Legendary Races Week: 1985 European Grand Prix

Nigel Mansell took his first F1 victory after 72 starts and Alain Prost celebrated his first F1 world championship on a track that was not supposed to hold a Grand Prix that year.

Brand Hatch has come to be an iconic motorsport venue over the years. It has held 14 Grand Prix, but it was not meant to be the place that the European GP would be held, back in 1985.

The provisional calendar of that season had New York and Rome as the new locations in the F1 championship. However, both were utterly ill-prepared, and John Webb stepped in and offered the Brands Hatch circuit as the venue of the European GP, the 14th round of 1985 Formula One World Championship.

The track was familiar to all the teams and drivers, as it was a popular testing venue back in the day.

For a race that was not scheduled to be held that year, it proved to be a landmark. However, it is necessary to take a step back and see why this Grand Prix has so much importance in the history of the sport.

The 1985 F1 season was a fight between McLaren and Ferrari, or Alain Prost and Michele Alboreto, if you prefer. Alboreto had the early lead in the championship, but after the first few rounds, Prost and his McLaren MP4/2B made a resurgence that saw the Frenchman (who lost the previous two titles by minuscule margins) get back on his feet, with the fate of the world championship in his hands. Couple that with the unreliability of the Ferrari 156/85, and it all was in favor of ‘the Professor’.

Coming to Brands Hatch, Prost needed to score two more points than Alboreto to be crowned champion, three rounds before the end of the year. He was determined to do just that, even without the help of Niki Lauda behind the wheel of the other McLaren. The Austrian had broken his wrist during practice in Belgium and was ruled out of the event early on.

In qualifying, Ayrton Senna took his sixth pole position of the year, with the very fast on one-lap pace of the Lotus 97T. Nelson Piquet came in second, 0.3 seconds behind his compatriot, with championship rivals Prost and Alboreto in 6th and 15th place respectively.

Senna held on his position at the start, keeping his head cool over the next few laps, until lap 13.

Keke Rosberg had managed to squeeze past 2nd, having started 4th, and he had set his sights on 1st place. The Finn made a desperate lunge down the inside of the leading Lotus, before the Bottom Straight, which got him in trouble, as he span onto the grass. To this day, he will argue that it was Senna’s fault.

Piquet was a victim of that clash, too, as he hit the Willaims on the rear left, leaving him out the race, and Rosberg with a puncture.

The 1982 champion went straight into the pits, and after a 20 second stop, he rejoined, crucially, just ahead of Senna and Nigel Mansell.

Let’s just pause it there for a moment. At the time, Mansell was a 32-year-old driver with a respectable four-year stint at Lotus to his name, before he moved to Williams-Honda to partner Rosberg. However, he was still waiting for his breakthrough and first ever win in Formula 1. Even though he had driven some cars with winning potential, the Brit could not capitalise on his potential – yet.

So, the motorsport gods handed him a golden opportunity. Rosberg, furious with Senna after their incident, decided to hold him off as much as he could in the twisty Brands Hatch layout, giving Mansell some time to catch the Brazilian and pass him.

Sure enough, he did. Mansell got past the Lotus and then his teammate, who in return tried to stall Senna a little bit more, to give Mansell a further advantage.

By Jerry Lewis-Evans – CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43891399

Even though the drama of the first-place battle was delightful to watch, there was a championship on the line, too. Prost, having had a poor start, made his way up through the order, driving on the edge lap after lap. His work was made easier when Alboreto was forced to retire with a failure in the turbo on the 13th lap. Memorably, he decided to drive his burning car right down the pit lane, unbuckle his belts and stand up as he coasted along to the Ferrari pits. He was fuming – literally and metaphorically.

Prost continued to push forward. When Stefan Johansson in the other Ferrari suffered electrical problems, the Frenchman was promoted 4th, having passed Elio de Angelis for 5th some laps before. With Alboreto out of the picture, a fifth-place finish would be enough to secure the title.

