Kimi Raikkonen – Is there anything left in the tank?
By Drew F. October 25 2019
Kimi Raikkonen and Charles Leclerc swapped teams during the Formula One offseason with expectations high for both drivers in 2019. Unfortunately for Raikkonen, his performances for Alfa Romeo Racing haven’t been up to the same high standards as Leclerc’s driving at Ferrari. While the Ferrari man is in third place in Formula One and showing glimpses of being a future world champion, Raikkonen resembles a driver past his prime that is hanging on with a group of young guns.
Twelve years ago, the Finnish driver won his first and, so far, only Formula One World Championship with Ferrari. Now 40, Raikkonen is still gunning for some sort of glory. That desire is what continues to drive him to race despite being the motorsport’s oldest competitor.
With a seat at Alpha Romeo, a podium position isn’t a practical expectation. Three times Raikkonen has finished seventh, which marks his best performance this term. Eight races have ended with Raikkonen getting points, yet since finishing seventh in Hungary, he has struggled and finished outside of the top 10 in five straight races.
According to former Formula One driver Mika Salo, a slump at the end of the season for a smaller team isn’t surprising. The lack of power and performance from the Alfa Romeo car is part of the reason for the disappointing performances. Alfa Romeo are neither chasing a Drivers’ Championship nor a Constructors’ championship; therefore, a lack of motivation may also be filtering through the team.
Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo teammate Antonio Giovinazzi is 18th in the Formula One standings with a mere four points. To say Raikkonen isn’t pulling his weight at Alfa Romeo would be a mistake. He is actually pulling the team along with 35 points from 17 races. It is a decent haul and shows he can drive a lesser car and excel in spite of age.
Alfa Romeo are not about to get rid of Raikkonen on the grid. He offers name value and brings in sponsorship backers to the team. Those two factors alone make him worth more to Alfa Romeo than an up and coming driver. While it would be nice to see an exciting younger driver replace Raikkonen and be given a shot by Alfa Romeo, the fact is it won’t happen for the 2020 season.
Raikkonen is confirmed to be an Alfa Romeo driver next term but there are still some questions about who he’ll be partnered with. Formula One’s driver market has seen Nico Hulkenberg lose his place at Renault although results indicate he and teammate Daniel Ricciardo are rather even. Hulkenberg is currently without a job in Formula One though there is a chance he could join Raikkonen in the unlikely event that Giovinazzi is let go by Alfa Romeo. Hulkenberg would be a step up for the team but 25-year-old Giovinazzi could be kept on as a promising youngster.
Hulkenberg is eight years younger than Raikkonen and has plenty of time left in the motorsport though Raikkonen brings a lot to the table with experience and financial backing. Hulkenberg’s inability to gain a seat for 2020 could see a promising driver lose out on the season given the fact that it is unlikely Hulkenberg will end up at Alfa Romeo and as there aren’t many more options left for him.
Raikkonen’s desire to continue driving in Formula One takes away the chance for Hulkenberg or another young driver to have a place on the grid. Still, you cannot blame Raikkonen nor Alfa Romeo for retaining him. Raikkonen is only four points off of Hulkenberg and 11 behind Ricciardo in the Formula One table.
Raikkonen is the oldest driver in Formula One by some way while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton is the second oldest at 34. While those two represent the old men of Formula One in 2019, this season has seen the youngest grid in the motorsport’s history.
It is easy to say that Raikkonen should hang up his helmet and move on to greener pastures as it would be ideal to see more young drivers with a point to prove get a chance on the grid rather than an ex-champion continuing on past his prime. However, there are more forces at play keeping Raikkonen on the grid other than just performance; and to be honest, his driving hasn’t been too bad. The gas tank isn’t empty yet.
Hulkenberg is the biggest loser of the driver market and options elsewhere may need to be discovered. Unfortunately, with teams not needing drivers or even reserve wheelmen, Hulkenberg may need to step out of Formula One in 2020.