Charles Leclerc, Kimi Raikkonen, Silverstone, 2018

Is Raikkonen’s Ferrari seat safe from Leclerc?

2019 F1 season

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Is Ferrari going to ditch a long-serving, dependable but underwhelming old hand and bring fresh blood into its Formula 1 driver line-up?

We used to ask this question every year about Felipe Massa. Now Kimi Raikkonen is in that position. Which is ironic, given it was he who replaced Massa four years ago.

At one point earlier this year it seemed certain Raikkonen’s days were numbered. Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne was known to favour promoting hot shot junior driver Charles Leclerc to the team – potentially even as early as the upcoming race at Spa.

In the wake of Marchionne’s unexpected death, questions over the team’s driver line-up understandably took on secondary importance. Nonetheless, a decision must be taken on who will drive its cars.

The impulse to do the conservative thing and keep Raikkonen must be strong. The team is in more competitive shape than it has been for some time. Vettel may be Ferrari’s best hope yet of being its first drivers’ champion in over a decade. The drivers’ championship is what Ferrari wants most, so why rock the boat?

Vettel has indicated a preference for leaving things as they are. He gets on well with Raikkonen and has pointed out – not unreasonably, though also surely not unselfishly – that there is no rush to promote Leclerc.

Raikkonen, F1’s last remaining driver born in the seventies, is understandably keen for Ferrari to make their mind up: “Not just in my own life,” said the 38-year-old, “but also my family, they are keen to know.”

“Obviously the team knows my side of the story,” he added. “It’s their decision and that’s how it’s been many years in the past. It’s been no secret that I have one-year deals for often.”

If Raikkonen doesn’t get another year, what will become of him? A second and probably final retirement from F1 is the likeliest result, despite rumours he could return to the team he began his career with: Sauber.

It goes without saying that Leclerc would covet the opportunity for a promotion. But one other person has almost as much reason to want to see it happen: Antonio Giovinazzi.

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Two practice runs for Sauber this year have put Giovinazzi in the frame for a full-time seat at the team where he made two starts as a substitute last year. If Leclerc doesn’t vacate a seat at Sauber, it’s hard to see where else Giovinazzi could go. Marcus Ericsson is being thrashed by his junior team mate, but he is well-connected to the team’s owners.

What about the other Ferrari-powered team, which Giovinazzi has also made practice appearances for? If Gene Haas isn’t looking at his driver line-up and thinking at least one of them is the reason why they’re fifth in the constructors’ championship instead of fourth, he should be. While Kevin Magnussen has thrived in his second year at the team, Romain Grosjean has squandered far too many points.

Antonio Giovinazzi, Ferrari, Hockenheimring, 2018
Will Giovinazzi get a shot at a full-time ride?
Does that mean Grosjean, who has been with the team since its formation three years ago, is for the chop? Team principal Guenther Steiner made some ominous remarks about his performance after the British Grand Prix. But as the summer break began Steiner denied Grosjean’s future is “on the line”.

“It’s not only [about] what he’s doing now. We must credit Romain a lot for what he has helped the team to become, what it is. To be in a position to challenge for fourth in the championship in our third year I think it’s a great achievement and he started that one.

“So I would never tell him “your future’s on the line”. Try to do your best, Gene and myself will decide then which way to go driver-wise.”

Perhaps they intend to reward the faith Grosjean showed in joining a new team by showing their confidence in him? Steiner said they have “no fixed deadline” for their driver decision. Grosjean’s three points scores this year have all come in the last four races, and when the season resumes his best chance of staying in one of the top midfield seats rests on continuing that form.

But as he reflected a few weeks ago, any chance of joining an ‘A’ team appears to have passed him by.

When Grosjean left Lotus to join Haas it was widely assumed he had done so to put himself in line for a place at Ferrari once they were done with Raikkonen. Had he consistently performed at the level he’s capable of perhaps Ferrari would now be weighing up whether to promote him to their team, instead of the guy in the much slower car who’s only one place behind him in the championship.

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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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59 comments on “Is Raikkonen’s Ferrari seat safe from Leclerc?”