Shortly after, he conceded fourth place to Rosberg without a fight to ensure he would finish the race. It was such choices that earned him the nickname of ‘the Professor’.

At the front of the pack, Mansell drove an excellent race and cruised to his first Formula 1 victory, after 72 starts. Ayrton Senna finished second, with Keke Rosberg rounding up the podium.

Fourth was Alain Prost, the newly crown world champion. One year after he lost the title to Lauda by just half a point, the Frenchman didn’t put a foot wrong and he took the 1985 championship, whilst also helping McLaren to take its third ever Constructors’ Championship.

Brands Hatch would host the British GP the following year, which was the last time the iconic circuit held an F1 race.

That 1985 edition, though, was memorable and hugely significant to the history of this sport.

How the 2021 regulations could lead F1 down a spec-series route

Much has been said about the 2021 F1 regulations, and many people in the higher ranks of the sport have expressed their concerns over the proposed plans.

We are just mere weeks (if not days) away from the deadline set by the FIA, the teams, and Liberty Media. On October 31st, all three parties must co-sign the final Technical and Sporting Regulations for the 2021 Formula One championship, the most anticipated set of regulations since 2014.

Chase Carey, Ross Brawn, and Jean Todt have all been vocal about the changes that need to be made in order to revitalize the sport, give teams new motivation and incentive, and promote pure and competitive racing.

This, however, is no easy task. Radical changes come with consequences, sometimes ruining something that was already working perfectly fine beforehand.

For instance, when F1 experimented with the qualifying format back in 2016, including an elimination every couple of minutes, it was a huge disaster for the drivers, teams and, most importantly, the fans. After just two Grand Prix, the Q1-Q2-Q3 format was back.

That is a best case scenario: an idea goes totally wrong and gets revoked, and we start from scratch.

You cannot do that with a new set of aero regulations, though.

For the past 18 months, F1 officials – presided by Ross Brawn (who has recruited people like Pat Symonds and Rob Smedley) – have been conducting thorough research on how they can improve racing in 2021.

F1.com

The blueprint was set in July. F1 cars must be designed in such a way that the downforce lost behind another car is minimal compared to this year’s machinery. And they had the ideas to make this happen.

They tested these solutions in the Sauber Motorsport wind tunnel, and in August the first scale models of the new cars were revealed.

Nikolas Tombazis, the man in charge of all the technical aspects of FIA single-seaters championships, has been hands-on in these tests, and he has been pretty open about the results they produced:

“There have been no major surprises,” he said, speaking to F1.com. “There is a 5-10% wake disruption, compared to the current levels of 50%, although it depends on the exact configuration you are testing and so on.”

This is positive news, because that is the end goal. F1 cars must be able to follow each other without ‘dirty air’ being a problem anymore.

However, as previously mentioned, this does not come without consequences.

Aero regulations are extremely restrictive at the moment, as they should in order to get the results FIA and Liberty want. They cannot let teams be overly innovative, coming up with concepts that drastically alter the blueprint proposed by Tombazis, Brawn and the other officials. The teams know that.

Sources inside one midfield team have said that technical directors from up and down the grid do not find these aero rules to be what they wanted.

Mattia Binotto, who is now serving as the team principal of Ferrari but has previously held the position of technical director, has suggested that his team may have to use its veto if it finds that the 2021 changes are not what it wants, or if they go against what they see F1 as being at its core.

Speaking to crash.net, Binotto said, “There are a few things that are important to us the degree of freedom on development; the degree of freedom, especially if we think on the aerodynamic regulations, which we believe is too descriptive; the degree of freedom of other parts of the car where some prescriptions have been set.

Ferrari Media

“These I think are the key points on which I think there is still room of collaboration and making a different choice compared to what has been achieved so far.

“We are more focused really on trying to collaborate and address what we believe is fundamental rather than simply say that we’ve got the veto right.”

Every change comes with a fair amount of criticism, but this may be absolutely justified. From the very beginning, Formula One has been about innovation, going beyond the perceived boundaries, searching for the millisecond every single time you are on the track. These new rules may not allow that at all.

