Kimi Räikkönen will be driving for Ferrari in 2014 alongside Fernando Alonso. The Finn will replace loyal Ferrari servant Felipe Massa, who has been associated with the Scuderia in one way or another for over ten years.
For Räikkönen, it is an unlikely comeback. He left Ferrari at the end of the 2009 in somewhat bitter circumstances. He had been due to race for Ferrari for 2010 as well. But following a couple of off-colour seasons, combined with the Finn’s notorious dislike of media events, Luca di Montezemolo “agreed” with Räikkönen that it would be best for all concerned if he didn’t race in 2009.
Räikkönen was paid handsomely to go home and twiddle his thumbs, just as long as he didn’t race for another F1 team.
That Luca di Montezemolo should be prepared to patch up the relationship is a measure of just how impressive Räikkönen’s F1 comeback has been.
More interesting still is the fact that this decision marks a radical change in policy for Ferrari. Ever since 1996, Ferrari have had a clear number one and a clear number two driver. (2008, when Felipe Massa battled for the World Championship, is arguably an exception — but only by accident, not design.)
This philosophy has almost defined Ferrari as a team, particularly in the Michael Schumacher era. But it has continued to be important in the Fernando Alonso era. No F1 fan needs to be told about the significance of the sentence, “Fernando is faster than you.”
Even in last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, Felipe Massa was playing a clear supporting role for Fernando Alonso, even if it did not always go to plan. Massa’s job is clearly to help Alonso win the championship.
You do not hire a driver of Kimi Räikkönen’s calibre to play that sort of role. Nor would a driver like Räikkönen take it. Räikkönen will be racing for Ferrari to win, whether Alonso likes it or not.
This is a fascinating turn of events. There can be no doubt that Alonso’s preference will have been for Massa to be retained as his team mate. We know from Fernando Alonso’s history that he does not like to be beaten by his team mate. Even on the odd occasion that Giancarlo Fisichella was beating him in the Renault in 2005, it sometimes affected his concentration.
Early on in his career, it was apparent that dealing with a competitive team mate was one of Alonso’s main weaknesses. We saw this again in 2007 when Lewis Hamilton unexpectedly gave him a run for his money.
We saw signs of this sort of panic in qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix last weekend. When the attempt to catch a slipstream from Felipe Massa began to go awry, he was quick to go onto the radio — which he knows may be broadcast to the world — to describe his team either as “idiots” or “geniuses” in a sarcastic manner. He then failed to beat Massa’s qualifying time.
This comes on top of what has already been a difficult season for Fernando Alonso. Uncharacteristically, he has been taking risks that have not paid off. He failed to pit for a new front wing in Malaysia, ending his race at the next corner. In Bahrain he used his DRS when he knew it was faulty, costing him far more time than was necessary.
Risk taking does not come in Alonso’s nature, which makes the trend all the more concerning. It smacks of desperation; a failed attempt to try out a different tactic after so many years without a title.
His wheel-to-wheel combat has not always been up to scratch this season either. At Monaco in particular, a circuit that is difficult to overtake on, he seemed to make it easy for his opponents and he dropped down the field.
A very public bust-up with Ferrari has served to underline these difficulties. The Spaniard is becoming quick to blame Ferrari for the problems he faces. Even if some of the blame does lie with the team, it is not wise to speak out against them, particularly in public.
Michael Schumacher never criticised Ferrari. He was a team player in the true sense. In so many ways, Schumacher was one of the most selfish drivers in history — but not in this sense. Schumacher and Ferrari won and lost as a team. If there was cause to blame Ferrari for an issue, Schumacher would never do so in public.
Ferrari is a proud team. This is a team that sacked Alain Prost — four time World Champion Alain Prost — for pointing out that their car was not as good as its competitors, a fact that was evident for all to see.
Fernando Alonso is not above this law, no matter how good a driver he is. It appears as though Alonso’s public comments have become increasingly irritating to the Ferrari team.
The Spaniard appears to be at a crisis point in his career. His massive talent is clear for all to see, and his championships in 2005 and 2006 were richly deserved. Back then, I don’t think anyone would have guessed that by 2013 he would still only have two titles to his name. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel, a driver six years younger than Alonso, is set to have double his tally.
Even when the titles were not coming his way, Alonso was able to bask in his reputation as the best driver, who just happens to be in a bad car. There is only so long people can continue to believe that. And now, for the first time since 2007, his driving skill is about to be put to the test against a seriously strong team mate.
By hiring Kimi Räikkönen, Ferrari seem to be sending Fernando Alonso a clear message. “It can’t all be your way. No more finger-pointing. We won’t select our second driver based on what is best for you. If you’re as good as you say you are, you will beat a competitive team mate.”
Given Fernando Alonso’s character, it almost seems like Ferrari are provoking him. We know he does not like being beaten by his team mate. And he certainly will not like to have his wishes ignored and his number one status removed.
It will be fascinating to see how Alonso reacts.