Friday, 8 July 2016

Ferrari opts to play long game as Raikkonen retains 2017 seat, by Ewan Marshall

There was no fanfare as Ferrari announced Kimi Raikkonen would remain with the team for 2017. No frills. No added extras. What you see is what you get.

To a little consternation, Kimi Raikkonen retention by
Ferrari for 2017 was confirmed today
Photo: Octane Photography
The decision has poured water over recent speculation that the Scuderia was looking to take another direction in its quest to overhaul rivals Mercedes on-track.

While predictable of a team which favours experience and stability notoriously, one could ask why it opted to make the announcement now, with the season not even half-way through.

Since his return to Ferrari in 2014, Raikkonen has only shown glimpses of the form which brought his sole world crown during his first tenure with the Prancing Horse in 2007-2009. Comfortably out-muscled by Fernando Alonso in their brief spell together, the Finn has fared better since being paired with Sebastian Vettel, but not enough to suggest he would ever be champion again.

Both drivers currently sit on ninety-six points ahead of Sunday's British Grand Prix, with Raikkonen having been on the podium four times in nine races. However, this only tells half the story, with Vettel having suffered considerable misfortune across the season, with three non-finishes. The German has also looked most likely to topple Mercedes, missing out on two victories arguably due to the tactical naivety of his team.

So if Raikkonen has slightly flattered to deceive, why has he been retained?

A known quantity
Raikkonen's harmonious relationship with Sebastian
Vettel will have helped his case
Photo: Octane Photography
Although his outbursts on team radio continue to provide entertainment for fans, this is often as far as we ever see the Finn flustered. Throughout his career he has never engaged in the political games his peers (maybe to his disadvantage?), instead opting to do his talking on track. By not 'rocking the boat' Raikkonen has well established himself as a team player, creating a harmonious environment wherever he has raced.

Continuing this is extremely advantageous for Ferrari, especially considering the rather peaceful the period following the departure of Fernando Alonso and the arrival of Sebastian Vettel. With this, the Scuderia has been able to maintain a de facto number one and number two driver in all but name, without internal protest. Raikkonen would have been well aware of this when he first put pen to paper in 2013 and will be under no illusion that would change signing an extension. From a distance it appears that at 36, Raikkonen's days of leading a team are all but over, instead opting to see out the remainder of his career in a front-running car – something which will suit his current team-mate to a tee.

A stop gap
Although Formula One's current crop is littered with talent, those available to slot into the second Ferrari are limited.

With Kimi staying at Ferrari, Valtteri
Bottas, among a few others,
have to wait
Photo: Octane Photography
Sensing the possible lure of the Italian manufacturer, Red Bull has moved quickly to tie up its current stars in recent weeks, with Daniel Ricciardo having his deal extended until 2018; Max Verstappen committing his future upon stepping up from Toro Rosso; and Carlos Sainz extending his stay at Faenza.

Today's announcement suggests that Valtteri Bottas, long linked with a switch to the team, should remain with Williams. Meanwhile, Sergio Perez, whose recent upturn in form sparked rumours of a possible move, will have to look elsewhere if he is to ever to be given another opportunity with a front running team.

Arguably the man who may feel most disappointed is Romain Grosjean, the Frenchman starring in an impressive debut season for the Ferrari-powered Haas team. Grosjean may well have viewed this switch as the perfect springboard to Maranello, however he too will have to wait at least another year – however by then he may be even further down the list, as others become more readily available.

Of course Ferrari could well have tried to buy a driver out of his contract. However, its decision not to pursue this avenue suggests it wishes to wait a bit longer, assessing the lay of the land before choosing the right man for the long-term.

New challenges ahead.
While the announcement may show a lack of ambition from Ferrari, it may have opted for the status quo to ensure it is in the best shape ahead of next season's rule changes.

With wider cars and wider tyres equalling more mechanical grip, a driver of Raikkonen's experience will be best placed to help develop any new package and focus the team away from any external distractions.

Will Kimi's experience help, with regulation
changes awaiting next year?
Photo: Octane Photography
Widely respected by those he has worked with, the Finn's wisdom will be an asset for Ferrari, especially if the new Pirelli tyres allow him to have greater confidence in the front of the car, adding speed to his reliable points scoring next year.

Nothing should be taken away from Raikkonen who, despite polarising the fan base, remains one of the fastest drivers in the sport, will still win races on his day.

Should Ferrari make real strides over the off-season and close the gap to Mercedes then Raikkonen will be a real asset to guarantee consistency and strong points finishes. Ultimately this will be key should they wish to recapture both crowns for the first time in a decade.

Time will tell if Ferrari have made the right move, but barring Alonso and Button at McLaren, today's decision suggests it feels experience wins the day.

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