Charles Leclerc’s move to Ferrari had long been expected, while Kimi Raikkonen’s switch to Sauber for the next two seasons was a little more of a shock. We take a look at some of the statistics and stories surrounding the moves of the two drivers, as well as the repercussions for the rest of the grid.
Fans seemed split on Ferrari’s decision of whether to keep Kimi Raikkonen at the team for 2019 or to hire Charles Leclerc for the new campaign. Many had expected Raikkonen’s time in Formula One to be over if he left Ferrari, so perhaps a happy medium has been reached by Ferrari employing new blood and Raikkonen remaining in the sport at a team which is clearly on a resurgence.
Raikkonen’s move to Sauber sees him return to the team with which he made his Formula One début in 2001. The Finn, who recently reached the milestone of 100 podium finishes, is clearly a helpful asset, especially to a team such as Sauber. Fred Vasseur explains:
“Signing Kimi Räikkönen as our driver represents an important pillar of our project, and brings us closer to our target of making significant progress as a team in the near future. Kimi’s undoubted talent and immense experience in Formula One will not only contribute to the development of our car, but will also accelerate the growth and development of our team as a whole. Together, we will start the 2019 season with a strong foundation, driven by the determination to fight for results that count.”
How he’ll compare to Marcus Ericsson, if the Swede stays for a fifth season with the team, will be insightful not only to Ericsson’s performance comparative to his former team-mates but also to Raikkonen’s performance comparative to Vettel’s.
A stark contrast in experience
By the end of the season, Kimi Raikkonen will become the driver with the second-most starts for the same team, having entered 152 Grands Prix with Ferrari. Michael Schumacher is the only driver who has started more races for a team, with 180 entries for the Scuderia.
By joining Sauber for the next two seasons, Raikkonen ensures he will become the most experienced driver ever in Formula One, knocking Rubens Barrichello from the top spot. Raikkonen will beat Barrichello’s number of race starts at the tenth round of the 2020 season, and will beat the Brazilian’s tally of 326 starts at the thirteenth round. With his entries reaching 294 at the end of the year, he heads in to 2019 as the current driver with the most, with 65 more entries than Lewis Hamilton.
In contrast, Charles Leclerc heads in to 2019 as the joint-second least experienced driver on the grid, with 21 starts along with Sergey Sirotkin. Only McLaren newbie Lando Norris will have had less starts than Leclerc as he lines up for his maiden race in Australia.
Leclerc will become the second-least experienced driver to join Ferrari in the last thirty years and the youngest driver to race for the team since Ricardo Rodriguez in 1961. When Jean Alesi joined Ferrari for the 1991 season, he had 23 Grand Prix starts – two more than Leclerc will have at Albert Park next season, assuming Leclerc starts all of the remaining races this year. The only driver with less experience to join Ferrari since then was Gianni Morbidelli, who had eighteen race starts ahead of his one-off appearance for the team at the 1991 Australian Grand Prix. It turned out to be quite the eventful weekend for the Italian driver, who scored his first half-point in Formula One in the treacherous conditions of the infamous fourteen-lap race.
Even before Leclerc arrived in Formula One, it seemed inevitable that he would eventually end up at the legendary Italian team. His turnaround from GP3 champion in 2016 to F2 champion in 2017, Sauber driver in 2018 and Ferrari driver in 2019 has been quick, but it’s not a move which seems rushed. The Monegasque driver seems to have the maturity to be trusted with a top-tier team, with Ferrari’s faith in a driver who has been on their books since 2016 clearly backing this up.
Sebastian Vettel had previously said there was no need to ‘rush’ Leclerc’s promotion to the top team, stating on numerous occasions that he’d prefer Raikkonen to stay as his team-mate for another season. Whether Leclerc’s arrival at the team for 2019 will unsettle the German remains to be seen, though we’re bound to get an idea of how the two new team-mates compare by the end of qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix. It’s certainly one of the most exciting pairings on the grid next year.
With any driver moves, there’s always bound to be some drivers losing out. In this case, another Sauber-shaped door closes for Stoffel Vandoorne and Esteban Ocon. It’s disheartening to see the 2015 GP2 and GP3 champions without many options for next season while their 2016 counterparts both make steps up to top-tier teams. Meanwhile, Ferrari junior Antonio Giovinazzi had been in line for a 2019 Sauber seat, with the presumption that Raikkonen would leave the sport after leaving Ferrari. It now looks like the Italian driver will spend another season on the sidelines.
A thought for 2019…
There have been 29 seasons of F1 where more than one Ferrari driver has scored a win, including 1953 and 1956 where three Ferrari drivers took victories. 2008 was the last time where both Ferrari drivers took victories in the same season, with Felipe Massa taking six wins and Kimi Raikkonen taking two. The question is, will that change in 2019? Will Charles Leclerc become the sport’s third-youngest Grand Prix winner in 2019?
Roll on next season!