F1 could be on its way to becoming a ‘fancy’ spec series, and that is not good.

Sure, the engines will not be the same, the brakes will not be the same (as of now), and the wealthier teams will always find a way to get the best drivers and employ the best personnel, but the aero rules are a huge part of F1 and its approach in racing.

It is certainly not easy to close the gap between the top teams and the midfield, and converging the grid with restrictive ruleset and a really loose budget cap may be the only viable way to do that at the moment.

Nevertheless, F1 must be extremely cautious in its next steps. F2 and F3 are spec series for a reason. Formula 1 must be the pinnacle of motorsport, and innovation is a key factor to that. That innovation is something that should not be taken away.

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

The Red Bull-Honda collaboration could become the new F1 powerhouse

Max Verstappen showcased that a Honda-powered Red Bull is capable of winning, even in the 9th race of their collaboration.

Honda is a colossal company, an immensely powerful player in the automotive industry, immune to the ‘group trend’ that other manufacturers have gone into. Since its return in F1, though, back in 2015, it has been hit year with multiple reliability problems, publicly blamed for the misfortunes of the McLaren collaboration, to the point that nobody thought it could be able to stand back on its feet and rise to the challenge in this hybrid era.

The move to Toro Rosso in 2018 was a crucial one for Honda and its F1 plans, because it gave them the opportunity to make a fresh start, with a team that has minimal aspirations, fighting for the best possible result in the midfield battles. McLaren is a team that is used to be a front-runner, Fernando Alonso is a driver who wants to be the protagonist, not a bystander, and that played a huge role in the McLaren-Honda relationship through that 3-year spell. Toro Rosso, on the other hand, have been just the sister team of Red Bull, the first step for young Red Bull Academy drivers to make their way into F1.

Now, Honda had its chance to make everything the way it wanted it to be. No pressure, no strings attached.

Effort and grind run in the Japanese people’s blood. Japan is known for its commitment to work hard, trying and succeeding. And Honda does represent that mindset in the best of ways.

When the Red Bull-Honda collaboration was announced during last year’s French Grand Prix, it became apparent almost immediately that this is not a project that could give a championship in its first year – not even in its second.

Even though RB had all the essential data regarding the Japanese power unit from Toro Rosso, it was crystal clear that this is a long-term relationship, planned out thoroughly, with patience and determination to succeed.

“When they came back into the sport they had a very tough time in the years that they were with McLaren,” said Christian Horner.

“They then moved to Toro Rosso last year and they had some time to get their house in order and start to progress.

“All we have seen is a real dedication and determination, and that is why having won that race, Tanabe-san went to collect the trophy for the constructor.

“After all the effort that they have put in, it is great to see Japan represented up there and Honda picking up the constructors’ trophy.”

This has always been the right path for Honda in this era of F1, with the complexity of the engines playing a big part in a team’s success. McLaren didn’t realise that when it mattered, and the rest is history. Red Bull did understand that time would be needed for Honda to make the difference and bring back the championship to Milton Keynes.

The Austrians have built a well-run organisation, where people understand their role in the company, and fully commit to the goal, whichever that is. It is no coincidence that, even during the adversity with Renault over the last 5 years, they were able to win races and fight for podiums consistently.

This is the case in 2019, too. Honda has started a new cooperation with a team that can really help them propel their growth and get the coveted land as soon as possible.

Winning in Austria, in their home race, with hundreds of thousands of Verstappen fans cheering for him, is really the stuff of dreams. It is certain that Red Bull targeted that race, and took all the necessary measures to be able to fight for the victory in Red Bull Ring – the first with Honda.

Verstappen himself stressed the importance of the timing of this win:

“I’m just very happy that it happened today and it just gives us a lot of confidence as well to the boys and maybe a few doubts are going away because of it.”

The Dutch driver is the noncontroversial leader of this outfit, and that’s very positive for them. Last time there was an alpha-dog in that team was the Sebastian Vettel era and they won 4 consecutive world titles.

