F1’s headlines have been dominated by weeks of speculation regarding what the sport’s notoriously fickle driver market could look like in the event that Ferrari called time on their relationship with the 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen. Today, the debate surrounding who will partner Sebastian Vettel at the Scuderia in 2016 has been drawn to a rather abrupt close, as the team have announced the retention of the Iceman for another season. The status quo at Maranello could cause a shockwave of continuity effecting their competitors.
“For me, to be able to stay another year at Ferrari means that the dream goes on,” Raikkonen announced in a statement today. “The Scuderia is my family, as I always said, it’s here I want to end my career. I am more committed than ever and I want to say thank you to the people who gave me this chance.”
Despite showing brief glimpses of the type of form which launched him into the history books in 2007, when he claimed his first and only F1 title as a rank outsider against the pre-eminent McLaren duo of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, Raikkonen has flattered to deceive all too often in 2015. The Bahrain Grand Prix back in April remains the only occasion when the Finn has claimed a podium, while a resurgent Sebastian Vettel has taken seven trophies from the opening ten rounds.
Given the Iceman’s struggles, a number of drivers have been touted as potential replacements in recent months, including Romain Grosjean, Daniel Ricciardo and most notably, Valtteri Bottas. Raikkonen’s compatriot was considered to be the front-runner, despite his current Williams contract extending to the end of 2016. However, it now looks as though Bottas will indeed see out his term at Grove.
In fact, with Raikkonen’s position at Ferrari being considered as the keystone ensuring the stability of the driver market, today’s news could well lead to a year of stagnation on F1’s driver merry-go-round. Bottas is now highly likely to be locked into Williams for next season, meaning that there will be no room to accommodate Jenson Button at his former team. Doors firmly shut up and down the field today.
Ultimately, the statistics fail to tell the full story of Raikkonen’s campaign to date. The Iceman has suffered misfortune on numerous occasions in 2015, which has cost him a substantial haul of points. For instance, his excellent recovery drive in Australia was curtailed when the team failed to attach his right rear tyre correctly at his second stop and an MGU-K failure in Hungary was what separated Kimi from a timely second place finish.
In addition, Raikkonen has made a notable contribution to the buoyant atmosphere which currently runs through the Ferrari garage. He and Sebastian form an excellent partnership, with Kimi’s simplistic approach suiting his new teammate. Vettel has championed the Finn so far this year and is believed to have been a player fighting in Kimi’s corner while Ferrari mulled over their options for 2016.
As Ferrari look to overhaul Mercedes’ advantage and recover from a sluggish start to the V6 Hybrid era, the tried and tested components have a greater weighting and in Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari know the nuances of the man behind the wheel.