  1. I think it’s inevitable that one of Raikkonen or Grosjean will not be on the grid next season. I would love to see Leclerc brought in to Ferrari, but in reality, I think if I was running the team, I’d probably stick with Raikkonen at this stage.

    He’s not been dreadful; far from it recently. You could say his five podiums on the trot are lucky in places, but he has been far closer to Vettel than the points totals show. Is it possible that Leclerc would be too close to Vettel? Or perhaps even faster? Perhaps Ferrari need to get ruthless and push the package they are currently enjoying to it’s absolute maximum. There are arguments to say that Vettel cost them a Championship last year (something I don’t personally buy, though he was at fault for several points-costing incidents) and he’s make a few high profile mistakes this year too. Leclerc may well rock the boat, but he may also be the kick the whole team needs to push to the very top.

    If they do stick with Raikkonen, surely Leclerc has to end up at “Ferrari-B”; AKA Haas. With the greatest respect to Marcus Ericsson (who I think is slightly better than he’s given credit for), it would be logical to test Leclerc against a better-known talent, such as Kevin Magnussen, before promoting him to the Ferrari-A squad.

    In a way, Ferrari are in a great position. They have a very good number one driver, a current number two driver who is not embarrassingly far from him and a young talent waiting in the wings.

    Personally if I was running Ferrari (and have a reasonable amount of control over the other Ferrari powered teams) I’d go for:
    Ferrari: Vettel / Raikkonen
    Haas: Magnussen / Leclerc
    Sauber: Giovinazzi / Ericsson

    Then ditch Raikkonen for 2020 and push Leclerc and Giovinazzi up one through the ranks.

    1. I agree with you on that.
      However, what wil happens if Magnussen wipes the floor with LeClerc?
      It might happen you know!

    2. There are many other possible combinatons. Magnussen has the personal and professional quality to be a serious option for 3 teams right now: Redbull, Ferrari and Haas.

      Redbull: Verstappen/Magnussen or rookie Gastly
      Ferrari: Vettel/Raikkonen or Vettel/Magnussen or rookie Leclerc
      Haas: Magnussen/Grosjean or Magnussen/rookie

      Both Redbull and Ferrari are very brave if they put a rookie in their cars, considering they have a more experienced but young quality driver available. I am sure the teams do the math and all consider Magnussen.

      We all know Keith Collantine has a crush on Leclerc, but love is not enough to get a seat at Ferrari. And the option Magnussen/Leclerc at Haas is out the question, since it will be a big risk for Leclerc chances at Ferrari.

      1. Magnussen has had a very good season so far, but I’d be surprised if he’s in contention for a Ferrari seat, much less in consideration by Red Bull. I think Magnussen is a solid talent and races hard. I have no doubt that he’d be at least on Raikkonen’s level in the Ferrari, but for some reason I just don’t see him as an option.

        As an aside, I find Keith’s reporting and opinion pieces to be some of the most balanced I’ve found; which is why I’ve made racefans.net the only site I comment on regularly (and have done for nearly 10 years). I don’t think he has “a crush” on Leclerc. It’s clear that he’s a special talent and is getting attention up and down the paddock from team principals to journalists. Some stories in Formula One naturally draw more headlines and attentions during the year than others; the rise of Leclerc being one of them in 2018.

    3. I agree with you on that.
      However, what wil happen if Magnussen wipe the floor with LeClerc?

      1. Then Ferrari would know they did good by not rushing his promotion.

    4. +1 I’d definitely agreed with that lineup, would probably be the best going forward

    5. I think it’s inevitable that one of Raikkonen or Grosjean will not be on the grid next season.

      @ben-n

      I think you should also add Ericcson in that list. Kimi has actually driven well enough for Ferrari to extend his contract by a year. I think Steiner will let Grosjean keep his seat as a sign of good faith between them (that’s considering he doesn’t get back to the form he’s had for the first 9 races of the season). The person I see most in risk of his seat is Ericsson. Ferrari have Gio waiting to get in a seat, and I think Leclerc would be a great benchmark for Gio, and vice versa.

      I also believe that Sauber Alfa Romeo is the better Ferrari powered team to race for. They design and build their own car to begin with, so it’s valuable experience for Leclerc to work with designers and have his own input on car design. It’s a skill that will be valuable when he moves up to Ferrari. Plus, I actually think the team at Sauber is overall much stronger than Haas, and if they have a decent budget to work with, they’ll continue to move up the midfield. Haas is dependent on what Ferrari can give them and Dallara can execute for them.

