Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Hungaroring, 2018

Did Raikkonen deserve to lose his Ferrari seat?

2018 F1 season

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For the second time in his career, Kimi Raikkonen is about to become an ex-Ferrari driver. Has the team made a cool-headed decision about his lack of performance in recent seasons, or has sentimentality again led them to drop their most recent champion too hastily?

After all, the team didn’t need to sever Raikkonen’s contract early in 2009 when they hired Fernando Alonso. They could have kept him on at Felipe Massa’s expense. But that would have meant making the brutal call to drop Massa while he was out of action due to injury.

Similarly, there were rumours Raikkonen’s mid-season run of form this year, including podiums in all bar one of the last six races, might grant him a stay of execution at the Scuderia. New CEO Louis Carey Camilleri, who described Raikkonen as a “dear friend”, indicated at Monza the decision was yet to be taken.

But Camilleri’s predecessor Sergio Marchionne, who died unexpectedly earlier this year, was a strong supporter of Charles Leclerc. His preference for Leclerc to get the drive has been posthumously honoured. And few would dispute Leclerc, one of this year’s star drivers, deserves a chance in a front-running team.

But that doesn’t mean Raikkonen deserved to lose his seat. And Ferrari’s typically stark press releases – the statement announcing Leclerc ran to just 21 words – offered no justification for replacing the 20-time grand prix winner with a 14-time grand prix starter.

Raikkonen’s record since he returned to Ferrari in 2014 may offer a few clues. Has he performed better than Massa, his predecessor?

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Qualifying scores
Felipe Massa 17 57 Fernando Alonso
Kimi Raikkonen 3 16 Fernando Alonso
Kimi Raikkonen 22 51 Sebastian Vettel

For all his qualities as a driver – and despite the fact 10 days ago he set the quickest lap Formula 1 has ever seen – you wouldn’t call Raikkonen a one-lap specialist. Race pace has always been his greater strength. So it wouldn’t be a surprise if he hadn’t quite measured up to his team mate in terms of qualifying pace.

In that respect there was little surprise when he returned alongside Alonso in 2014 and was hammered in qualifying much as Massa had been.

In terms of the qualifying score line, Raikkonen has fared considerably better against Vettel. In 2016, when Ferrari prioritised taking advantage of the 2017 rules change, he even beat Vettel over the full season.

But the trend has reversed since then. What we’re seeing this year is more like the situation Raikkonen was in alongside Alonso four years ago. He may have started ahead of Vettel in two of the last three races but this is very much against the run of play for the season so far.

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Raikkonen’s ultimate contribution to Ferrari’s championship results is best measured in terms of the number of points he has scored. In no year since he returned to the team has he been their top scorer, but on the face of it he has done better than his predecessor.

Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Ferrari, 2013
Did Massa have a tougher team mate than Raikkonen?
Massa scored half Alonso’s points haul in his final three seasons. While Raikkonen did slightly worse in his first season back, from 2015 alongside Vettel he has

But this begs an obvious question: Is Raikkonen doing better than Massa, or is he being held to a less exacting standard by going up against Vettel instead of Alonso over the last four seasons? The numbers from 2014 make this a compelling argument. If Vettel hadn’t squandered so many points this year – in Baku, Paul Ricard, Hockenheim and Monza – it would be harder to make a case in favour of Raikkonen.

Another interpretation is that Ferrari is a team which has historically favoured one of its drivers more strongly than the other, most famously during the Michael Schumacher era. Does the fact Ferrari hasn’t won a race with both its drivers in a season since 2008 indicate they haven’t putting equal effort behind both its cars?

The bottom line is that since he returned to Ferrari in 2014 Raikkonen has had a race-winning car in three out of five seasons yet hasn’t scored a single win. However favourably we look upon his efforts, and recalling how easily he might have won in Monaco and Hungary last year, it’s hard to get past that stark fact.

It’s to Raikkonen’s credit that instead of hanging up his helmet he’s chosen to race on at Sauber. As his tenure at Lotus showed, give Raikkonen an unpolitical, no-nonsense team and a chassis he can work with, and he can deliver his very best. That may well be better than what we’ve seen of him since 2014.