They have a clear path if Max decides to continue believing in this team and this project, because he is a driver that can be the star of this sport for the next 15 years. He is a talented young driver, a proven winner, and having him as their leader, it just makes everything easier for them and their road to a title.

It is really fortunate for Red Bull (and Honda, subsequently) that Verstappen does support this collaboration, despite his comments about the power of the engine, or his surprise that he was able to win in Austria. He just puts pressure on them, but not in a negative way.

Having said that, it’s necessary to remember that this project is not short-term. It’s a five year planned out cooperation, and no one stops either side to extend that contract and 2021 is going to be their breakthrough year.

Even if the new regulations don’t provide many changes to the technical side of the sport, Red Bull and Honda understand that this is the best timing for their push to a championship-winning campaign. They will try their hardest to keep Verstappen, and if they do, they will have all the ingredients to get to that trophy.

Red Bull has that reputation of a team that can exploit every change in the regulations every time they change drastically (namely, 2009), and Honda will by then have an even better PU to provide to them, better suited to their needs.

F1 is all about long term commitments, plans that run through the next 4 or 5 seasons – it’s the only way a team can reach the top.

Honda understands that, Red Bull does, too. No one can guarantee that they will get their chip fast or easy, but they will be contending.

How Ferrari has lost out in cornering speed

Images courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari

Ferrari seemed to be the car to beat after pre-season testing, but 3 races into the season, Mercedes has dominated, taking 1-2 finishes right from the start. How did the Italian outfit lose all the ground it had, and why is it difficult to come back?

2019 started with a really positive vibe for Ferrari. Mattia Binotto, a man who has earned the utmost respect of everyone in the team, was appointed team principal, and Charles Leclerc, a driver who knows Scuderia inside out and has been part of it since 2016, replaced Kimi Raikkonen and brought something unprecedented for the Italians, optimism.

Chinese Grand Prix 2019 – Charles Leclerc

All they had to do was get the results on track, a feat that seemed really difficult for them in 2018. Even though Sebastian Vettel started the season strongly, dominating the early part of the championship, the slump that followed was devastating for him and his team, resulting in another lost title.

It’s fair to say that the SF71H was the better part of the championship, the best car out there. It was fast in the straights, rapid in the corners, managed the tires better than its counterpart, the Mercedes W09, and it proved to be the most reliable car only for Ferrari to spoil it with a misjudged upgrade package after the Singapore GP.

The foundation was there for the 2019 car, though, and that seemed to be the case in this year’s pre-season testing. The SF90 was tremendous, toping the timesheets, with experts (and the teams themselves) arguing that this was the car to beat.

Lewis Hamilton’s remarks may have been the most graphic, and possibly exaggerated:

“I think it’s potentially half a second, something like that. But we will be analysing a lot from this test and there will be some mods that we’ll try and implement before Australia. There’s obviously not a lot of time, but over this next week, hopefully we’ll gain another tenth at least just in our understanding of the car.”

And they gained, not just a tenth, but seemingly 8 tenths of a second against Scuderia, which seemed to have taken a huge blow in Melbourne. Set-up problems, cooling issues, all sorts of things happened to the car that was meant to be the winner at the season opener.

Set-up woes and a key factor that changes everything

Right from the start, Binotto emphasized on the set-up issues his team faced in Australia, saying that this was a one off thing, downplaying the importance of this problem, or even worse not fully acknowledging its full extent.

“You’re always hoping to address and improve the situation through the weekend when you’ve got some issues with balance and the set-up,” he said. “It didn’t happen. We need to bring all the data back home and try to analyse it.

“That has to remain an exception all through the season. But I think it will be a good lesson learned.

“If we may identify where the issue was, we can be back even more stronger.”

This year’s aero kits are a very different kind from those of 2017 or 2018. Simplifying the front wing and the bargeboards, widening the rear wing and its effect on the straight line speed messed with the balance of the Italian car, more than any other on the grid.

