Why Evergreen Kimi Raikkonen Continues to Stay at Ferrari

Kimi Raikkonen’s last three years at Ferrari have dominated by rumours over whether the team would dump him in favour of a younger charger.

The Finn’s F1 obituaries have been written plenty of times during his second spell at Maranello as a roster of drivers including Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez have their names linked with Ferrari’s second seat.

And yet, every year, the publishing of all those obituaries are postponed again.

Ferrari have always been reluctant to rock the boat with their driver pairings unless a genuine star becomes available.

Since the change of the millennium 17 years ago, the Scuderia have

Despite being well behind teammate Vettel, Raikkonen’s relationship with the German has paid dividends for Ferrari –
GP UNGHERIA F1/2017
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO FERRARI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE) Ferrari Media

changed their line-up just six times. Raikkonen himself only joined Ferrari at the expiry of a lengthy McLaren contract in 2006.

So it should come as little surprise should Ferrari announce that they will retain the 2007 World Champion as well as Championship leader Sebastian Vettel for 2018.

The dynamic between Raikkonen and Vettel is helpful to Ferrari if somewhat unusual in Formula One.

While Michael Schumacher had a dutiful teammate in Rubens Barrichello during the juggernaut era of 2000-04, the feeling between Raikkonen and team leader Vettel is somewhat more harmonious.

The 37-year-old is not a demonstrative character and while Monaco and Hungary – where Ferrari lined up behind Vettel to deny and denied Raikkonen victories – proved the Iceman’s fire still burns, he is not a man to hold a grudge and this is a characteristic that Ferrari value.

Raikkonen has  played the team role well in 2017 GP GRAN BRETAGNA F1/2017
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO FERRARI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE) – Ferrari Media

Certainly, there would have been more uproar at Mercedes during the tempestuous partnership between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, while the atmosphere is bubbling at Red Bull too.

Force India’s Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez have shown this season the cost of letting teammate issues fester, losing out in Canada and Azerbaijan.

Raikkonen is also helped by the fact that aside from Fernando Alonso, there is no obvious replacement available for next year. The Prancing Horse will not look at Alonso, even if the Spaniard now regrets moving to McLaren-Honda.

Verstappen is locked in a long-term contract at Red Bull while Ricciardo will also remain there until at least the end of next year, and it will be difficult to convince any of the top brass there to part with either driver early.

It will be similarly difficult to persuade them to release Carlos Sainz either, with the Spaniard likely to remain at Toro Rosso next year despite voicing discontent at recent races.

The driver market for 2018 has also been kind to the Iceman GP UNGHERIA F1/2017
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER FERRARI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE) Ferrari Media

2018 will also come too soon for the highly rated Charles Leclerc, who has impressed in F2 this season. With Ferrari having tight bonds to both Haas and Sauber, the Monegasque driver is likely to be loaned to Sauber next season.

This time last year Perez looked a good option for Ferrari, but his everlasting spat with Ocon and the two’s collective penchant for near misses at Force India will likely have put off Sergio Marchionne and Maurizio Arrivabene. Ex-teammate Nico Hulkenberg, previously linked with Ferrari for 2014, signed a long-term contract with Renault at the end of 2016 and will not leave Enstone soon.

While observers and pundits continue to write about the end for one of Formula One’s unique characters, Raikkonen looks likely to remain at Ferrari for 2018 at least.

With Vettel also rumoured to be casting longing looks at Mercedes, don’t be surprised if Kimi’s ice cream doesn’t melt away beyond then, either.

The Spark and the Fire

Mercedes is one of the most successful teams in Formula 1, during the recent years, they have won the constructor’s championship for three consecutive years and Lewis Hamilton celebrated his last two titles with the silver arrows, whilst Nico Rosberg won his one and only world title with Mercedes in 2016 (check out our article about Nico Rosberg).

The Silver Arrows made their appearance in 1930, where they won all the European championships after 1932. Their first official entry in Formula 1 was in 1954 which they were known as Mercedes-Benz. Juan Manuel Fangio signed a contract with Mercedes and moved from Maserati to the silver arrows in order to drive in Mercedes’ debus at the French Grand Prix in 1954. That season Fangio won three races and finished first on the drivers’ championship. The following season, Manuel Fangio repeated his success and with four victories and won his second consecutive championship with Mercedes-Benz. A terrible accident which took place at the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1955 led to the cancelation of the Grand Prixs and Mercedes retired from Formula One.

The miracle and the firework

Rubens Barrichello, Barcelona, Spain 2009. Author: Jose Mª Izquierdo Galiot

There is one specific year which I believe that most of the young and non-young fans will never forget, the year where a team dominated with almost zero financial support, with only the basic crew and with two very experienced drivers which both had a great “coach”. Of course you will know where I am referring to, the name of the team was Brawn GP and the two drivers where Jenson Button and the Brazilian Rubens Barrichello. The master behind the success was Ross Brawn, who believed in his team and led them to the top.

