With Charles Leclerc finally confirmed to be going one way earlier today it’s immediately been announced that Kimi Raikkonen, having been dropped by Ferrari to make way for the Monagasque driver, has now signed a two-year contract with the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team, marking a full circle as the Finn returns to the Swiss team where he started his grand prix career eighteen years ago.
Raikkonen has one F1 World Drivers’ Championship title to his name, earned with Ferrari back in 2007, as well as twenty grand prix wins and one hundred podium finishes – but at 38-years-old he’s also the oldest driver on the grid and has played second fiddle to Ferrari team mate Sebastien Vettel in recent years.
His last F1 win came with Lotus in 2013 and his return to Ferrari for a five-year long second stint hasn’t really produced the desired results.
It’s been feverishly speculated in the media in recent days that Raikkonen could well return to Sauber as Ferrari swap its drivers around and there has also been talk that he would be given an equity stake in the team where he made his grand prix debut in 2001.
Raikkonen potentially could race with Alfa Romeo colours next year, marking the first time a former F1 World Champion has raced in a grand prix in association with Italian brand’s name since the 1975 and 1977 Ferrari F1 World Champion Niki Lauda pitched up at the Brabham-Alfa Romeo team for the 1978 season.
However, the Alfa Romeo title sponsorship arrangement with the Sauber team for 2018 is believed to be just a one year deal that was personally negotiated with the now deceased Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne and there has been very little sign so far this year that it will run any further.
"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,” said Frédéric Vasseur, CEO of Sauber Motorsport and Team Principal of the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team, in a statement today.
“Kimi's undoubted talent and immense experience in Formula One will contribute not only to the development of our car, but will also accelerate the growth and development of our team as a whole,” Vasseur continued. “Together, we will start the 2019 season with a strong foundation, driven by the determination to fight for results that count.”
This switch completed the circle, as Raikkonen, who comes from Espoo in Finland, made his F1 debut for Sauber in 2001, the team then known as “Red Bull Petronas Sauber”, before he moved to McLaren for 2002 where he stayed for five consecutive years. His first grand prix win came at the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2003 and he was championship runner up in 2003 and 2005.
For the 2007 season Raikkonen moved to Ferrari as Michael Schumacher was squeezed out and there was instant success as the Finn won six races on his way to clinching his first drivers’ title. He stayed at Maranello from two more years, finishing third (2008) and sixth (2009) in the championship before retiring.
After a couple of years in rallying, his other passion, he was lured back to F1 by the resurgent Lotus team for 2012 with instant success, the Finn finishing third in the Drivers’ championship and winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He completed a second year with Lotus (in 2013) which again netted a grand prix win, his last victory to date, as well as a string of podiums, before he made a surprise return to Ferrari for 2014.
Raikkonen has raced for Ferrari for the past five consecutive years but his second stint has brought little tangible success with no wins coming his way and a best so far of fourth in the Drivers’ championship, in both 2015 and 2017, although he currently lies in third place in the 2018 points classification.
That poor form has contributed to Ferrari finally calling time on his career with them – in fact he will be 39 years old next month –and he’s been eased out to make way for promising 20-year-old rookie driver Charles Leclerc.
Photos: Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team - 2018 FIA F1 World Championship
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