It’s official. Ferrari have announced that Kimi Raikkonen will continue to be one of its drivers for the 2018 season. It will be Raikkonen’s fifth consecutive season with the Italian squad, his second stint with the Prancing Horse. Raikkonen’s first stint with the team was between 2007 and 2009 during which time he won his only world championship. His current run with the Scuderia may not be as successful as his first tenure with the team between 2007 and 2009, which produced the Ice Man’s only world championship, but his willingness to follow team orders as Ferrari put their weight behind Vettel was deserving of a renewed commitment to the Finn.
As the summer break draws to a much-awaited close, this announcement is probably the most significant one to come out of the paddock. No only does it assert Ferrari’s intentions for the future, but it also closes some possibilities as to what could be in store for some other drivers as well.
Ferrari leaning towards stability over growth
After an extremely strong first half to the 2017 season, Ferrari are quite happy with the team chemistry between Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen has been a consummate professional and has accepted his roles as the #2 driver which further help Ferrari re-establish themselves as a firm favourite for this season for the constructors’ and drivers’ titles. Considering the string of strong performances by Raikkonen over the last few races, Ferrari are rightfully playing it safe by signing on experienced veterans over youth and development.
Along with performance, Kimi also drastically helps stabilize Ferrari’s brand image. With inconsistencies in performances and infamous strategy blunders that have made the Italian team rub many the wrong way, one of the most popular drivers on the grid and a sense of loyalty towards him bodes well for Ferrari’s marketability.
Fernando Alonso’s championship hopes dwindling
Among all the drivers speculated to take over Kimi’s seat, the most significant and curious one has been Fernando Alonso. After yet another disappointing season with McLaren, Alonso has voiced his discontent with his current team, time and again. Meanwhile, as Kimi’s contract was ending in 2017, the Spaniard’s potential return to Ferrari has been talked about a fair bit. Kimi’s return to the Prancing Horse, however, means that Alonso will not be doing so. More so, this further eliminates most of Alonso’s options when it comes to teams that can give him a fighting chance for the championship one last time before he retires. A future with IndyCar seems more likely at this point.
2017 has not been an easy season so far for Kimi Raikkonen. After a tumultuous start with podium-less finishes and DNFs, he was labelled a “laggard” by Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne. This further fuelled speculation that this was the end of the line for one of the most popular drivers on the track. However, Kimi has answered back to his critics the only way he knows how: drive. He took pole at Monaco and drove an impressive race in Hungary to keep the attacking Mercedes cars at bay as Ferrari finished one-two. Of late, he has been a regular feature on the podium and this announcement does silence many naysayers who had claimed that Kimi is done. He has the pace and is clearly far from past it. His continuing place in a competitive vehicle does wonders for spectatorship and the sport itself.
Sebastian Vettel’s contract renewal coming soon?
The current championship leader, Sebastian Vettel’s contract with Ferrari ends this year. Ferrari have made it clear that they are willing to extend his contract if the German wishes to, but there has been no confirmation on this yet. Vettel has also openly stated that he wanted Raikkonen to remain as his teammate for at least one more year and is quite comfortable with the team chemistry between the two. The signs are all pointing towards Vettel eventually re-signing with Ferrari to ensure the same line up for next year, a line up that is working well so far to put Ferrari in the running for the constructors’ title as well as the drivers’ championship.
The drivers’ market for 2019 does look very promising as the current contracts of Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo all come to an end in 2018. Perhaps Ferrari is simply biding their time before they sign the next big star in F1? Regardless, the move to re-sign Kimi seems to be the best one for 2018.
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