The twisted world of Formula 1 gave us yet another example how it is like that indeed after the announcement spree involving Kimi Raikkonen, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari and Sauber. Does it all bodes well for the future? Darshan Chokhani decodes…
For most, Ferrari’s promotion of Leclerc wouldn’t have come as a surprise considering the hoo-haa going around for months, but Raikkonen’s return to Sauber had many of the fans and professionals as well, scratch their heads to understand the reasoning.
Ferrari were usual in their press releases to keep it to bare minimum while Sauber didn’t dwell into much details as well taking in Raikkonen – who certainly wouldn’t have come into the team without seeing the incentive of racing for them, especially having said he would perhaps end his career in Ferrari.
Before touching on Raikkonen, if we look at Ferrari’s decision from racing point of view irrespective of what the late Sergio Marchionne would have said or not, it is a logical decision to promote their young talent, something which indeed is unlike Ferrari.
The Italian manufacturer has been conservative over the years in their driver choices with extending Raikkonen’s contract. But if we look at the situation, Ferrari actually needed an experienced pairing for them to develop the car together during the Red Bull Racing and Mercedes dominance period.
Effectively, they understood the scenario that it will take more than a year to be in the competitive position. In fact, Sebastian Vettel recently indicated that they took a step forward in 2016 which is reaping results in the current season.
The improvements this year can be seen for sure – not just in the engine side but in the overall package. It seems like with no huge regulation changes forthcoming, the limit to a certain extent has been reached in the power unit development which opens up the fight hugely.
This is significant for Ferrari’s title hopes and with that the driver pairing plays a huge role. With two world champions in one team, it is a tough ask to find a balance and history shows it well why teams do no opt for keeping two champions together when in the position to fight for the title.
The last time two champions raced together in a team while fighting for the title was in 1989 when Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna competed for McLaren – and we all know how it ended up to be. So, the idea by Ferrari is pretty logical in that regard to have Leclerc in the second car.
We have to see how it plays out to be in 2019 but it is somewhat given that the Monegasque will take some time to get adjusted. This helps Vettel then and also the team overall as it won’t have the headache of listening to two world champions at one go.
Teams may not admit it, but in a title scenario it is hard to keep up with two champions together and with a non-champion in the team, it eases the pressure as the preference lies with the champion driver if he is in the better position to win – something we can see with Mercedes in the current season.
There were signs already this year when Ferrari couldn’t play the ‘No.2’ card directly especially at Hockenheim when Vettel urged the team to get Raikkonen out of the position. The scenes in Monza were similar as well when the two raced against each other.
Even in qualifying, they stuck to their weekend-by-weekend rule despite knowing that Raikkonen could have taken pole in the situation. Even though Vettel and Raikkonen share a good bond, things could change when a title comes into the picture as we saw between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
With Leclerc, they now have a better chance to help out Vettel in winning the drivers’ title like the old times in Ferrari. It will be a bonus for Ferrari if Leclerc manages to do well and can score those crucial points or podiums or even wins for the constructors’ championship. Yes, it is a gamble by the Italian manufacturer but looking at the future, it could be beneficial in the longrun.
Vettel has a three-year contract for now but by the signing of Leclerc, it throws some light on the German’s deal which could have an early exit clause if things are not going well. In that case, Ferrari is giving Leclerc all the chance to be upto speed by that time – if it comes – and be able to lead the team forward.
With Raikkonen, they couldn’t have done that as age is not on his side even though the stability and certainty is known. It actually puts Ferrari in a win-win situation where they have a talented driver in the cockpit who could be the future of the team.
For Vettel as well, having a younger teammate is both a blessing and a curse as the German will want to beat him. The last time he was with a younger driver in Red Bull in 2014, he lost out to Daniel Ricciardo.
It also is a wake-up call for Vettel to be on his toes as now Ferrari has its own young driver in the second seat and if he can show the pace and resilience to beat the four-time world champion, the favour can switch in no time.
We have to remember as well that Leclerc has been working with Ferrari behind the scenes in the last few seasons already and has been in the environment for few years now to understand how it all works which plays a role in an early signing.
On the other hand, of course Leclerc’s early move could backfire too in case he isn’t able to handle pressure and is beaten fair and square. But for now, it seems like Leclerc has the ability to keep calm and deliver still. For the rest, we will have to wait and see how it goes.
The other part
Moving on to the Raikkonen situation, it doesn’t seem like a swap between the two teams. The press release from Ferrari never mentioned Sauber while their release was put just when Raikkonen separately announced his intention to return to the Swiss outfit.
For a driver who wanted to see out his career in Ferrari, has now gone on to make a fresh start in a midfield team is the biggest baffling part but the recent speculations of him taking some shares of the team seems more probable thing to happen now.
Nothing has been mentioned about it, however knowing Raikkonen, he wouldn’t do something without any purpose. If he is to become part owner, it is a good move for him to drive and develop the car and help the team to get back in the top position.
By the time he retires, the team will be in a better shape for him to get a good return on the investment made now. We have to see if at all that is the idea, but all pointers is towards that certainly.
Furthermore, it keeps Raikkonen in shape in F1 – with extreme motivation – for him to pounce on any opportunity if there is in 2019 or 2020 with Ferrari or any other team needing an experienced hand.
On the other hand, it is a win for Liberty Media as well to keep him in the sport with the fan following he has. They are already losing Fernando Alonso and if Raikkonen was to go as well, the sport could have had a bad hit in terms of fan following.
About the Author
Darshan Chokhani is a FIA Accredited journalist covering both Indian and International championships, including Formula 1, MotoGP, Formula E, World Endurance Championship and more. Although specialising in motor racing, but follows Cricket, Tennis, WWE and events involving Indian athletes.