Ferrari today confirmed the hotly anticipated news that Kimi Raikkonen has been re-hired for a two year contract starting in 2014.
The all star line up with Fernando Alonso will provide a compelling story for F1 over the next two seasons at a time when F1 risked becoming a little stale with the domination of Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel.
The Finn, 33, is the last driver to win the world championship for Ferrari in 2007 and he will bring this heritage with him when he lines up with Alonso, who replaced him at the Scuderia in 2010. Ironically Raikkonen was paid off the last year of his contract in order to make way for Alonso. At the time the briefings from the team were that Raikkonen was not a “leader” and that Alonso had been hired for this as much as anything.
Four years later and with no world title to show for it, despite two near misses, both sides are frustrated and Ferrari has poured oil on troubled waters with this move.
Now the team has decided to bite on the bullet and clearly the Constructors’ championship is the goal. This has not been possible in the last four years as Felipe Massa has not scored enough points.
The strategy makes sense on that level. However what everyone will be curious to see is what effect Raikkonen’s arrival will have on Alonso. The Spaniard favours a lead driver scenario within a team – with him as the lead driver – and Raikkonen’s arrival will clearly complicate his life.
“For anyone thinking that the choice of Kimi is somehow an anti-Alonso choice, I can put their minds at rest,” said team principal Stefano Domenicali. “At Ferrari, everyone knows the interests of the team come first and only then those of the individual.
“Fernando is a key asset for this team and he will be for a long time. I’m sure he is the first to be happy with a choice made to strengthen the group, because he is too intelligent not to realise that a stronger team can only be an advantage.”
Alonso welcomed his new team mate,
“I’d like to welcome my new travelling companion: together, starting next year, we will have to tackle a very demanding technical and racing challenge,” he said.
He has three and a half years left on his contract, but relations are clearly strained, as illustrated by Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo’s unprecedented public rebuke in July.
Should he decide to leave, Ferrari has a world champion in its team and a strong driver, who has proved he can win, given the machinery and who scores a lot of points.
Intriguingly Raikkonen’s contract runs to the end of 2015, the same period as Sebastian Vettel’s contract at Red Bull. Vettel has always left the door open to the possibility of driving for another team later in his career and his one year extension this year from 2014 to 2015 leaves him that option.
The superstar pairing also heaps pressure on the Ferrari technical department to build a quick car for next year. Rory Byrne has been working on the project with Ferrari’s designers around 100 days a year and James Allison was recruited from Lotus earlier this year. But the pressure is on the engine builders to produce a powerful and efficient power train and until this breaks cover and runs on track with the Mercedes and Renault engined cars we will not know if the Ferrari superteam will be title contenders. The pressure would be incredible should they have a similar level of competitiveness to this years McLaren, for example.
Raikkonen’s move is a huge disappointment for Lotus, which has been working hard to sort out its finances to keep him, but has run out of time. After the departure of Allison, Ferrari has now taken Lotus’ other prize asset. The team has punched well above its financial weight in F1 these last two seasons and Eric Boullier and his team will be knocked back by this second raid.
Nico Hulkenberg is expected to fill Raikkonen’s seat.
Now that the Raikkonen move has been made, the other pieces of the driver moves jigsaw will start to fall into place.
RAIKKONEN AT FERRARI – FACTFILE
52 Grands Prix 2007-9
World champion 2007
5 Pole positions