To some people, Ferrari’s decision to sign Kimi Raikkonen for next season makes little sense.
Sure, while Raikkonen won the title in his first year as a Ferrari driver in 2007, it was a far from harmonious partnership. It lasted till the end of 2009, when Raikkonen was paid off, despite having one year left on his contract.
His replacement for the following year? A certain Fernando Alonso, who will be his team mate in 2014.
Raikkonen was seen as Michael Schumacher’s successor following the German’s retirement. Indeed, Luca di Montezemolo was famously so keen to sign Kimi, he did so before even letting Schumacher or Massa know. Schumacher was then put in a difficult position – carry on for a year, and force his young team mate Felipe Massa out, or accept retirement. He went for the latter option.
But whereas Schumacher was a leader of people at Ferrari, and would often be one of the last to leave the track on Saturday evening, Raikkonen’s work ethic was very different. He is not a natural leader like Schumacher was, and the Italian team were, at times, left feeling a little too cold by the Iceman.
Indeed, in 2009, it was the final straw in the tenuous relationship. The team struggled all season with an uncompetitive car; saw Massa side-lined by a horrific injury, and Raikkonen appeared to be increasingly struggling for motivation, despite taking Ferrari’s only victory that season.
Ferrari needed a strong leader and duly brought in Fernando Alonso – the polar opposite in character compared to Raikkonen. But in the three years that Alonso has been a Ferrari driver, the team has failed to win either championship, and doesn’t look like doing so again this year.
In comparison, during that time, Raikkonen had been a busy man. He tried a brief, but unsuccessful, foray into the World Rally Championship. He also had a couple of outings stateside in NASCAR, where he also struggled. A test in Peugeot’s LMP1 car followed, but he was left dissatisfied, and so, at the start of 2012, Lotus brought him back into Formula One.
It was a move that very few people expected – Raikkonen’s motivation had been questioned on a regular basis in his last season as an F1 driver. Indeed, he failed to turn up to the Australian round of the WRC, claiming he couldn’t be bothered to travel so far. He was also against a permanent move to NASCAR, as he felt the season was too long and had too many races. His dislike for media work was also well known.
Some even wondered if he’d perhaps lost his edge in his time away from the sport.
Those doubters were quickly proven wrong. Raikkonen was in contention for victory in only his fourth race back, and scored points in every race except one. Additionally, he completed every race lap apart from one – where he was classified a lap down after a memorable off track excursion at the final race of the season in Brazil.
An impressive comeback season yielded a win in Abu Dhabi, and third place in the championship behind Vettel and Alonso. He started off in 2013 where he left off last season, winning the first race of the year in Australia, and, for a long time, was linked to a move to Red Bull.
Ferrari, along with many others, was clearly impressed and Raikkonen has therefore been brought back into the team to increase their chances of winning both championships for next year. In many ways, it is an embarrassing climb down from the oldest team on the grid, having to sign a driver they fired not that long ago.
But is it a wise move, or will it cause friction within the team?
Raikkonen’s signing is a major change in strategy for Ferrari, who, for more than a decade, has always had a clear number one and number two driver. Indeed, it is a recent change, as Luca di Montezemolo once talked down chances of Alonso and Vettel being team mates. He said at the time that Ferrari did not want “two roosters in a henhouse.”
From next year though, Ferrari has desires of both drivers regularly contending for victories and scoring big points at every race. That is not something that the outgoing Felipe Massa has managed in the last few years.
Of course, there are fears that it could end badly. History shows that Fernando Alonso has struggled when partnered with a competitive team mate. Memorably, in 2007, he left McLaren on acrimonious terms after just one season when Lewis Hamilton turned out to be a lot stronger than anybody had been expecting.
Additionally, it is hard to imagine Raikkonen helping Alonso in the same way that Massa has recently. It’ll therefore be a very interesting to see how the driver dynamics play out at the Scuderia throughout 2014.
For Kimi, the move makes sense. He will likely be given the chance to regularly challenge for wins (depending on how competitive Ferrari’s 2014 car is) and he may well feel that he has unfinished business at the team, and something to prove.
Add in the uncertain financial future of Lotus, and Raikkonen will be in a much more secure location going forward.
Will he be able to win the championship in his first year back at the team? It’s difficult to say right now, but you’d be foolish to bet against him. One thing is for certain though – how he copes with Alonso is likely to be one of the big talking points of 2014.