      If I had to guess the line ups of the Ferrari teams for next year –
      1) Vettel & Raikonnen – Ferrari
      2) Magnussen & Grosjean – Haas
      3) Leclerc & Giovinazzi – Sauber

      1. Ericcson’s connections with Longbow Financial make it unlikely that he’ll be replaced.

        1. It is Islero Investment now. But Finn Rausing is there(as usually)so Marcus will still be in the team if he make some decent races after the summer brake.

    6. I hate making this point repeatedly but there are zero guarantees that Haas is stronger or better than Sauber next season who are able to take full advantage of their technical partnership with Ferrari on their 2019 designs and car.

      Haas is a just a customer team. Alfa Romeo Sauber is the Ferrari “B” team now/again and has a much better/more experienced everything compared to Haas. Not to mention the ability to outproduce and develop their rivals.

      1. @v12beard – I totally agree with you. There are no guarantees that Haas will be ahead of Sauber, but a move to another team for Leclerc proves he can do it elsewhere too. It also proves that he can compete against a driver of a calibre higher than that of Ericsson (assuming Magnussen stays).

        I think it’s a logical move; though as you say, no reason to suggest Sauber won’t also be competitive in 2019.

      2. V12Beard (@v12beard)
        I disagree. They, (Haas), may just be a customer team, but have shown better rate of development out of the block this year than Sauber. And, the elephant in the room, as far as I can see, Haas almost certainly have a bigger budget to develop their car than Sauber. Also a mute point this, the late Marchionne, was the prime mover in returning Alfa to the F1, in its power struggle with Liberty. With his sudden passing away, will the new guy charge share the same vision?

        1. I don’t think Haas really has their own rate of development. They just rely on what Ferrari tells them to put on the car. They didn’t even bother testing during the in-season test… probably because they don’t see the point in analysing chassis performance when it isn’t their chassis to begin with.

          While I see how Haas has made themselves more sustainable as a new comer in the sport.. I just don’t see their approach working out for them long term.

  2. Whatever happens I hope we and kimi know what is going to happen before his last race. Kimi deserves a proper sendoff in his last race after all these years. He is not just a very popular driver but also a world champion.

    1. +1
      Anything else would be a disgrace.

  3. Giovinazzi definitely deserves a seat next year, he was great in Australia 2017 and since China he has been putting in a lot of laps in the Sauber and Ferrari with 0 crashes around a 1000 Laps according to my calculations.

    He took it to Gasly in GP2 and now Gasly is going to be driving for a top 3 team some people think Giovinazzi was he better driver considering he was a rookie. If he doesn’t get in the Sauber next year it will be a travesty.

    1. Not exactly 0 crashes: https://www.racefans.net/2017/07/28/red-bull-lead-ferrari-first-practice/

      Nevertheless, I agree that Giovinazzi deserves a proper shot at F1 to smooth these rough edges. The performances for him have been far too interesting.

  4. Whilst Ferrari might only be interested in the WDC, that means having a number two to Vettel who, when Seb wins, finishes second to take points away from his nearest competitor. Raikkonen doesn’t deliver that often enough. He is usually out of place on the grid or loses a place at the start, so instead of being a wing man or rear gunner, he ends up falling further back.

    1. And a stat to prove my point – in the 9 races both HAM and RAI have finished this season, RAI has placed ahead of HAM only once (China). To be fair in the 10 races both BOT and VET have finished, BOT has only beaten VET twice (China and Spain). Neither of them really having much impact in helping their team mate’s championship hopes.

  5. I think given Ferraris uptick in performance, keeping Raikkonen makes sense. He’s delivering modest but consistent performance, enough to see him ahead of Bottas in the championship, and if Ferrari do as I would expect and come out strong again next year the last thing they need is some enthusiastic young driver throwing points away chasing wins their number one Vettel should be getting.

