Even after his hard-fought second place finish at the recent Italian Grand Prix, the announcement that Kimi Raikkonen will depart Ferrari at the end of the year and be replaced by youngster Charles Leclerc will come as little surprise to Formula 1 fans. We love him, the Iceman, but – occasional flashes of brilliance aside – he’s been consistently overshadowed by teammate Sebastian Vettel. The stats speak for themselves: Seb’s racked up five wins this year; 2007 champion Kimi hasn’t won a race since the Australian GP of 2013.
What may come as a surprise, however, is news that the 38-year-old Finn will not retire from the sport but take Leclerc’s place at Sauber in a two-year contract. You can see the thinking behind Maranello’s decision to take Leclerc – they want a driver that can consistently fight for wins against Mercedes, and this 20-year-old has the 2016 GP3 title and last year’s Formula 2 championship on his CV. But Kimi’s move back to Sauber may seem like an odd one.
Why not just retire? Few would deny that this is the Iceman - a racer so cool that he has built up a following for his 'no shiz' personality as much as his results - now entering the pipe and slippers stage of his F1 career. Yet Kimi might not be all done just yet because as you’ll remember, he has a record of performing especially well in less than likely scenarios.
Think back to his two-year stint at Lotus in 2012 and 2013, for example, when he grabbed two wins and, in 2012, finished third in the championship standings. And, more fittingly, remember his maiden season (2001) at Sauber when he punched well above the weight of his squad to finish fourth twice and fifth, beating his more experienced teammate Nick Heidfeld and putting former champions to shame along the way. See the video below for a spectacular overtake on Jacques Villeneuve as evidence (headphones recommended because V10 engines and Murray Walker commentary). These performances set Kimi on a path that saw him move to and become the top driver at McLaren and then ultimately win his 2007 title with Ferrari.
If Kimi can recapture that magic in his new move, we might be about to witness the Iceman step out of the shadow of Vettel and rise to the challenge of bringing an old team forward. In this scenario, we’d hedge that Kimi knows what he’s doing.
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