Meanwhile Leclerc will move the other way, to Ferrari in Raikkonen’s place, and how he fares against Vettel will give further insight into whether Raikkonen truly has been hard done by.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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86 comments on “Did Raikkonen deserve to lose his Ferrari seat?”

  1. I think this demotion says a lot more about Seb than it does about Kimi.
    While Kimi has had a better season than normal (especially given the fact that he’s had the older spec engine) I think if Seb had been performing to the level that they were expecting then they wouldn’t feel the need to hire Leclerc so soon.
    For Seb it is now or never with Ferrari as I fear it will be a repeat of 2014 for him next year.

    1. Exactly. Ferrari have realized that their “#1 and #2 driver” philosophy requires them to actually have a #1 driver. If you employ 2 number 2’s, you’re going to lose titles even when you have the best car.

      1. Yeah. Seb is a typical number 2. Ok.

        1. @db01 @magon4 it’s really unbelievable what we’re reading these days.

          We all agree, Vettel makes mistakes etc etc. But how on this Earth one can put him and Kimi on the same level? Raikkonen name has obviously become bigger than his results. I’m tired of repeating, I saw Kimi’s last win in a black and white TV. He’s performing better this year but still is far from being a title contender. In the last seasons, the only stat in favour of Kimi vs Seb is that he qualified ahead 1 more time than his teammate in 2016.

          Look at these charts (source:

          I posted these on Reddit and still, people were like “it’s because Kimi had a worse car”. Come on guys, Kimi is fast but 1) only when he’s in the mood and 2) not fast enough to be WC.

          Raikkonen was our yesterday’s opportunity to clinch the Championship. Today, our best opportunity to beat Mercedes and Hamilton is Vettel, not Raikkonen nor anyone else on the grid (apart from Alonso probably). Tomorrow, we hope it will be Leclerc.

          1. @m-bagattini
            I think Seb is better than Kimi although at the start of the season Kimi was very close on quali pace and threw away pole at Baku. While I think Seb is better than Kimi and for what it’s worth Massa too, but he’s not on the same level as top tier drivers like Fernando and Lewis which is why they are giving Leclerc a chance.
            Seb’s race pace though has been very good though and is stronger than his qualifying though. The gap there is significantly better. I can’t think of a race where Kimi has had the edge on him.

          2. You still had a black and white TV in 2013?
            I mean, I know it’s a long time ago, and I agree, Kimi hasn’t won a race since his return to Ferrari, with 1 and 2/3 seasons with a race winning car, and it’s not because of Ferrari preferring Vettel, Kimi just hasn’t been up to it. And if you can’t win a race with a car that’s capable of it, you shouldn’t be in that car. Simple.

          3. I sympathize with you and fully agree your comments. Kimi is good but lacks the consistency and speed when it counts. You make it more difficult on yourself if you try to win races from anywhere other than the front row. I am a Ham/Merc fan but as you said – there is no on the grid that can bring the fight properly to them apart from Vet/Ferrari. Vettel is a great driver who has made some mistakes recently but prior to that he was never known as one to do so and has 4 WC to proof it. Ludicrous to consider him a no 2. driver.

      2. First time I’ve ever seen a four-time consecutive World Drivers Champion with more wins than all but two drivers described as a #2.

        1. @AmericanF1 you’re extremely lucky, I’m reading this lie everywhere since Monza

          1. Don’t worry. If Vettel wins the next race, all fans will be saying he’s a good driver again. The problem is that fans nowadays ONLY make reference to the previous race to rate a driver’s skills without looking at their racing record from previous races/seasons. Same with Hamilton, in China, everyone was losing their heads on how he’s an “average” driver just because he was off pace that weekend only.

          2. @lebz The best example of that was Germany this year. The fans were losing their minds over the problems Hamilton had in qualifying to Vettel in the race. It was at that moment I realized that social media was a mistake.

        2. AmericanF1, it is a rather hyperbolic description, although there are some drivers who won multiple championships and aren’t necessarily held in a great light – Nelson Piquet might have three titles, but he’s not necessarily looked on that favourably and quite a few drivers who won fewer titles are often ranked ahead of him.

          As others have noted, the recent clash in Monza, on the back of some of his errors earlier this season, has probably also biased the perception of him and resulted in people being more critical, much as has happened with other drivers.

