Debate: Is Kimi’s Contract Extension Logical or Unambitious?

The news that Kimi Raikkonen will drive for Ferrari in 2018 has polarised fans. Some have voiced concerns over the Iceman condemning himself to another season playing second-fiddle, given the team’sĀ undeniable preference for Sebastian Vettel. Others see it as a logical move that assures Ferrari won’t drop any inter-team points, and having a clear 1-2 simplifies the process.

Raikkonen hasn’t had the best season so far, and had a poor start. The best he could manage in the opening three races were two fourth place finishes whilst his teammate outscored the field and clocked two early victories in Australia and Bahrain. But it has been a different picture altogether in the most recent races. He was unlucky to lose second place at the British Grand Prix with a late tyre failure and crossed the line in third. He went one better at the Hungaroring, securing pole and then finishing second behind his teammate.

Despite some poor results, the worst weekend for the Iceman was Monaco. He was clearly perplexed on the podium having been denied to opportunity to challenge Vettel for the win. He looked to be the quicker Ferrari driver that weekend, but preferences within the team seem to push an ultra-conservative agenda when it’s Vettel out in front.

This begs the question, why would Raikkonen sign an extension from Ferrari knowing that he will be condemned to play the wingman? It makes sense from a Ferrari perspective as it sets a clear precedent going forward, but you have to question the ambitions of the driver, unless he has been assured that he can fight Vettel fairly in the future, despite this obviously not being the current agenda.

You look across to Mercedes and it’s a different game altogether. Even though they have a proven Championship winner in Lewis Hamilton, they do implement an extremely fair policy on their driver line-up. The switch back in Hungary certifies this, management and the drivers should both be proud of how they conducted themselves. Not only Hamilton’s decision to give the place back at the end, but Bottas’ obedience and trust to move aside and let his teammate have a go in the first place.

Their points tally wasn’t altered as a result of the decision, but it allowed Hamilton, who had more pace at that point in the race, to have a go at the Ferraris ahead. Could you imagine Vettel moving aside for Raikkonen in a similar situation? Flip the Ferrari’s over in that scenario, and it’s a sad fact that you know Kimi wouldn’t be afforded the luxury to move aside himself, he would be ordered to.

Raikkonen definitely hasn’t lost his pace, but his results have been hampered this season out of favouritism. It’s common knowledge that the team have been built around Sebastian, and it suits him to have Raikkonen across the garage.Ā If Ferrari had taken a bit of a risk and promoted the protege Charles Leclerc, and he started to put pressure on Vettel, can you imagine a young, hungry charger putting himself out of contention for the benefit of his teammate?

The attitude towards Raikkonen within the team doesn’t seem to be great. When Ferrari President Sergio Marchionne came out and called him a “laggard”, it didn’t just seem like an attempt at populism from a man who seems to gush at any opportunity to display power by criticising his own men and women and feeding them to the press, but also ignored the set-up at Ferrari, where it sometimes seems to suit them to have a strategic laggard to benefit the other driver.

If Ferrari were a team that let their drivers race and dropped the Vettel-centric conservatism, Kimi Raikkonen would have more points on the board and would avoid some of the scapegoating. Yes, he has been inconsistent at a few races, but at others, he has been the quickest driver on-track. It is logical for the time being to deploy him as a wingman, given the tightness of Vettel and Hamilton’s battle for the title, but in 2018, when the slate is clean, it would at least be refreshing to see the team publicly announce that both drivers can have a go.