Kimi Räikkönen’s Future Uncertain, As Always
“I think it’s always a difficult question to say if you miss someone. I think the sport would naturally miss him, yeah,” Lewis Hamilton said about Kimi Räikkönen after the 2018 Italian Grand Prix when asked if he would miss the Finnish driver following his Formula One retirement.
But nobody seems to know whether he is actually retiring.
Political games involving Räikkönen and Ferrari go back a long way. It took a lot of behind-the-scenes machinations to drive Schumacher out of the Italian team to make room for Räikkönen in 2007. Then in 2009 he was paid a handsome sum to terminate his contract early, leading to his first retirement and hiatus from F1.
Many believed Ferrari had lost faith in its star driver and pushed him out to bring in Alonso and Santander, but Räikkönen always maintained he had kept a good relationship with the Scuderia. He must have, because two years after his eventually return to the sport, he signed with them again and has continued to drive in the red car even as his forties loom (meanwhile Alonso — who is younger — has announced he will retire at the end of the 2018 season).
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Since 2015, Räikkönen has kept his seat through a series of one-year contract extensions. Every year, there is uncertainty about his next-year drive. Every year there are claims it is his last, and every year so far he has disappointed — or rather, delighted, as the reserved “Iceman” is by some margin the most popular driver on the grid.
But this year seems different, somehow. Ferrari has a clear candidate for his seat in the form of Charles Leclerc, a promising young rookie who made mincemeat of Formula 2 in 2017 and who has so far seemed to deliver on that promise in the Ferrari-powered Sauber.
The late Sergio Marchionne was famously not overjoyed with Räikkönen, once calling him “a bit of a laggard,” and had expressed his wish to promote Leclerc from Sauber for 2019. But for all of Leclerc’s potential, it would be difficult to justify replacing the man who currently sits third in the championship standings and who, over the last weekend, recorded his 100th career podium after giving Ferrari its first home race pole position since 2010.
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Something is definitely happening behind the scenes. Ferrari typically makes its official announcements regarding driver changes at the Italian Grand Prix, and had seemed to be preparing for one last weekend when it suddenly did not. However, many news sources are unofficially reporting that Leclerc has replaced Räikkönen, though all they really know for sure is that Ferrari had a meeting today that was supposed to put the matter to rest…and then didn’t.
So is Räikkönen out? We don’t know, and while that answer has applied on more than one occasion in the past, Ferrari’s behavior surrounding the issue has never been more mysterious. That being said, for the sake of Leclerc’s own career, the youngster may be better off spending a year in a midfield team like Haas rather than immediately taking on not just the enormous pressure of being a Ferrari driver, but also the pressure of driving alongside a four-time world champion and that of having to justify pushing out one of the sport’s most memorable personalities.