          That said, it probably is true that the promotion of Leclerc to Ferrari in Kimi’s place is more about Vettel than it is about Kimi. There were reports that Marchionne felt that Vettel was perhaps getting a little too comfortable with having Kimi in the other seat, so Marchionne wanted to change the line up to force Vettel out of his comfort zone by putting a younger and hungrier driver who has more of a drive to prove himself.

          Putting Leclerc at Ferrari wasn’t just going to be a validation of Ferrari’s young driver programme – since it would prove that it was possible to make it into the team, just as Red Bull do with their programme – but it was also intended to challenge Vettel and see whether he was performing as strongly as he could, or if Kimi was underperforming relative to Vettel.

          In some ways, it would have also been Marchionne’s final way of symbolically cutting the last ties to Luca di Montezemolo’s era at Ferrari – it was, after all, Luca who was in charge when Kimi was signed – since it would have further stamped his authority on the team and shown that he was going to mould it in his own image.

          What better way to do that by breaking with Ferrari’s driver policies, which have traditionally been extremely conservative, by picking Leclerc – a driver who would be one of the youngest ever drivers to drive for Ferrari (possibly only Ricardo Rodriguez was younger), and the driver with the fewest races under his belt to drive for Ferrari since Gilles Villeneuve in 1978, 40 years ago (in fact, I think it’s almost exactly 40 years ago to the month since Gilles signed for Ferrari)?

          1. Vettel was perhaps getting a little too comfortable with having Kimi in the other seat

            This is a feeling that I share. The reason why I thought signing Ricciardo would be a master’s stroke. I guess they were waiting to see how Leclerc would turn out to be

    2. All comments made here re. Ferarri’s decision rationale are obviously speculative, unless you were actually a part of the Ferarri management team this season.
      That being said you can come to a few conclusions based on the decision to swap Leclerc and Kimi, IMO:
      – F1 teams never make any decision based on one factor alone, a bit like how they design the car, it’s normally a compromise between many factors
      – LeClerc is an exceptional talent and worthy of promotion
      – Vettel is 31 years old and will need a replacement at some point
      – Vettel has compehensively beaten Raikkonen at Ferarri
      – Raikkonen will be a huge asset to Sauber

      I believe the above are facts and will have influenced Ferarri’s decison, there may be other factors in Ferarri’s decision making process going forward but I’m not aware of them.

      1. @Hans You could also add to your “facts” If Leclerc doesn’t perform then Ferrari can always get Kimi back.
        Is it not possible that Ferrari have two main motivational reasons for this swap?
        1 Try Leclerc and honour Sergio’s idea to put a young driver in
        2 If it doesn’t pan out then keep a backup in the form of Kimi at Sauber
        So Kimi’s “demotion” I see as a smart move by Ferrari and Kimi has agreed to the deal.
        Just speculation on my part which points out that the so called facts can be interpreted many different ways.
        I also don’t understand why Kimi is being compared to Massa in the article when my scenario is way more likely in my opinion.

  2. Deserve or not has nothing to do with it. Räikkönen may be better prospect for Ferrari for one more year, but not long term. Vettel may get frustrated and quit, which would put Ferrari in position of needing two drivers, all of sudden. It sure is uncharacteristic move for the Scuderia, to hire a rookie after only one year, but then…they hesitated to sign Räikkönen for 2002 and lost him to McLaren. I wish both drivers best of luck in 2019.

  3. Yes he does unfortunatley, but ironically the year he lost his seat was the one in the past 4 he deserved to keep it.
    Even more unfortunate is that he probably kept his seat after Jules died and may have been gone a few years back.

    This year he started really well, had a few races he was off but has been great again of late- he still has it but dissapointing he hasnt driven as well in the past few years that he did this year. I do think when he knows he cant fight Seb through team orders he just coasts around- not a ‘lackluster effort’ but more if the team wont let me race why try to hard.

    Looking forward to what he can do in that car next year- go Kim!

    1. @garns

      ironically the year he lost his seat was the one in the past 4 he deserved to keep it.

      Not 2016? That’s the one that looks like the outlier.

  4. I think this says more about the state of Ferrari and its #1 driver than it does about Kimi. Ferrari still lacks sufficient focus and execution to overcome the juggernaut that is Mercedes F1 to win the WDC and/or WCC. Dropping an up and coming talent into the #2 seat will mix up team chemistry and apply some (much needed?) pressure to Seb. But for better or for worse? We shall see. I just hope Kimi can have moments in the Sauber like he did with Lotus!