Ferrari tried to maintain a more aggressive approach with its front wing design, with the inner part of it being taller than the outer, meaning that towards the endplates, the outwash would still be the same as it was with the 2018 wings – and that is the main issue with the set-up changes.

Simplifying aero parts has an effect on the things a team can ‘tweak’ to get the most out of its car, because the operating window of it is really decreased, and every detail has a bigger impact on the car’s performance.

Mercedes tried to be more conservative with its front end design, and that enables it to make changes to the set-up without compromising its all around performance as much as Ferrari.

The Maranello squad tried to push for the straight line speed not only by making big gains in the ERS deployment (with the MGU-K being at full power for the better part of the lap), but with its aerodynamic components, in order to have as less drag as possible. But, less drag means less downforce around the corners, and I don’t know any track which is composed only by big straights.

Even Baku has a very tricky middle sector, full of mid and low speed corners, and Ferrari addressed that by bringing its first upgrades there, per Binotto:

“We are bringing a few updates to Baku, as the first step in the development of the SF90.”

It is almost certain that Ferrari will bounce back and sort these problems out. It is only a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’. And this cannot come soon enough.

Mick Schumacher to make F1 test debut in Bahrain

Mick Schumacher will drive for Ferrari and Alfa Romeo in the upcoming in-season test in Bahrain, after this weekend’s Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit.

Joe Portlock / FIA F2 Championship

The 19-year-old son of 7-time world champion Michael Schumacher will compete in the F2 championship this season, with the Prema team.

His career started in karting in 2011, where he did not race under his real surname, and he had the nickname ‘Mick Junior’.

Schumacher moved to the ADAC Formula 4 championship, in 2015, after testing the single-seater in 2014. His tenure with the Jenzer Motorsport outfit saw him take one win in 22 races, and 10th in the drivers’ standings.

In 2017, Mick made the next step in his career, driving in European Formula 3, with Prema. After a sub-par season, claiming just one podium, Schumacher pushed through and, in 2018, he drove phenomenally, clinching the title with 8 wins and 7 pole positions.

Glenn Dunbar / FIA F2 Championship

Late in 2018, it was announced that he will graduate to the F2 championship with Prema, and early in 2019 Scuderia Ferrari took him under its wing, adding him to its Young Driver Academy.

This gives him the opportunity to drive Ferrari’s SF90 and Alfa Romeo’s C38 next week, in the young drivers’ test in Bahrain.

That will be the first time the Schumacher name will appear in an F1 session since his father’s retirement at the end of 2012.

F1 2019: Five early predictions for the new season

The 2019 F1 season is almost upon us, with winter testing starting in a couple of weeks and the Australian Grand Prix commencing next month. It’s the perfect time for five early predictions, some of which are pretty long shots.

 

1. Charles Leclerc will take three wins

Ferrari has a new kid on the block. Charles Leclerc spent his rookie season at Sauber, but from 2019 it’s time for his dream to come true. That could prove to be immensely stressful for the young Monegasque, but he may rise to the occasion and even take some wins. If Ferrari is at least on the same level as it was in 2018, then Leclerc could be able to snatch one, two, or even threewins in his first season with a big team, cementing his position at Maranello and proving his talent once again.

 

2. Nico Hulkenberg will take his first podium

It’s something of a mystery how Nico Hulkenberg, a driver who has been in teams with podium potential, has never finished in the top three. But, with Renault constantly improving and with a bit of luck (after all, it is needed as well), the Hulk could finally take that podium finish he truly deserves.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Renault Sport F1 Team on the grid.
German Grand Prix, Sunday 22nd July 2018. Hockenheim, Germany.