    I think Grosjean has served his time in F1, now he’s up against a quality driver and not receiving the preferential treatment he got during the end of Raikkonen’s Lotus campaign it’s pretty clear he’s not top tier material. I would get Leclerc in his seat rather than rushing him into Ferrari, Giovinazzi in at Sauber, and keep Ericsson there as a benchmark and cash cow.

  6. I think Ferrari ultimately will retain Raikkonen.

    I do not wish so and think it’ll be a mistake. Raikkonen is on the better form he had since 2013, but it has been so clearly past his primes for so long, that his presence on the grid is blocking the ladder to no benefit for F1 and very little to no benefit for Ferrari, as overall results in his second red stint show.

    I think Leclerc will land that seat, long-term. But It’s not Ferrari-ready (in terms of Ferrari established driver selection practices).

    If It were up to me, I’d select amongst the Ferrari-powered (and thus somewhat controlled) teams. I’d do a Bottas and offer a 1 year deal to Magnussen, who has been doing a stellar job at Haas against a proven team-mate. That would be some concerns, He is a polarizing personality but that is forgiven in F1 if you have the performance to show for it (see Verstappen).

    That would allow to test Leclerc against a much better opponent and to introduce Giovinazzi in the picture, giving Ferrari some more post-Vettel-era material to evaluate (not to replace him, but race alongside him as Massa did with Schumacher in 2006).

    1. Agree 100 %. Magnussen is the key to all Ferrari’s plans regarding Leclerc and Giovinazzi, if Ferrari decides to ditch Raikkonen i 2019. Let Leclerc prove he is a better driver than Grosjean in Haas and the for Giovinazzi against Ericsson. I am sure team-Leclerc will hate this solution though.

    2. Oh, I see we both wrote a coment to the same end and you did first. Well, ditto then :) @stefanauss

  7. It’s a shame Grosjean has had a dreadful start to the campain, he would have been a good bet for Ferrari. This leads me to think Magnussen would obviously also fit the bill. I don’t know why neither are rumored to be a possibility for the second Ferrarri seat. They are both proven podium finishers with great one lap speed who could keep Vettel on his toes and should not bother him too much either. They both scored podiums in cars which are nowhere near current Ferrari’s level of competitivness so we know they should be able to at least offer the same results as Raikkonen. Plus they would automatically open a seat for Leclerc who in turn could open a seat for Giovanazzi.

    Of course, neither brings anything special compared to Raikkonen, but if Ferrari wishes Leclerc to mature for a year or two, they might as well save themselves a few millions in driver salary. Or am I missing something ?

    1. I don’t think Ferrari would be too keen on Magnussen given his reputation as a tough nut racer, even with his teammates. If, either by merit or strategy, he gets ahead of Vettel in a race, he would never let Vettel by no matter the reasons given by his engineer. Grosjean would really need to redeem himself after the summer break for Haas to consider him, much less Ferrari. He has to make up for plenty of points in a team that has in both of their previous seasons fallen behind in the mid-season development race.

  8. I honestly hope that the answer to that question is “no”, but after the passing of Marchionne I would think the answer is probably “yes”. The team are functioning well at the moment and I can see them chosing to stick with the status quo for the time being rather than risking the change.

    The simple fact is that Leclerc is a real talent, Ferrari will have to give him a seat sooner or later or risk losing him to one of the other top teams.

    1. Jonathan Parkin
      20th August 2018, 12:45

      But what realisticly can Leclerc achieve. If he is a number two at Ferrari just podiums but no wins. He can be quick but not too quick. Essentially he would be in the same position Raikkonen is now

  9. A big pro with Raikkonen is that his relationship with Vettel is great. It’s important for Ferrari to keep Seb happy.

  10. I hope not. Used to be a huge fan of Raikkonen but he’s just taking up a seat these days.

  11. It’s weird to think if Raikonnen leaves then Hamilton will be the oldest driver.

    1. I am 17 and watch F1 since 2007. It is strange to me to think that Seb and Lewis are the oldest alongside Kimi.

    2. No wayyy! That makes me feel old!

    3. Nice point!
      In 10 years from now we will said the same fact for Leclerc that time!

  12. That, and the fact that RAI has lots of experience with car development. Having a N° 2 that can do an important part of on track tests during FP1 helps in season progress.

