Things change fast in F1, as might seem befitting. Kimi Raikkonen is merely the latest to be reminded as much. And rather brusquely.
Go back only two-and-a bit months and he had just claimed second place in the Bahrain Grand Prix after a drive full of fingertip racing car command and robust aggression. The air was rich of him finally rediscovering his ‘mojo’ after his egregious 2014 return season at Ferrari, seemingly a function of the Italian car now handling to his taste.
Yet now Kimi, in terms of his future employment prospects, seems not much further forward than he was in that annus horribilis. There is little secret that Ferrari is scanning alternatives for his seat for 2016.
Of course Kimi can still make a strong case for retention. With the above in mind he hardly can have become a bad driver within this brief period. Further he gets on peaceably with Sebastian Vettel, doesn’t rock the boat in the increasingly Seb-centric unit and brings home big points consistently. The sort of talented yet harmonious partnership that many teams yearn for. It shouldn’t be tossed away lightly.
But doubts remain. Qualifying remains a weakness by his own admission which often compromises his race results, and with spectacular ill-timing he’s squeezed race day losses of control on acceleration into his last two outings. Boss Maurizio Arrivabene has had a lot to say about his charge in public going back to before the Bahrain round, and while the synopsis is of someone giving Kimi chances to prove himself it also is of one not entirely sold.
The Finn has a couple of more overarching problems. One is money. Kimi earns a lot for it; his management’s deals the stuff of legend. It seems little wonder the speculation was that one of the Italian team’s early moves was to try to beat his retainer down.
Alternatives, and Cheaper Ones
The other problem, related to the first, is that there are a few credible alternative candidates. Valtteri Bottas appeared for a time top of the list; Arrivabene has admitted contact and Bild reported on a bid to buy him out of his contract though more recent reports elsewhere suggest Ferrari’s interest has tailed off. The same reports have now Daniel Ricciardo as the favoured choice and Christian Horner has also confirmed Ferrari interest in him, at least in the past. Some observers reckon Romain Grosjean could do a turn. Then there is Nico Hulkenberg, who Ferrari nearly signed once before (ironically enough Kimi got the gig instead) and who with the timing that Raikkonen lately lacks has just achieved rock star status with his Le Mans win. So plenty are cheaper, and would most probably do at least as good a job. The logic seems irrefutable.
Arrivabene has said recently that it’s “too early” to make decisions, but time remains critical. Ferrari historically has tended to make its driver announcements in Monza in early September and if this is the case then Kimi is running out of chances to sway things with his driving. After this weekend’s British Grand Prix there are a grand total of two races prior to the Italian weekend, one of which is just a fortnight beforehand.
But perhaps there is another problem that over-arches even the rest. Raikkonen to Ferrari second time around always had a curious air, and owed a lot to the Scuderia getting the fear mid-2013 that Fernando Alonso was going to walk and the squad therefore feeling that it needed to cover itself. Now Vettel is ensconced for the long term. With this, has Kimi simply outlived his usefulness?