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F1: Former champion Raikkonen leaving Ferrari for Sauber

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MARANELLO, Italy (AP) Kimi Raikkonen is leaving Ferrari for Sauber and will be replaced by rookie Charles Leclerc.

Raikkonen, who won the 2007 Formula 1 title with Ferrari, will be heading back to Sauber next season while Leclerc will take his seat alongside Sebastian Vettel.

The 20-year-old Leclerc is touted as one of the most talented young drivers in F1 and had been widely expected to move to Ferrari if Raikkonen left.

The young driver from Monaco had earned praise from across the F1 paddock – including from world champions Vettel and Lewis Hamilton – after a strong showing in his debut season with Sauber.

during the Formula One Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 24, 2018 in Le Castellet, France.

“Dreams do come true,” Leclerc wrote on Twitter. “I’ll be driving for (at)scuderiaferrari for the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship. I will be eternally grateful to (at)scuderiaferrari for the opportunity given.”

Raikkonen will be back with the team where he started his F1 career in 2001. The Finn signed with Sauber for the next two seasons.

“Signing Kimi Raikkonen as our driver represents an important pillar of our project, and brings us closer to our target of making significant progress as a team in the near future,” Sauber team principal Frederic Vasseur said Tuesday. “Kimi’s undoubted talent and immense experience in Formula One will not only contribute to the development of our car, but will also accelerate the growth and development of our team as a whole.”

Raikkonen has 20 wins and 100 podium finishes in his F1 career. Nine of those wins came with Ferrari, where he had been since 2014. He also was with the team from 2007-09 before leaving to compete in the World Rally Championship for two years. He returned to F1 in 2012 to drive for Lotus, where he stayed until rejoining Ferrari two years later.

“During these years, Kimi’s contribution to the team, both as a driver and on account of his human qualities, has been fundamental,” Ferrari said in a statement. “He played a decisive role in the team’s growth and was, at the same time, always a great team player. As a world champion for Scuderia Ferrari, he will always be part of the team’s history and family. We thank Kimi for all of this and wish him and his family a prosperous future.”

Leclerc, a member of Ferrari’s driver academy, won the GP3 title in 2016 and the F2 title in 2017 before joining Sauber in F1 this season. His highest finish was sixth place at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

“It’s been a great pleasure to support Charles Leclerc in his rookie year in Formula One,” Vasseur said. “Since his arrival, he has given the team great motivation. We have constantly improved and we will work hard until the end of this season to achieve the best possible results together. We are aware of Charles’ talent and are confident that he will have a bright future.”

Dean Wilson’s life as a privateer reconnects the rider to his roots

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One of the added benefits of subscribing to NBC Sports Gold is the in-depth interviews from each Saturday’s action. Last week between the first and second rounds of qualification for the Glendale Supercross race, a relaxed and confident Dean Wilson joined Race Day Live’s Daniel Blair and Jim Holley to review his fourth-place finish in the season opener and his mindset moving forward.

Losing factory support from Rockstar / Husqvarna at the end of 2018 was not exactly what Wilson had in mind, but after getting off to a great start in the first two races this season, it may well have been a blessing in disguise.

The life of a privateer is not exactly relaxed, but it affords a rider the opportunity to call his own shots. For Wilson, it is also a way to reconnect with the grassroots feel that attracted him to Supercross in the first place.

“I think that’s what I like,” Wilson said on Race Day Live. “I think that’s the environment and atmosphere I like – it’s just more low key. At Anaheim I, you would think I was local racing at Glen Helen. I had a Sprinter and I had another trailer just to chill in, do my spins. It was so cold I had a little propane heater to warm me up. But I like that. That’s what works for me.”

MORE: Dean Wilson’s Cinderella story at Anaheim 

The program Wilson was able to put together during the offseason produced back-to back top 10s – a much better start to the 2019 season than he experienced last year.

In 2018, Wilson did not score a top 10 until his fourth feature at San Diego. His first top five would not come until late March in Indianapolis.

This year Wilson got the hole shot and led 14 laps at Anaheim in the opener before finishing fourth. Last week in Glendale, he finished eighth.

“What was going through my head was ‘it’s about time; it’s about five years too late to lead some laps here,’ ” Wilson described his emotion as he led at Anaheim. “It was nice because I did a lot of work in the off-season and my starts were really good. The thing is I haven’t over-analyzed my starts and practice.”

At Anaheim I, Wilson struggled with visibility as his goggles began to get fouled by mud. A once comfortable lead was eroded by Justin Barcia. With pressure from behind, Wilson made a minor mistake that was then compounded by lapped traffic.

“I was leading my laps; I was just trying to hit my marks. I was doing really well until I made a couple of mistakes. I couldn’t hit that middle double, double … the rut was getting real chewed out, but I was already on the right side where you couldn’t double the middle part so you had to go roll, roll, roll – and Barcia was already on me.”

Wilson’s pair of top 10s was enough to keep him fifth in the standings, three points behind Glendale’s winner Blake Baggett.

For more, watch the video above.

Next Race: Anaheim II Jan. 19, 11 p.m., NBCSN

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