  13. I know the question mark is over Raikkonen, but actually there’s a deeper question about the replacement for Vettel. Personally I think it would do Ferrari’s immediate and future chances more good to bring in a driver now who can compete at his level. But Ferrari have a conservative streak, I imagine Raikkonen will get another year.

    1. I don’t think Vettel being replaced is an issue for a long time yet. He has his four world championships, I honestly believe even one at Ferrari would mean more to him than another four elsewhere.

  14. What happened to Channel 4’s announcement that Leclrec was already signed to race for Ferrari in 2019?

    1. They were wrong (they should have taken Charles not confirming the news as a clue, but didn’t).

  15. I wish someone would figure out what exactly Ericsson’s ties to Sauber’s owners is. It’s clear why Lawrence Stroll wants Lance in a car despite his poor pace, but in Ericsson’s case it’s still a mistery. Even if they are extreme Swedish patriots you’d expect them to look elsewhere by now; it’s not like Ericsson’s performances are filling us with awe for Sweden.

      1. Oops messed up my formatting. Wish we could edit comments.

  16. Its a pretty difficult decision, not too dissimilar to the problems Red Bull have had in the past.

    I’d personally like to see someone replace Raikkonen in the Ferrari, he’s been given enough time to make an impact (Number 2 driver status aside). I’d like to see someone in the car that will really give Vettel a run for his money, the best drivers in f1 racing in the best teams.

    On the other hand I don’t think Leclerc is ready, putting someone in a Ferrari whose done half a season in F1 is far too soon. I would say the same with Gasly moving to Red Bull. It has the probability to do more harm to their career than good if they don’t get sufficient time to develop before getting thrown in the deep end.

    I know this will never happen, but I would love to see someone like Hulkenberg get a shot in the Ferrari – he has the experience in F1 and arguably the pace to threaten Vettel (we’ll know more once he races Ricciardo next year). I personally think they’ll stick with Raikkonen, and possibly move Leclerc into the Haas

    1. Red Bull have been a lot more open to taking risks with drivers in the past, I would almost say it is a hallmark of their driver selection strategy. Ferrari is quite the opposite, being very risk-averse when it comes to driver selection. Always one top driver, a proven champion, and one loyal competent sidekick to support him.

  17. “If so, it could be bad news for another F1 driver.”

    So Raikonnen is not an F1 driver? if he is ditched, that is also not bad news for another F1 driver. Logic where you went?

    —-
    Leclerc needs more time. If it was Danny Ric replacing Kimi that would be okay. Otherwise stick with Kimi that is doing a season almost at level of Vettel do to the later big mistakes in races.

    Like someone said above there should be a question mark also with Vettel. He is not doing good enough.

    1. Like someone said above there should be a question mark also with Vettel. He is not doing good enough.

      If he fails to win the title this year… then he’s definitely not Ferrari #1 driver material.

      1. Todd (@braketurnaccelerate)
        20th August 2018, 16:02

        If Vettel can’t get it done this year, that would be 11 years of Alonso & Vettel in Ferrari’s that haven’t been able to get it done. At that point, do we consider it a driver problem, or a team problem? Or are both Alonso and Vettel not #1 material?

        1. Would have to disagree. I don’t think Alonso really got a championship winning car in any of his years for Ferrari. Maybe in 2010 it had a slight chance, but I still think Vettel had better machinery last year.. and definitely this year.

          When you look back at Alonso’s Ferrari years, the general consensus was that he was performing better than his machinery allowed him to. With Vettel it seems the other way around.

      2. I disagree, I think on balance Mercedes still has the better car and as such are favourites to win.

        1. Vettel without Baku, France and Germany mistakes would be in front of championship. How he shafted Kimi in China also came back to hound him preventing a 1-2 at least initially.

  18. Raikkonen is uninspiring, true, but he’s doing the job Ferrari needs him to do. I see no reason not to sign him for 2019. Charles will need to be promoted for 2020, and if no natural vacancy appears, it would be more logical to end Kimi’s career than to drop Sebastian and risk also dropping a title (since I think Leclerc will not be at full strength in the first year after promotion, regardless of preparation – the point of the extra preparation year would be to increase what “full strength” ended up being and also to gain versatility).

