2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen will move to Sauber with Charles Leclerc named by Ferrari as his replacement for the 2019 F1 Season.
Ferrari’s driver conundrum
As it has been for quite a few years now, Ferrari were faced with a occurring decision: would the Scuderia keep the popular Finn for another season? At one stage, it looked like it could have gone either way with Raikkonen either staying for another season in “red” or jumping ship to another team or calling it quits on his time in the sport. At last a decision has been made and it seems to have worked out great.
Raikkonen returns to Sauber
Kimi Raikkonen will return to Sauber, the team he first drove for when the Finn made his GP debut in 2001, on a two-year deal which will keep Raikkonen in the sport for the 2019 and 2020 F1 seasons. Raikkonen’s fate at Ferrari prospered throughout the season as the Finn, who lies 3rd in the championship, has secured 9 podium finishes, his latest podium finish coming at the Italian GP where he finished in 2nd place after securing Pole Position.
Raikkonen seemed to be on track to drive for Ferrari after the death of then Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne, who died in July. Marchionne’s replacement as CEO, Louis Camilleri, is a supporter of the Finn and was torn between either sticking to Marchionne’s decision of promoting Leclerc or keeping Raikkonen for an extra year.
Seemingly over the Italian GP, Ferrari’s home race, it was decided that Camilleri would honour Marchionne’s decision and replace Raikkonen with Leclerc for the forth coming season.
Raikkonen was receiving outside help from over 74,000 fans who had signed a petition urging Ferrari to keep the Finn for another year. Whether the petition had any effect on Ferrari, Raikkonen is moving to Sauber to compete and is not looking at a couple of records he could achieve over the next few years.
“During these years, Kimi’s contribution to the team, both as a driver and on account of his human qualities, has been fundamental,” said Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene.
“Dreams do come true” – Leclerc
Charles Leclerc will race alongside 4 time world champion Sebastian Vettel after just 14 races in the sport. Leclerc, who is part of the Ferrari Driver Academy, will be the first product of the programme to drive for the team in F1 when he joins the Scuderia in 2019.
Leclerc has had an exceptional season so far while at the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team, scoring 13 of the 19 points the team has achieved so far this season. Leclerc was granted the chance to drive in F1 after a stellar campaign in F2 in which the Monegasque won the championship in 2017. A best result of 6th place in the Azerbaijan GP and 4 other points scoring race places Leclerc in 13th place.
Leclerc has been outperforming his much more experienced team-mate Marcus Ericsson with Leclerc being able to reach Q3 on 3 separate occasions. His strong showings have impressed the likes of Championship leader, Lewis Hamilton and soon-to-be team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who have given praise over the course of the year.
How did the change come around and what impact will it have?
Leclerc will join Ferrari as their youngest driver since Ricardo Rodriguez drove for them at the Italian GP in 1961 and he will also be their least experienced debutant since Gilles Villeneuve competed with them in 1977. What does this say about Ferrari? It shows that they are ready for change for swapping experience for youth, nothing the Scuderia have done in a while. They follow Red Bull and McLaren who are putting their faith in their young drivers, Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris, who will be driving for their respected teams next year.
If Ferrari had kept Raikkonen for an extra year, it’s highly likely that Leclerc would have stayed with Sauber or either moving to Haas who are customer team of Ferrari. This would have allowed Leclerc to gain more experience of the sport not being put into the spotlight after such a short period of time. But would his talent be wasted by spending another year at a mid-field team whereas he could potentially be able to fight for podium finishes or race victories? This is one of the factors why Ferrari decided to effectively “go radical” for 2019.
Vettel and Raikkonen have been Ferrari team-mates since 2015 and have become very good friends off the track. Vettel has been able to beat Raikkonen each year, thus Ferrari giving him the unofficial title of Number One Driver. How will Vettel cope with Leclerc in beside him given that Leclerc has the potential to beat the German? Only time will tell but the 2019 F1 Season is poised for a great scrap between drivers and teams.
What next for the F1 Driver Market?
With Leclerc moving to Ferrari, it has ruled out the move to Haas if Ferrari were keeping Raikkonen.
Recent rumours suggest that Haas will be keeping Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean with strong rumours also suggesting that Lance Stroll will be joining Sergio Perez at the newly rebranded Racing Point Force India.
Esteban Ocon’s and Stoffel Vandoorne’s chances of staying in F1 are looking slim. Vandoorne has been dropped from McLaren in favour of Lando Norris for 2019 while Ocon looks to on his way out after being forced out at Force India as Stroll is set to take his seat.
The second Sauber seat alongside Raikkonen looks to be between Swede Ericsson and Ferrari’s third driver and reserve, Antonio Giovinazzi. Ericsson, who is having a better season so far compared to the past few years, brings a lot of money in terms of sponsorship to the team and experience as he made his GP debut in 2014 for Caterham – signing for Sauber for the 2015 season.
Vandoorne remains an out-side bet for the Sauber seat and also a seat at either Williams or Toro Rosso as does Ocon but if Ocon is to secure a seat at any team for 2019, his ties with Mercedes must be cut as teams, who showed interest in the Frenchman such as Renault, McLaren and Red Bull, have bypassed him because of his ties as a young driver for the German team.
2019 Driver Line-up
- Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Valterri Bottas
- Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Charles Leclerc
- Red Bull: Max Verstappen & Pierre Gasly
- Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenberg
- McLaren: Carlos Sainz & Lando Norris
- Force India:
- Sauber: Kimi Raikkonen
- Toro Rosso: