F1 fans with more than a Lewis Hamilton era of Formula One experience, will understand immediately that the timing of Ferrari’s announcement to retain Kimi Raikkonen reveals there is an air of desperation in Maranello.
The red team is the ultimate in F1 swagger and in many ways the sum of the parts are less than the whole. This means at times, the drivers are reminded by Ferrari top brass of their very small place in this global F1 institution that was spawned by the great Enzo.
Part of the process is to leave the driver line-up announcements as late is possible in the season. Announcing the Maranello line up for next year by the time of the British GP is almost without precedent.
Three years into the new V6 Turbo era, Ferrari were supposed to be doing better than they are. Since the exile of Luca de Montezemolo, Sergio Marchionne has upped the anti making clear the levels of performance he expects from the Scuderia.
The close season pressure began to be cranked up when in early December, the Ferrari CEO told the Italian F1 media: “The balance sheet of Ferrari is good. What we need now is results on the track. It is important to win the first race of the season in Australia.”
Then again during pre-season testing, Marchionne made clear his championship aspirations for 2016. “If we were to somehow fail to win a title over a 10-year span, it would be a tragedy.” Ferrari’s last drivers’ title was from Kimi Raikkonen in 2007 and the team won the constructors’ title in 2008.
Most F1 observers would agree, that Ferrari have failed to deliver this year and are missing the expected mark by some considerable fashion. The capabilities of the SF16-H are still mostly inferior to Mercedes W07 and Maranello’s the race team has made inexplicable strategy decisions during the race – costing the team a significant number of points.
So for these reasons alone, there is little point trying to create any kind of ‘insecurity’ in Ferrari’s drivers – as some kind of attempt to drive them to deliver better results. The focus on performance improvement for now lies elsewhere.
Kimi Raikkonen is clearly not as capable of delivering points for Maranello as either Fernando Alonso did or as Sebastian Vettel has done since his arrival form Red Bull. Yet, why destabilise Sebastian Vettel by putting a young gun up against him who in theory should push him harder than Kimi Raikkonen?
The retention of Kimi Raikkonen is believed to be a win for Sebastian Vettel and Maurizio Arrivabene given that less than two weeks ago, Sergio Marchionne made it clear Raikkonen’s future was as yet conditional. “We are under no illusion with Kimi, his stay depends on the way he races,” Ferrari’s CEO explained to La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Since then Kimi failed to capitalise on starting the Austrian GP ahead of both Red Bull cars but was beaten to second place by Max Verstappen who started P8. The actual reason for Raikkonen not beating the Dutchman was arguably due to poor Ferrari strategy, beyond Kimi’s control.
Either way, Kimi has not been able to meet Marchionne’s performance demands to ‘earn’ his renewed drive for 2017.
Another of Maranello’s ‘fears’ may well have played into Kimi’s hands. 2017 sees a big change in regulations and to bed in a rookie to Ferrari during this season would be disruptive and counterproductive. Further, some F1 commentators believe the new regulations will bring the kind of cars F1 develops back towards the ‘ice Man’s’ driving style. The Finn prefers to make the car do the work, rather than having to manhandle a raging beast around an F1 circuit.
In conclusion, it is also telling that Ferrari have moved quickly following the announcement by Red Bull Racing that Carlos Sainz Jnr would be retained for one more season. In recent weeks, Sainz weeks was believed by many to be the favoured ‘new son’ for Maranello to recruit.