In what has become an annual news event, Kimi Raikkonen has once again been retained by Ferrari for another season, as the Italian team announced on Tuesday that the 2007 world champion has earned another contract extension.
Not bad for a driver labeled a “laggard” by his boss and Ferrari President Sergio Marchionne earlier this year.
Regardless of this brutally blunt assessment, Raikkonen’s re-signing makes sense for a Ferrari team with plenty to ponder in their immediate future.
Stability is often underrated, particularly where a driver line-up is concerned. Bringing in new personnel is a complicated business, particularly in the driver department. They are the focal point – the individuals who will translate the work completed by each and every team member into precious points.
Continuity is even more critical when a team is locked in a title tussle. Sebastian Vettel has an opportunity this season to deliver Ferrari’s first world drivers’ championship title since Raikkonen claimed top honours in 2007.
Common knowledge dictates that Vettel’s preferred choice to be his 2018 team-mate was Raikkonen, with the re-signing of the Finn potentially used as a bargaining tool by Vettel in his own contract negotiations. Ferrari would have risked unsettling Vettel at a crucial point in his title duel with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton if they were to have directed Raikkonen to the exit door.
In reality, Raikkonen’s performances this season have been an improvement on his prior form. While his 86 points and fifth place in the championship is meager compared with the 202 points total with which Vettel leads the title race, the 2017 regulations have suited the Finn’s driving style and allowed him to show glimpses of the form which propelled him to championship glory a decade ago.
His pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix was his first in F1 since 2008 and at the British Grand Prix, where Raikkonen eclipsed Vettel’s pace throughout the weekend, he demonstrated that he can still deliver supreme speed.
Maintaining Raikkonen for another year also buys Ferrari some valuable time. The Scuderia has not taken a chance on a rookie in over 50 years and does not seem obliged to break the habit of half a century.
Charles Leclerc, who is the leading talent in the Ferrari junior programme, has been dominant in his debut campaign in Formula 2. Driving for Prema, the Monegasque has taken a record equalling six consecutive pole positions and was essentially robbed of a seventh due to a scrutineering technicality in Hungary. He has amassed five race victories en route to a comfortable 50 point advantage at the head of the championship.
Leclerc is destined for a Ferrari drive. Suggestions are that he will be placed at Sauber next season, with the Swiss team becoming somewhat of a stable for Ferrari junior talent, before making the switch to scarlet overalls later.
This switch could come as early as 2019 should Leclerc’s starring form in F2 translate to a similarly stunning debut F1 campaign. Raikkonen, therefore, could be serving to keep Leclerc’s seat warm over the course of the next 18 months while the F2 champion-in-waiting is given his F1 probation at Sauber.
Upon assessing the short and long term aspirations of a Ferrari team on the rise, it is not difficult to see why they have taken up the option to retain Raikkonen’s services.
In fact, it is nearly a no-brainer.