 

Brawn GP participated in 17 races, won eight Grands Prix, finished 15 times on the podium, took five pole positions and scored 172 points. The team became the first to achieve a 100% championship success rate.

Mercedes played a critical role in Brawn GP’s success as they were supporting them with engines.

That season indicated Mercedes’ return to Formula 1, on November 2009, Mercedes with Aabar Investments purchased the 75.1% of Brawn GP. Mercedes had the 45.1%, while Aabar the rest 30%. The next year the team renamed to Mercedes GP. According to reports Mercedes and Aabar paid £110m for the 75.1% and the remaining percentage remained to Ross Brawn in partnership with Nick Fry. Ross Brawn remained as team principal until the end of the 2013 season.

Michael Schumacher, Sepang International Circuit, Selangor, Malaysia 2011. Author: Morio

Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg were driving for Mercedes the first three years, they managed to get three poles and win three races. After Brawn’s departure the turbocharged engines returned to Formula 1, Mercedes had an advantage as Ross Brawn managed to improve the team’s power unit.

Mercedes dominated during the first three years of the new turbocharged engines, Lewis Hamilton replaced Michael Schumacher, and both he and Nico Rosberg secured 56 pole positions and won 51 of the 59 races. In all these years the two drivers have scored 2169 points combined.

This season, Mercedes is leading in the constructors’ championship by 24 points and Lewis Hamilton is second in the drivers’ standings, 14 points behind his main rival Sebastian Vettel.

Undoubtedly, Mercedes is one of the strongest teams on the grid, Ferrari looks able to challenge them, but it is still too early to make a prediction.

Mercedes and social media – leading the way

Red Bull Ring, Spielberg, Austria.In this current turbo era of Formula One, Mercedes AMG F1 have had an almost unprecedented level of success not seen since the days of McLaren Honda. Three straight clean sweeps of both the World Drivers’ Championship and the World Constructors’ Championship have left the Silver Arrows in a buoyant mood in recent seasons. But it isn’t just on the circuit where the team have been at the top of the standings.

The team have also been ahead of their rivals on social media, with their twitter account being among the 100 most followed sports accounts on the social network with 1.83m followers. That’s 20,000 clear of their closest rivals Red Bull on 1.81m while Ferrari on 1.79m make up the podium places. In fact, only McLaren join them with a seven-figure twitter following, despite their relative woes on circuit.

On Facebook, Mercedes also lead the way with over 11m likes, with Red Bull way back on 7.8m and Ferrari on just over a third of their Brackley rivals with 4.2m likes. While on Instagram, the stakes are as tight as this season’s Formula One world championship fight as Mercedes lead on 1.5m followers, with Red Bull just 100,000 short and Ferrari back on 1.3m followers.

Videos such as the onboard shot of Nico Rosberg at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, in which fans almost got a driver’s eye view of the 2016 World Champion performing donuts, are key as fans look to connect with the teams and their drivers more and more in this ever more digital world. Red Bull are also known for inventive promotional videos such as the caravan race around the Red Bull Ring ahead of the upcoming Austrian Grand Prix – the team’s home event. The in-depth and often enthusiastic race commentary provide across the Silver social platforms go further to encapsulate emotions felt by an ardent Mercedes fan during a Grand Prix.

Japery with teams such as Force India and Renault add to the feel-good theme around social media and Formula One, with Red Bull also known for interaction with their fellow F1 peers. With the giveaways and competitions linked to the team, Mercedes make themselves more marketable than many other Formula One teams with their fan interaction. That extends to following, retweeting and replying to fan queries and less serious posts to the team.

Mercedes hasn’t just stolen a march against its F1 rivals on the tarmac, but in the digital world that has finally engulfed Formula One, the team are a leading light.

2012 Monaco Grand Prix – Shades of the old Michael

The 2012 Monaco Grand Prix had plenty of sub-plots, sidestories and points of interest aside from Mark Webber’s final victory in the Principality. Webber became the sixth different winner from six races in an open start to the World Championship, Romain Grosjean had more opening lap contact – and one other important story. That was the performance of Michael Schumacher during Saturday’s qualifying session.

The seven-times World Champion had failed to find the scintillating form seen during those Ferrari days at the beginning of the millennium ever since joining Mercedes for 2010 after three years away. Since that second coming his best result had been a fourth place scored at the famous Canadian Grand Prix of 2011 and 2012 had been beset by bad luck, collisions and sometimes lack of pace. Indeed, Schumacher went into the race weekend with a five-place grid penalty following an accident with Bruno Senna in the previous Spanish Grand Prix.

