020, soon after his 41st birthday. There has been talk of Kimi taking a share in the Swiss team, which sounds fairly reasonable because the Swedish owner wishes to reduce his costs and we must now wait and see whether Marcus Ericsson is kept on, or whether the Italian influences (Alfa Romeo money) will lead to Antonio Giovinazzi getting the drive. I'm not sure which driver my money is on in this case.

The most interesting thing about the news is that Ferrari has decided that Sebastian Vettel's comfortable situation at Maranello will now change. For the last four seasons the four-time World Champion has had a relatively easy time with Raikkonen, which is reflected in their points scores in the different seasons: in 2015 Vettel scored 65 percent of Ferrari's points, in 2016 it was 53 percent, in 2017 it widened again to 61 percent and this year it has been 58 percent. Admittedly, some of this was due to the fact that Raikkonen played second fiddle to Vettel but that was part of the comfort zone. Vettel is quick, no question, but on several occasions he has made mistakes under pressure and that has cost Ferrari a lot. If he comes under more pressure, will he make more mistakes? That is an interesting question.

Whether Leclerc is going to be controlled by team orders is another question (to which I am not expecting an answer until the racing begins) but even if that is the case, Leclerc can make it very obvious that he is quicker than Vettel if that is indeed the case and he wants it to be noted.

It is hard to judge how good Vettel ultimately is because his career has been spent in fairly protected positions with Red Bull Racing (where he was considered the golden boy) and then at Ferrari (where Kimi has been compliant when required). The one year when we saw Vettel under pressure from a team-mate was in 2014 when he was up against Daniel Ricciardo and he ended up being beaten by the Australian, 238 points to 167. That provides an interesting background to the fight ahead. What this move ought to do is to beef up the Ferrari challenge for the Constructors' Championship, which has been somewhat blighted in recent years by Raikkonen's lower rate of scoring. With Ferrari facing a reduction in the money it gets from F1 just for being there, the prize money thus becomes more important and so the need for two highly-competitive drivers increases.

We will see.

The other implication in this is that another door has closed for Stoffel Vandoorne and (theoretically) for Esteban Ocon.


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