  5. I don’t think Kimi has underperformed at all.
    I think he has done exactly what he was paid and told to do, and that is to support Seb.
    That is why I think he has been a bit boring these last two seasons. He knows he can’t win, but he is in a fantastic racing car (which I assume he enjoys) and he is being paid good money (which I assume most people would enjoy), so what the heck just turn up, drive fast, go home.
    Top life.
    Now he will be off the leash – albeit in an inferior car – and can push just for the sheer joy of racing.
    Go Kimi ;)

  6. I think this says more about the state of Ferrari and its #1 driver than it does about Kimi. Ferrari still lacks sufficient focus and execution to overcome the juggernaut that is Mercedes F1 to win the WDC and/or WCC. Dropping an up and coming talent into the #2 seat will mix up team chemistry and apply some (much needed?) pressure to Seb. But for better or for worse? We shall see.

    I just hope Kimi can deliver some amazing moments in the Sauber like he did with Lotus!

  7. Does the qualification difference include Spa results where Kimi lost 3.7s to Sebastian because he didn’t have enough fuel?

  8. Kimi didn’t lose a seat. He still does his passion for the penultimate sport of speed for another two years. He will be a part owner of one of the well-known team, a team that expected to get better support from Ferrari next year. Most of all he does all that at the age that no modern driver ever dare to have the opportunity to do.

    1. @ruliemaulana, Kimi will become a part owner of Sauber? Please let us know where you heard that. Thanks!

      1. @shimks Some Italian media said that Pascal Picci let Kimi bought Sauber shares so Ericsson’s managers whose pays the team previously can not make the board of shareholders to reject him.

        1. Ferrari B.1 yes?

          1. Yes, a so called slave team

        2. Wow, that is fascinating, @ruliemaulana! There is always a way around a problem, eh! :O)

  9. Also, early in the season Kimi was on Seb’s level at least. Faster in Australia, faster until Q3 in China (although I wonder how much was down to the paddle on seb’s car as he lost most of the time on the straight.) He was on course for Pole at Baku until he blew it on the last corner.
    His race pace has always been worse than that of Seb though, I think Seb would have won at Monza if he didn’t throw it away on lap 1.

    1. he blew it in the last corner of bahrain… china.. baku.. in spain he was 0.300 off vettel, in monaco 0.266 of vettel who was 2nd and kimi 4th with lewis in between, from canada i can forgive him because seb got the complete upgrade while kimi couldnt get the ICE or the turbo(cant remember), just the rest of parts

  10. Despite his good performances, Kimi hasn’t helped Vettel for his fight for the championships (current year and 2017).
    By hiring a rookie, Ferrari have an excuse for a clear number 2 driver. That shows to me a commitment to Seb.
    But like commenters above wrote, Vettel has to step up. Ferrari need a top-class driver who they can rely upon. And I can’t say I’m convinced by Vettel at the moment. And if on top of that Leclerc doesn’t match Kimi’s performance, Ferrari could be in trouble.

    1. In this worst-case scenario, in which Vettel doesn’t perform in the level expected of him and Leclerc not becoming the star we all want him to be, I can honestly see Hamilton ending his career with Ferrari.

      1. then ham can become the only person to be wdc in three different teams? is there such a thing? :)

        1. Fangio has won 5 WDC titles with 4 different teams; but I can’t remember a driver who won titles with 3 different teams.

          1. fangio was not contracted to a team like today …he was known to swop teams if a better car came along during the season

          2. @lebesset

            seems like every race or other he changed team, i wonder if those teams were merely car suppliers/hobbyist/normal tuner garages?

            like in 1950, first five races with different teams every time… the formula wasnt formulated at the time with strict rules so seems you could drive a car with a team that suits/chance to win the specific race?

            i guess his circumstances are very unique… he nearly/almost win every race he entered… his cv is very impressive.

  11. I believe that had Kimi been regularly fighting at the front of the field he would have been retained for another year. As it is, Ferrari probably felt that they could get similar results with Leclerc and groom him to be Vettel’s replacement.

