F1 - Especiales

It's time to be brave Ferrari; sign Charles Leclerc to replace Kimi Raikkonen for 2019

With Charles Leclerc getting better all the time and Kimi Raikkonen continuing to toil at Ferrari, they need to be bold and make a change to their driver line-up next year.

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It's time to be brave Ferrari; sign Charles Leclerc to replace Kimi Raikkonen for 2019
Fuente imagen: @SauberF1Team, @ScuderiaFerrari

2018 is turning into a very strong year for the Italian giants. They've scored three wins and four positions in the opening seven rounds of the season – all thanks to Sebastian Vettel.  

However, their driver choice for 2019 is something that is very much in focus at the moment with the media and fans.  

Raikkonen's decline 

Kimi Raikkonen's return to Ferrari since the start of 2014 season has been nothing short of a disaster for the Finn and his loyal bunch of fans.  

Apart from 2016 when he outqualified Sebastian Vettel 11-10 over the course of the season and finished only 26 points behind the German in the WDC, the stats make for grim reading for the 2007 World Champion. 

In 2014, 2015 and 2017, he's taken hammerings in the points standings from Alonso and Vettel105 in '14, 128 in '15 and 112 last year. After seven rounds this year, the Finnish driver already finds himself trailing stablemate and championship leader Vettel by 53 points. That's simply not good enough for a midfield driver, never mind a former World Champion. 

The qualifying head-to-heads are brutal as well: From the beginning of 2014, he's only beaten his stablemate 24 times out of a possible 86.  

Frustratingly for Raikkonen, it seemed this year was going to be better. He was the quicker of the Ferrari drivers at Albert Park and very nearly took pole position in Bahrain and China. He was right in the hunt in the championship classification following three podiums in the opening four races.  

Yet, Spain, Monaco and Canada have been tough weekends and more like the showings of the bad days of previous seasons. Costly qualifying errors in Baku and Montreal have shown Raikkonen's weakness of making mistakes when it comes down to the crunch in Q3 – and it's been a regular trait of his after returning to the sport in 2012. 

Leclerc's rapid rise 

You cannot be anything but impressed by how quickly the 20-year-old has moved up to Formula One and the rapid rate of improvement he is showing. 

The young driver from Monaco utterly dominated F2 last year and showed all the signs he could be a future star of F1. As well as controlling and easily winning races in F1's feeder series in 2017, he showed outstanding ability to carve his way through the field too. The Bahrain sprint race, Hungarian feature race and the Belgian sprint race to name just three.  

His start to his Formula One career earlier this year was a little bit underwhelming. Marcus Ericsson outqualified him at both Australia and Bahrain. The Swedish driver scored points at the middle east event, while Charles ended up 18 seconds behind Ericsson. 

He looked set for a strong race in China until a spin around the long T1 right-hander ruined his chances of a good finish. Surprisingly, he looked a bit out of his depth in the early rounds.  

Nonetheless, it's been a massive upward trajectory following the first three flyaway races and has shown the huge potential and talent he clearly has in his locker.  

The Monégasque driver made a big breakthrough in Baku in more ways than one. A brilliant qualifying saw him end up 13th on the grid and a brilliant, mature drive to 6th in a crash-filled race showed how good Leclerc is. They were his first points in F1 too. 

A big change to the set-up following the Chinese Grand Prix played a huge factor as he explained to Autosport.com after the Azerbaijan race: "You drive GP3 and Formula 2 cars with a lot of oversteer and this is the way to go fast. I did not expect to go quicker when going towards an understeer set-up in F1, but this seems the way these cars work. 

I just need to get on with it. I made quite a lot of mistakes in the first three racesI improved a lot because of the approach we had with the set-up. 

We went to a more understeering car for me. My car was way too unpredictable and was very difficult to put everything together. We targeted a more understeering balance and it has been night and day [different] for me.'' 

Following on from that amazing performance in Baku, Leclerc has gone from strength to strength. The man from Monaco has made it into Q2 at the last four meetings and scored three points finishes in that period too. Quite simply, he's outperformed his car since those important set-up changes and has put Marcus Ericsson completely in the shade.  

He's started to demolish the Swede in qualifying – Leclerc leads the head-to-head battle 5-2 and has beaten Ericsson in the last five qualifying sessions: including trouncing him by over a second on a Saturday in Baku and Montreal and by 0.8s at the Spanish Grand Prix.  

A real sign of his very quick improvement has shown in his battles with Fernando Alonso. Most drivers wilt under the pressure of the Spaniard behind them – but not in the case of the Monégasque driver. 

In both Spain and Canada, he looked calm and composed with the double world champion all over him. Only the timing of the end of the VSC cost him a place to Alonso at Spain. His coolness under huge pressure from one of the all-time greats proved Leclerc can handle racing the very best drivers in the biggest motorsports category in the world.  

Ferrari should bring in Leclerc next year, but will they? 

When it comes to driver decisions, history shows that Ferrari is a very conservative team when it comes to choosing drivers. As shown below, their line-ups this century prove they go for experienced drivers over potentially talented young drivers who have driven for only a very short time in F1. Even in the case of Felipe Massa, he'd done three full seasons with Sauber and thousands of laps as a test driver for Ferrari before becoming a driver for them in 2006.  

2000-2018: Schumacher-Barrichello; Schumacher-Massa; Raikkonen-Massa; Alonso-Massa; Alonso-Raikkonen; Vettel-Raikkonen 

As well as going for experienced partnerships, the Italian giants have tended to have pairings with a number one and two.  

Clearly, Sebastian Vettel enjoys having Kimi Raikkonen alongside him as the Finn doesn't get involved in any political games and the German knows he's top dog in a very one-sided intra-team battle. It's unlikely Vettel would want Ricciardo as his team-mate and most likely he'll want Kimi as his team-mate again next year.  

It's time for Ferrari to make a change, though.  

Raikkonen turns 39 in October and as admirable as it is for the Finn to want to continue in Formula One, his best days are well and truly gone. The Finn has been a pale shadow of the magnificently fast and fearless guy he was during the 2000's since he rejoined Ferrari in 2014.  

His race pace and qualifying speed has dropped alarmingly and is the weakest of the top 6 drivers in the top 6 cars on the grid at the moment. He's had a fantastic career, but Ferrari needs to drop him to compete for the Constructors' title as well as the Drivers' one. 

In contrast, Charles Leclerc will be 21 in October. The youngster from Monaco has a long career ahead of him all being well. A difficult start looked like it meant he could struggle to adapt to F1. Yet, he's overcome it and in massive style.  

10 points on the board is a fantastic effort, considering the Sauber is probably the second slowest car on the grid. Four straight Q2 appearances show the speed and class of Leclerc. He's possibly the most exciting new driver to appear on the grid since Verstappen back in 2015 and Vettel and Hamilton in the late 2000's. 

Ferrari needs to give him a chance to shine and to have a driver who can push Sebastian Vettel harder than Kimi Raikkonen currently does. Obviously, team harmony is important but they need two quality drivers at the top of their game; just like at Mercedes and Red Bull. They should not let the chance slip through their fingers. Leclerc is showing all the qualities to win many races and become a world champion. 

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