Monaco. Monaco Grand Prix 2012 BY COURTESY OF PIRELLI

Mercedes had had solid pace all weekend but were not considered to be amongst the favourites – aside from the Chinese Grand Prix in which they were running first and second before Schumacher’s retirement, the car had been inconsistent. However, in the second qualifying session both Mercedes made it comfortably through to the pole position shootout with Rosberg just ahead of fifth-placed Schumacher.

Mark Webber’s time of a 1:14:381 looked like enough as Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean both struggled to eclipse it. But Schumacher, one of the last men over the line, slapped in a 1:14.301 to take his 69th and final pole position of a glittering career. Post-qualifying, in the knowledge that he would start sixth, the then 43-year-old was delighted with the result.

“It is simply a wonderful feeling to set pole after such a long time, and particularly here in Monaco. Okay, it has taken a little bit longer than I might have wanted in the second chapter of my career, but that makes it even sweeter. It’s just beautiful.”

After contact with the pinballing Grosjean at the start, Schumacher remained solidly in the top eight through the Grand Prix until his retirement from a fuel pressure issue with fifteen laps remaining. He would stand on the podium once more before retirement at the end of the season with a third place at a chaotic European Grand Prix in Valencia.

Mercedes Week – The quiz

How good do you know Mercedes F1 history? Check it out and share with us your result!

Welcome to your Mercedes Week Quiz

How many drivers have became the world champion in Mercedes colours?

Since what year is Toto Wolf the head of motorsport for Mercedes Benz?

In which year did Mercedes manage 11 one-two finishes?

In 2009 Mercedes purchased a team, which team was it?

In what season did Mercedes return to F1?

During which season & at what race did Mercedes take their first ever win?

What is popular nickname for the Mercedes F1 cars?

In what race did Michael Schumacher take the last pole position of his career?

In 1994 Mercedes came back to F1 as an engine manufacturer. What team did Mercedes supply?

After what accident did the team withdraw from the sport?

 

Sebastian Vettel Verdict – FIA Right Not to Undermine Their Stewards

Happy Birthday, Sebastian Vettel.


It certainly will be one for him to celebrate, as on his 30th anniversary he avoided being hit with more sporting penalties following his rash clash with title rival Lewis Hamilton at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Vettel was angered by what he saw to be a brake-test on lap 19 at the end of a Safety Car period, and ploughed into Hamilton.

While gesticulating wildly, he then ploughed into the side of his rival and sparked a mass debate over whether he is in fact mad, bad and dangerous to know.

For this, he received a 10-second stop/go penalty, costing him 30 seconds and almost certainly the race victory.

The FIA has noted Vettel’s sincerest apologies and his commitment to devoting time to educational courses over the next 12 months.

They have also warned that a repeat of this behaviour would immediately herald another tribunal, and most likely worse consequences.

In not punishing Vettel any further they have avoided turning themselves into a laughing stock across the wider motorsport world.

It would have sent a bad message out to the stewards to overrule them on something not as cut and dried as many would have you believe.

The debate about whether they awarded the right penalty will no doubt rage on through to this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.

No doubt partisans on both sides will claim it either to be the biggest injustice of human kind or that in fact it is a victory for the golden old days where “men were men”.

The issue of whether the stewards got the decision right or wrong is not easy to resolve.

The incident does set a bad example to younger drivers, but the fallout following the handbags should act as enough of a pointer to show that a driver must always stay in control.

While mindless and daft, it is difficult to believe Vettel would deliberately risk damaging his car and putting himself out of the race, even at 30mph. This was pointed out by of all people Mercedes chief Toto Wolff.

Hamilton was right to be aggrieved, angry and upset at the outcome of the race and Vettel’s impromptu dodgems ride.

However, much of that stemmed mostly from his own dramas and had he not had to make an unscheduled pit-stop to replace a broken headrest, he’d have walked home.

It would have been wrong to punish Vettel based on others’, including Hamilton’s, misfortune.

Far more dangerous and indeed pivotal acts have been committed in the heat of F1 battle.

Michael Schumacher in 1994 cutting across Damon Hill’s Williams to after earlier contact with the wall at the title-deciding Australian Grand Prix to ensure that if he couldn’t finish, neither would Hill.

And then we have the infamous first corner of the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix, where Ayrton Senna made sure that Alain Prost didn’t the corner ahead of his McLaren – whatever the cost.

Yes, Vettel’s silliness was under controlled conditions but that just adds to the stupidity of the incident, not the danger.

The FIA have rightly avoided changing the result of the football match because the referee awarded a free-kick instead of a penalty.

With the fall-out from this decision, the Austrian Grand Prix now has more needle than it already had.

Now, let’s get on with racing and watch this intriguing, absorbing title fight play out over the next twenty weeks.

Maybe we’ll all then have our (birthday) cake and eat it.

Mercedes in 2017: Fourth time unlucky?