  12. I think the timing is right. Kimi is a known entity. He’s not as quick as Vettel and he’s not getting any quicker. He won’t be winning a WDC any time soon, so you may as well give a try to the unknown who might very well be quicker. The one for the future. Leclerc has taken to F1 like a duck to water. It makes little sense to prevent him from continuing to develop through the grid.

    I will say I’m impressed with Kimi agreeing to move back down the grid though. If I had to guess I’d have said he’d walk away once no longer in a winning car.

    1. That duck had some swimming problems in the beginning.
      Let’s hope he can handle the stress level at Ferrari.

  13. In the grand scheme of driver changes this seems like a fair one. Kimi is past his peak and Leclerc was always going to end up at Ferrari, would another year with Kimi at Ferrari and Leclerc at Sauber have really benefited either driver? I think Kimi will have more fun in a team where both drivers are treated more equally and Leclerc will be happy to have the opportunity to prove he is world champion material.

  14. Like last point mention Kimi does perform well in a team which lacks too much internal politics and he gets a decent car under him which might be Sauber of all current crop of teams. Best luck for his future endeavour with a new team.

  15. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    11th September 2018, 14:23

    Raikonnen had a fantastic return with Lotus but imo he hasn’t been able to match the results at Ferrari since then. I would also venture that he never really performed at his best at Ferrari even though he managed to win his only WDC with Ferrari which was mostly aided by the Alonso/Hamilton fight at McLaren.

    I think the fact that he couldn’t win the race at Monza last week even though he drove really well was a clear sign to Ferrari that there’s no way he could win the championship himself or even with Vettel. It may not have to do with his driving ability as much as his ability to drive well at Ferrari. Some things just aren’t meant to work together.

    I’m curious to see his performance at Sauber.

  16. Death knell for SeeBashem’s way too fragile ego.
    Charles will beat him once. Then again, & SV will resign his seat.
    Remember you read it here first!

    1. Stroll – World Champion Driver – 2019…!
      I don’t expect it to happen but… just in case, remember you read it here first… lol…

    2. I just like to read SeeBashem

  17. “I saw Kimi’s last win in a black and white TV”.

    I think they’ll have to rename him Dorian Gray by that finding.

  18. These statistics shows me one thing (and much more than I expected); Alonso was stronger at Ferrari than Vettel.

    Maybe Ferrari should get Alonso back to end their title drought.

    1. Massa was at the same level of Raikonen. Alonso (alongside Ericsson) is the driver that destroyed most careers on F1.

  19. Kimi is known as an excellent development driver. Everyone read the radio transcript between he and his race engineer. He knows his stuff. No, he’s not the greatest one lap driver and as much as I love him, he never has been. But his race craft is excellent and he’s an outstanding ambassador for F1 and good sportsmanship. While I’m disappointed that Ferrari has thrown Kimi away, yet again, I’m thrilled that he still has the desire to race and help build a team badly in need of that level of commitment and skill. Never been a Sauber fan but am a life long Kimi fan. I’m off to buy some Sauber gear!

  20. Wait a minute….only last week it was all Alonso’s fault. There was a long list of comments on here of things he did wrong, many at Ferrari.

  21. Ferrari’s problem was letting Brawn and Schumacher become bigger than them. ‘Nobody is bigger than the team’ they used to cry. Errm yes they were.

  22. Kimi had a golden opportunity to win from pole on Sunday but blew it. Was a long way off the pace in the end, destroyed his tyres.

    1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      11th September 2018, 14:51

      Yeah but none of that was Kimi’s fault, it was the team’s fault. If anything, Ferrari lost the race more than Kimi did.

      1. He never managed to break away from Lewis which I believe Seb would have been capable of. They did blow the strategy after that though.

        1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
          11th September 2018, 15:14

          @db01 I thought Kimi had broken away before he pitted – maybe not as much as Vettel but still enough to win had he not run into Bottas. Vettel’s great at breaking away from the lead but I only recall Lewis being able to do the same in recent times.

          I’m not sure you can fault Kimi for not being Vettel though. Where was Vettel at Monza? :-)

          1. giving a tow to kimi and then fighting him at the start.. lol

      2. kimi never manage to break away in the lead.. look monaco last year seb was always at 2 seconds behind him and everytime he cooled the engine he would close to 1 second… after kimi WHO WAS in the lead and got PREFERENTIAL pit