Räikkönen’s 2019 Ride Represents a Missed Opportunity for Formula One’s Driver Development

(Archive Post) This was originally written on October 25, 2018.

Kimi Räikkönen is a recognizable name to anyone who’s tuned into a sports channel within the
last fifteen years. The 38-year old has been competing in Formula One since the beginning of the
2001 season (with a two-year absence in 2010-11), and includes a championship win in 2007.
With 20 wins to brag about, his career obviously stands as a largely positive one.

However, being in the series for nearly twenty years isn’t without its downsides at this point in
his career. In recent years, the sport has shifted to a younger roster of drivers, and Räikkönen’s
age has started to stand more as an outlier then it has been something to highlight during contract
negotiations. All that said, it hasn’t been a major roadblock in his career.

That is, until this season started.

The 2018 Formula One season has been an interesting one when considering driver placements.
It began calmly enough, but the market was left shocked in early August when Red Bull driver
Daniel Ricciardo announced that he was leaving the team at the end of the season to join the rival
Renault garage. The surprise move was the start of a drastic overhaul for next year’s grid.

Current Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly was promoted to the flagship Red Bull team to replace
Ricciardo. With Ricciardo out, Carlos Sainz Jr. was left waiting for McLaren to announce their
changes. Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne are both leaving McLaren under different
circumstances, leaving McLaren with two open seats.

Sainz Jr. was announced to be taking one of those seats, while 18-year old Lando Norris grabbed
the other. Current Williams driver Lance Stroll saw his father join a group that would eventually
become the buyers of what is now Racing Point Force India, and is now awaiting his inevitable
move to that team. That move potentially leaves the talented Esteban Ocon, a Mercedes junior,
without a drive for the upcoming year.

Even with all that, the most anticipated move for fans of the sport was only a rumour until this
past week. Charles Leclerc, currently racing in his first season for Sauber, had been linked to a
promotion to Ferrari since the second month of the season thanks to his impressive performances
in both races and qualifying. Leclerc and Ferrari announced earlier this week that the two had
come to an agreement for the young driver to team up with former champion Sebastian Vettel.

After that, it all circles back to Kimi Räikkönen. The driver market, which was described by Sky
Sports F1’s Martin Brundle as “the most complicated he’s ever known,” appeared to leave
Räikkönen without a drive. Most, including Daniel Ricciardo, expected Räikkönen to call it a
career.

Whether one looks at the current grid or the drivers in contention for next years, there’s one thing
that stands out. There are more and more names that are remarkably young to be in those seats.
Norris is 18. Stroll is 19. Ocon is 21. Leclerc is set to become the youngest Ferrari F1 driver
since 1961 at 20 years old.
There’s only one FIA Formula 2 driver above 25.

With the assumption that Räikkönen was going to announce his retirement from the sport,
Sauber, who is losing Leclerc to Ferrari, was expected by fans worldwide to announce Marcus
Ericsson (28 years old) and, at the request of title sponsor Alfa Romeo, Ferrari third driver
Antonio Giovinazzi (24) as their team for 2019.

Then the team announced that the 38 year old Räikkönen would return to the team he’d begun his
career with, on a two-year deal.

With the sport becoming younger, it’s a surprising move, and one that is completely inconsistent
with the rest of the changes. It also leaves one of Ericsson (a Sauber favourite) or Giovinazzi (an
Alfa Romeo favourite) out of a drive.

Formula One, in recent years, has brought a renewed focus to its farm-system leagues. The GP2
series was rebranded as FIA Formula 2 and has been a consistently fantastic showcase for both
teams and fans to watch many young drivers navigate conditions similar to the main series.
Giovinazzi, Leclerc, and Gasly were all in this series within the last few years, as was current
Williams driver Sergey Sirotkin. The grid has even had some members rumoured to be joining
the 2019 F1 grid, particularly within the empty spots at Toro Rosso and Williams.

F2 has been a great showcase for young talent, and one of its strongest drivers in recent years
appeared to be ready to tackle his chance at a car in the biggest league in open-wheel racing.

Unfortunately, all of this was taken by Räikkönen, and while fans may appreciate that a longtime
driver remains in the league, it represents a missed opportunity for FIA and Liberty Media to
showcase young, talented drivers. Assuming Ericsson gets the seat to team with Räikkönen
(which isn’t a done deal), fans will miss out on seeing that young talent in favour of watching an
older driver run midfield in a low-end car. Even if Giovinazzi gets the seat, Ericsson could leave
the sport after a largely decent five-year run where he never got a chance with a contending car.

There’s little value in having strong farm-system leagues like FIA Formula 2 if they’re not
consistently used to make the flagship league as strong as it can be, and it’s disappointing to see
Sauber ignore that in favour of nostalgia.


“#7 Kimi Raikkonen (2)” by taka_suzuki is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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