    I think Leclerc would use an additional development year productively, and would learn effectively at Sauber, without Ferrari needing to meddle in Haas’ driver decisions (I think Grosjean’s F1 career is hanging by a thread regardless of what happens with Raikkonen, Leclerc and Giovanazzi).

    My guess is that Giovanazzi will go into whichever of the Haas or Sauber vacancies-to-be that Leclerc is not. Magnussen can lead Haas just fine, but is not a good match for Ferrari because he benefits from a team that is happy to give as good to its drivers as it gets (which Haas is and Ferrari is not in the post-Montezemelo era).

  19. I’ll predict that Kimi and Grosjean will both stay where they are next year. Gene Haas and Gunther Steiner will repay Grosjean’s loyalty. Looking at Seb’s history he obviously is very happy to have a second driver acting as a rolling chicane and giving him little to no competition. At this point I think Kimi is happy cashing his $40 million dollar paychecks and padding his retirement account.

  20. Stupid question but when was the last time ferrari took on an inexperienced driver? They dont seem to have the balls to take risks…and as that old saying goes: no guts no glory!

  21. I think if they were going to announce Leclerc as a Ferrari driver it might have already happened by now. I think they might give him one more year’s experience before moving to the lead team. I don’t see any harm in this.

    Not sure where Leclerc will go though. I don’t see all that much advantage in him being at Haas rather than Sauber for another year. I imagine it might depend on whether Haas decide to keep Grosjean on. If Leclerc did move to Haas it would of course create the ideal opening for Giovanazzi at Sauber.

    I really cannot see anyone else e.g. Magnussen, driving for Ferrari in 2019 other than Raikkonen or Leclerc.

  22. Why is Ericsson’s seat at Sauber regarded as so safe? (I know it is said he is connected). Personally I would keep Raikkonen at Ferrari, and pair Le Clerc and Giovinazzi at Sauber, and I think a lot of people would agree. Yet the common wisdom is that Ericsson is there to stay, regardless of performance?

  23. I think Ferrari will stick with Raikkonen for another year. It makes sense. Leclerc will be good but lets see how he goes in the next half of the year. Too early for Leclerc to join Ferrari

  24. I think Kimi will be kept on. People don’t seem to take into account that he was using older spec engine components at some races after it failed at the Spanish GP. I’m not saying that he hasn’t been outperformed by Vettel, it’s just he didn’t always have the same machinery as him at every race, and so some of his performances were closer than they seem. I’m sure Ferrari are taking this into account when assessing his performance.

    They also won’t want to rush Leclerc’s promotion. I think they will be mindful that putting him in the most intense spotlight there is in the sport could easily go badly for him, and by extension, them. I don’t think he’d struggle. His amazing performance in Baku last year in F2 just after loosing his farther is well documented as to how he can cope with difficult situations. But I expect, given how naturally conservative Ferrari are, they’ll give him another year in a slower car.

    In terms of him going to Haas, I really don’t think they would bother changing him from one team to another. I expect Haas to stay with Grosjean. And Ferrari will know well what each of their cars will be like next year. Don’t forget Sauber’s new head designer, Simone Resta, has just joined in from Ferrari so I am sure there is some communication there about their expectation of where the 2019 will car be. And as stated previously by other posters, the Sauber should be a lot closer to Haas next year.

    For me, the main choice is who will be in the other Sauber seat. Ericsson hasn’t shown that he’s able to match Leclerc. I do think he’s better than most people give him credit for, but I also think he’s shown he doesn’t have the ability to grab the chances for points whenever they appear, which is what a midfield team like Sauber really need from both their drivers. I expect the midfield to be even tighter next year, (McLaren will solve some of their problems, possibly Williams too, Toro Rosso will have proper lead time to integrate the engine and the Honda PU should be better, Force India have money again, and Haas and Renault will continue their upward progress) so having a driver able to get the most out of the car consistently is essential.

    I don’t know if Giovinazzi can deliver those kinds of results. There was the rumor that they were interested in Vandoorne. Fred Vasseur worked with him in lower formula. For me, that is the more interesting seat.

  25. With all the shake-ups at the other big teams (RB, Renault and McLaren), I’d say now is the right time to shake things up a bit.

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