2017 marks the first year of Formula 1’s hybrid era where Mercedes have not had an advantage that sets them ahead of the rest of the field by a country field. After achieving three consecutive constructor’s championships, might Mercedes and their dominant winning ways finally be coming to an end?

Though we are only eight races into the 2017 season, with another twelve races yet to be contested, it is clear that it is far from the same old story for the German team. By this point last year, Mercedes had won all but one of the races – their one loss an anomaly after the collision between Rosberg and Hamilton in Barcelona – and would go on to win nineteen out of the twenty-one races. It is already impossible for them to hold onto such an impressive win percentage.

Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia.
BY COURTESY OF PIRELLI

It was in Melbourne at the season opener that we saw the first glimpses that Mercedes might have lost their grip on the dominance that they have enjoyed for the past three years. Though Ferrari had outperformed them in terms of ultimate pace in testing, it is always impossible to say whether form will carry over from Spain to Australia. Though Mercedes won pole position Down Under, clearly hanging onto their superiority in putting together a blindingly fast qualifying lap. It was in race pace that they found Ferrari could match them.

Ultimately, it was strategy, and Vettel’s use of the undercut that won the race for them, as well as Hamilton struggles in passing Verstappen, despite his higher speed. This was the first sign that a disadvantage of the new Mercedes package might be its struggles to run in dirty air.

China saw Mercedes back on top, with a grand slam for Hamilton, but Bottas finished a little way down the order in sixth. It was enough for Mercedes to take the lead in the constructor’s championship by a single point. Again there was no denying that the Mercedes engine is as impressive as it has been since the hybrid era began, but the question still remained of whether or not that would be enough to carry them to a fourth consecutive title. Had they got a handle on all aspects of the new regulations; which was always going to be the biggest challenge for them in 2017.

Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia.
BY COURTESY OF PIRELLI

The pendulum swung away from them in Bahrain, and it seemed as though the pattern for the season was set. But it was in Russia, where Valtteri Bottas would win – the first of his career – where it became apparent that Mercedes struggle to get the new Pirelli tyres within the correct operating window. Unfortunately for them, this is something Ferrari have a much better time dealing with.

This problem didn’t seem to hinder them in Spain where Mercedes managed to win with Hamilton thanks to smart tyre strategy, but it returned to haunt them in Monaco. Both drivers, but especially Hamilton, struggled for grip and getting their tyres up to temperature.

Whether it is a setup issue that the team have yet to get on top of, or the design of the car which hinders them from extracting the maximum from the new Pirelli tyres, only time will tell. While it is something the whole grid seems to have trouble with, the fact that it affects Mercedes’ closest rivals Ferrari far less will undoubtedly prove to be crucial.

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada.
BY COURTESY OF PIRELLI

Hamilton’s sixty-fifth career pole in Canada left no doubt that Mercedes have the one lap advantage over the rest of the field, especially at circuits, such as the one on the Île Notre-Dame, which suit the Silver Arrows. But with a one-two for Mercedes followed by a distant Ricciardo in third, after problems for Ferrari, it was one race where they weren’t really under pressure. But it does show that they know how to capitalise on the mistakes of their rivals, and gain the most from such moments.

In the grand scheme of things, Azerbaijan was an outlier for all the teams in terms of gauging their performances. It was always going to be a track that suited the Mercedes engine, and the huge margin Hamilton and Bottas had in qualifying proved just that. But with such a disrupted race, it is impossible to say whether, in normal circumstances, their race pace would have held up.

Bottas’ impressive drive from the back of the grid to second place does suggest that Mercedes might have found a way around their troubles of driving in traffic. Especially compared to the first race of the season in Australia where Hamilton had great difficulty overtaking Verstappen in a much less powerful car.

Where the German team seems to be lacking is in their understanding of these new specification Pirelli tyres, and how their cars run in dirty air. But all things considered, these do not detract from the face that Mercedes have once again produced a package which is more than capable of winning the world championship. The only difference this year is that they are not the only team to have done so.

With Ferrari closer to them than they ever have been before in the hybrid era, it is the little things that matter most. A small mistake during a pit stop, a single lock up in qualifying, a clumsy start; these things are now the difference between winning races .And as the season wears on, these things will become the difference between losing and winning the all important constructors and drivers’ championships.

Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan.
BY COURTESY OF PIRELLI

In the past three years, Mercedes, thanks to their unbeatable machinery, rarely faced such pressure from their fellow competitors. It is entirely possible that they made these small errors but they went unnoticed because of the lack of impact on the bigger picture. Dealing with an inter-team battle is wholly different to an intra-team rivalry.

So far in 2017 Mercedes have dealt with this pressure with composure expected of world champions, but it hasn’t been entirely smooth running – as Sebastian Vettel’s lead in the drivers’ standings proves. If they are to make it to four in a row, they will need technical supremacy, first-rate performances from their drivers, and perhaps just a little bit of good fortune.