Ferrari and the double-edged sword of renewing Räikkönen once again
Rumours and filtered news had it this week that Ferrari has already completed negotiations for the 38-year-old Finn to stay at the team one further season, apparently a safe bet from the team. Or is it?
As Spanish news suggest, the much-awaited decision on Vettel’s companion for next year has long been made by Ferrari, tending towards Räikkönen’s renewal which – as the news says – is already done and dusted since the Hungarian GP weekend. If on one side Kimi’s permanence would provide continuity within the team – a key factor in the growth from last year -, there is not only one question mark on the cons that could result from this choice.
Echoes and rumours flocked around golden boy Charles Leclerc after Räikkönen had disappointingly closed the first seven races of the 2018 season in a mere 5th place in the Drivers’ standings with just three podiums and a best result of 2nd to its name, but as soon as it became clear to most that the youngster – strongly backed by late president Marchionne - would be promoted to the main role, the Finn upped his game sensibly by adding five consecutive podiums and, most of all, ardour and aggression to his races.
However, a contract renewal signed and sealed before the second half of the season was not particularly encouraging for Kimi last year, when he showed another drop at the very time his team needed to capitalise, and Ferrari cannot risk the same this term as they find themselves finally in contention for both titles in what is probably their best chance in a decade. And if stability within the team, Vettel’s approval and Räikkönen’s setup feedback and experience are crucial to Ferrari to win this year, this does not deny that they may not be in the same way in 2019. Nor it denies that, if all ultimately goes to plan, a 38-year-old at his 17th season in Formula 1 may feel a sense of soothing fulfilment, clearly dangerous for his successive campaign.
And what about giving Leclerc the golden chance in order to potentially launch Ferrari into the top of the pecking order once and for all, and begin to cement the team’s future even in post-Vettel days?
Leclerc’s promotion would start a proper succession at Ferrari, since potential future candidate – and Italian racer – Antonio Giovinazzi would have doors wide open for a seat at Sauber, or maybe even Haas, to finally find his feet in top-tier racing.
The solution seems to be that, whatever the allure of a line-up announcement in Monza for the home Grand Prix, Ferrari needs – or needed - to wait this time around. After all, Leclerc is already a property of their own, so it would be feasible and indeed safer for them to at least reach the end of the year, look for assurances about Räikkönen’s unwavering determination, and then come to the fateful conclusion.