Ferrari has beaten everyone to the punch by not only confirming its 2016 driver line-up before its home Grand Prix, but by announcing that it has re-signed the underperforming Kimi Räikkönen for another season as Sebastian Vettel’s teammate.
A number of drivers, most notably Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, were linked to the second Ferrari seat, but instead the Finn will stay on.
“To be able to stay another year at Ferrari means that the dream goes on,” he said of his re-signing.
“The Scuderia is my family, as I always said, it’s here I want to end my career. I am more committed than ever and I want to say thank you to the people who gave me this chance. Also, a big thank you goes to all my Ferrari fans, for their continuous support.”
“We believe that extending Kimi’s contract into the next season will provide further stability to the team,” Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene added.
“This has been our guideline, also considering the very good relationship between Kimi and Seb. On our side, this shows our great confidence in him, and I expect this confidence to be well rewarded.”
It is Räikkönen’s second stint at Ferrari, with whom he won his sole Drivers’ Championship crown in 2007 before being sacked just two years later, and it’s been an underwhelming chapter to say the least.
Having been roundly trounced by Fernando Alonso in 2014, the 35-year-old has also been shaded this season by Vettel, thanks to a combination of poor qualifying performances and a number of driving errors.
He currently lies fifth in the Drivers’ Championship standings with a solitary podium finish, 84 points behind his Vettel, who has notched up two race wins and a further five podium finishes to-date.
Räikkönen remains a popular, if mercurial, figure in the F1 paddock and his general indifference to towing the corporate line makes his a curiously marketable figure in a sport that is often bereft of genuine personalities in the paddock.
That being said, his performances are hardly giving Ferrari a proper chance to secure another Consctructors’ Championship title, and one would assume that Ferrari would have significantly renegotiated his retainer in the new contract negotiations.
Räikkönen was considered to be the chief player in the 2016 driver marketing, but his re-signing will almost certainly trigger a further sequence of driver announcements and contract renewals elsewhere in the paddock.
Staying on at Ferrari has now sealed off a move by other frontline drivers. Bottas is now expected to be confirmed with Williams for 2016 – where he still has another year to run on his contract – and that will leave the Grove team to decide on whether to retain Felipe Massa beyond the end of the year.
The Brazilian’s contract expires at the end of the current season and it is believed that the option on renewing his contract must be taken up before September; given he has largely matched his younger teammate’s performance and shows plenty of hunger to remain on the grid, it would seem that Williams won’t have a great reason to change its line-up.
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