 

3. Red Bull-Honda will not be in the top three

The all-new collaboration between Red Bull and Honda is one of the hottest topics ahead of the new season, and rightfully so. Honda has proven to be a bit of a ‘wild one’, especially on the reliability front, and Red Bull could be its next victim. Everyone acknowledges the fact that Red Bull is great in designing an aerodymanically efficient car (Adrian Newey is still the best out there), but this could not be enough for them to stay in the top three. Maybe Renault could step up…

 

4. Alfa Romeo Racing will be in the top five

The Alfa Romeo-Sauber collaboration worked out perfectly for both sides during the 2018 campaign, with the team finishing seventh in the final standings. Now, with the all-new Alfa Romeo branding, Kimi Raikkonen on board and excellent technical staff, the prospect of them finishing in the top five is not such an absurd thought. After all, the backing from ‘sister’ team Ferrari is certain and could prove vital.

Charles Leclerc, Alfa Romeo Sauber C37 at Formula One World Championship, Rd20, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday 11 November 2018.

 

5. Mercedes will not be champions

Finally, the most bold of these predictions sees Mercedes not taking its sixth world championship in a row as a constryctor. Maybe Lewis Hamilton will be the drivers’ champion, but his team may be hurt by Valtteri Bottas’ incompetence. Ferrari has, on paper at least, a strong line-up, and so does Red Bull and Renault (if we count the French team as a real threat), so Mercedes is really on the ropes on this one.

 

Less than 40 days remain until the season opener in Albert Park, and the nine-month journey around the world begins for the F1 circus.

 

[Featured image: Ferrari Media]

F1 2018: The midfield power ranking

Photo: Force India Formula One Team

The 2018 season featured one of the most competive midfield battles we have seen the past five years, with many drivers taking advantage of this ‘chaos’ to show off their skills. This is how they rank, from place 1 to 14, based on their total performance.

1. Charles Leclerc

The Sauber rookie was a phenomenal addition to the 2018 grid, as he proved numerous times his immense talent. He is by far the best midfield driver of last year, because he managed to take points and progress in the Q3 session with a car which in most cases underperformed.Photo:Ferrari media 

2. Nico Hulkenberg

Over the years, Nico Hulkenberg has shown his ability in the midfield, and in 2018, he didn’t disappoint, being the ‘best of the rest’ in the drivers’ standings. His performances propelled Renault into 4th place in the Constructors’ Championship, but he lost his chance of a podium (his maiden) at Baku.

3. Kevin Magnussen

Beating Romain Grosjean by a mile on his own ‘turf’ is something a few of us expected from K-Mag. He is a remarkable talent, but sometimes a bit of a loose cannon. Nevertheless, he made his mark last season and he was one of the stars of the midfield battle.

Photo: Haas F1 Team

4. Carlos Sainz

The young Spaniard raised his game in 2018, with some solid performances, with a best result of 5th at the Azerbaijan GP. He lost out to his teammate, but he did manage to leave almost every major player of the midfield battle behind him and that’s what’s important.Photo: Relault Sport Media

5. Sergio Perez

Sergio Perez is considered a master of the midfield battle over the last 5-6 years, but in 2018, Force India (or Racing Point after Belgium) was sub-par in the better part of the season, and he lost some ground to his rivals. But, even at the end of the season, when he had a car capable of scoring good points, he was behind any major competitor.

Photo: Racing Point Force India

6. Pierre Gasly

The young Frenchman did a remarkable job with a really difficult and uncompetitive car, prevailing over his teammate and getting some valuable points – on and off track. He fully deserves his promotion to Red Bull.

7. Fernando Alonso

The legendary Fernando Alonso wasn’t really his best self this past year. When McLaren was slightly competitive, he reminded everyone his immense talent. But, when the MCL33 was merely undriveable, he lost every bit of his motivation and acted a bit like a spoiled kid. He could have done better.

8. Esteban Ocon

After a really solid rookie season, Esteban Ocon didn’t fulfill his ambitions for last year’s campaign, failing to prevail over his teammate, even though he managed to get on top of other midfield competitors, such as Leclerc, Grosjean or even Alonso and Gasly.Photo: Force India Formula One Team

9. Romain Grosjean

The Frenchman did manage to come back from a sluggish first half of the season, but he couldn’t make the best of the potential of his car something that Magnussen did in a resounding way.

