Well that’s it for another year.
Much like Christmas, New Year’s Eve or Halloween, the saga surrounding Kimi Raikkonen’s future in Formula 1 has become an annual event.
With Ferrari confirming on Friday ahead of practice for the British Grand Prix that the Finn would be retained for 2017, it put an end to the questions about his motivation for racing and suitability a team chasing world championships.
Time to take down the bunting and put the fireworks on hold, kids. Kimi’s sticking around.
The news was met with little in the way of excitement or enthusiasm (much like Raikkonen himself). Just as it did last year, the F1 driver market’s shake-up – also known as ‘silly season’ – largely depended on Raikkonen. If Ferrari decided to bring in a new driver, the dominoes would be set in motion through the rest of the grid.
Alas, the status quo remains. Raikkonen is going nowhere, meaning the drivers linked with his seat all have to put their dreams of racing for Ferrari on ice for the time being.
Sergio Perez’s recent form led to his name being thrown into the mix, scoring podiums in Monaco and Baku with some impressive drives. Since his ill-fated year with McLaren in 2013, the Mexican has revived his career with Force India, leading its charge alongside Le Mans winner Nico Hulkenberg.
Romain Grosjean was another option, with many believing his move to Haas to be nothing more than a stepping stone to a future Ferrari seat. He has been the American team’s stand-out driver so far this season, and all of his data will be available to Ferrari by virtue of its technical partnership with Haas.
Other names linked to the seat included Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas, Carlos Sainz Jr. (recently re-signed by Toro Rosso) and even Nico Rosberg should the German decide to leave Mercedes.
Rosberg was perhaps the only truly viable option for Ferrari right now. Otherwise, what do any of the above names offer that Raikkonen doesn’t have?
The Finn may not be as sharp as he was back in 2007, when he claimed Ferrari’s last drivers’ championship ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, yet he has become increasingly at ease with the car. 2014 was a disastrous year, and although he failed to match Sebastian Vettel through 2015, this season he has done so.
Sure, Vettel has been very unlucky, losing points due to dud engines (Bahrain), tire failures (Austria) and Daniil Kvyat (Russia), but the standings show that Raikkonen is level with his four-time world champion teammate: 96 points apiece. Four podiums in nine races is also worth shouting about.
When Raikkonen re-joined Ferrari in 2014, he was always seen as being a medium-term option. Vettel was bound to make the move across at some point, while Jules Bianchi was labelled as being Ferrari’s future star before the accident at Suzuka that ultimately cost the young Frenchman his life and robbed F1 of one of its brightest stars.
While Red Bull has always had a clear road-map in place regarding its future drivers thanks to its junior academy, Ferrari has not since Bianchi’s death. Raffaele Marciello was dropped from the Ferrari Driver Academy at the end of 2015 after two underwhelming seasons in GP2, and while Charles Leclerc has now joined, he is still a few years off being ready for F1, let alone a seat with Ferrari.
Ferrari hasn’t been a team to hire a driver with just a year or two in mind. Raikkonen’s first spell was three seasons; Fernando Alonso spent five at Maranello; Felipe Massa did eight.
So if anyone was going to replace Raikkonen, they needed to provide a compelling argument. Not only did they need to be a better choice than Raikkonen, but they also had to be the right fit for the next three or four years at a minimum.
While Grosjean’s displays with a brand new team have been hugely impressive, as was much of his spell at Lotus, he still hasn’t won a grand prix. Nor has Perez. Nor has Bottas. Nor has Hulkenberg. There’s nothing that made Ferrari’s decision an easy one as there was in the signing of Vettel or Alonso.
The pressure of racing for Ferrari is also a big consideration. Perez struggled to adapt to life with a big team at McLaren, and one would imagine the pressure would be even greater when donning the scarlet red of F1’s most famous team.
“One thing you need to take into consideration is the pressure that you get at Ferrari,” four-time world champion Alain Prost said last month, having himself raced for Ferrari in 1990 and 1991.
“Sometimes you can see some very good drivers in an average team, and when they go in a top team, they don’t perform the same because they are a little bit different.”
Raikkonen may be mono-syllabic to the media and far from expressive, but he knows how to deal with the pressure of racing for Ferrari. He can get on with the job at hand which – right now – is supporting Vettel.
Vettel and Raikkonen have both expressed their mutual respect for each other in the past, being as close to friends as two private people and fierce competitors can be.
“I’m quite happy with Kimi because there’s no bulls**t as he puts it going on, no funny games or anything like that,” Vettel told NBCSN last month. His opinion would certainly have played a big part in Ferrari’s decision.
While it may be a tad underwhelming and awfully safe, Ferrari’s decision to keep Raikkonen for 2017 is the right one. Currently, there are no drivers out there who scream ‘sign me!’ or would slot straight into the setup at Maranello.
Silly season may now be a damp squib, but fear not: we’ll be having the same debates about Raikkonen’s future this time next year. Bwoah!