10. Marcus Ericsson

The Swede did have his best season in his tenure with Sauber, but he was far behind his rookie teammate. Nevertheless, he took some solid results, taking advantage of the competitiveness of his car.

11. Stoffel Vandoorne

Having Fernando Alonso as teammate is one of the most difficult challenges in a driver’s career, but Stoffel Vandoorne was subpar even when the Spaniard lost some ground.

12. Brendon Hartley

Realiabilty problemps hampered Hartley’s effort, but his performance compared (first and foremost) to his teammate was anything but good. He really didn’t deserve a second chance.Photographer Credit: Samo Vidic/Red Bull Content Pool

13. Sergey Sirotkin

On the other hand, Sergey Sirotkin did deserve a second season in F1, as he was really trying to prove himself on the grid, with a horrible car in his hands. He was better than Lance Stroll in almost every aspect, but he was unlucky on some occasions and lost his chances for a better overall perfomance.

14. Lance Stroll

The Canadian must feel lucky he has the money to continue racing in F1, after the 2018 campaign he had. A rookie, someone with nowhere near his experience, almost outdid him. That’s something that should bother him.

World Copyright: Glenn Dunbar/Williams F1

The 2019 season starts in Australia, on 15 March, and hopefully, the midfield battle will stay strong.

Kimi Raikkonen at Sauber: Why this move could be beneficial for both sides

Kimi Raikkonen is back at Sauber, in a move that many did not see it coming, although it could prove the best choice for him and the Swiss team.

Back in June, Charles Leclerc was heavily rumoured with a move to Ferrari, asa replacement for Kimi Raikkonen, whose future was still uncertain.  The ‘Iceman’ had been in good form up until that point, with three podiums to his name. But, he was at the exit door in Maranello.

Kimi Raikkonen at Abu Dhabi. Image Courtesy of Ferrari Media

The late chairman of Ferrari, Sergio Marchionne, had made his mind since the Canadian Grand Prix, and his sudden death did not change the plan he had put forward: Leclerc in, Raikkonen out.

The fact that the young Monegasque will join forces with Sebastian Vettel in 2019 is very fortunate for him, a boyhood dream come true. He has all the potential to make this move work, to achieve his and his team’s goals.  However, the Raikkonen-Sauber collaboration seems to have an advantage.

No, Alfa Romeo-Sauber will not be on its ‘big sister’s’ level, but the Finn is an experienced driver and Hinwil has done an excellent job on getting back in the hunt at the midfield group of the grid.

As far as Raikkonen is concerned, the 39 year old driver is highly motivated, as everyone has seen from this year’s campaign, in which the stood on the podium 12 times, and won once. This was -probably- his best season since the 2007 one, and that came from a man who many criticised for his lack of commitment and motive. This new challenge can regenerate him, since he will be able to be the no.1 driver in a team he knows like the back of his hand (from his 2001 tenure with it).

Apart from that, Raikkonen has been proven exceptional on giving feedback and setting the car to better suit his driving style, and Sauber needs that ability from its headline driver, in order to up its game on the midfield battle. He is in fine form and he can help his old team get back on the top 5.

Since Sauber was mentioned, the Swiss team has a very big advantage over any other team on the middle pack of the grid: the support from Ferrari. The Alfa Romeo rebranding acted as a salvation for them, after a horrendous 2017 season, and this was just the beginning. Ferrari made everything it could to make sure its ‘little sister’ had a fresh start: new team principal (Fred Vasseur), new technical director (Simone Resta), and a higher budget meant that Hinwil could go for a big push again, and remind to every competitor that it is a force to be reckoned. Add to that a driver like Raikkonen, and you’ve got yourself a perfect combination of experience and know-how.

Essentially, Kimi Raikkonen and Sauber had to be together for next year’s campaign, because both of them will be able to gain so much more than any other team-driver collaboration on the 2019 grid – or so we hope.