Scuderia Ferrari has announced Kimi Räikkönen’s departure at the end of the current Formula 1 season, paving the way for its protégé Charles Leclerc to join its line-up in 2019.
The announcement comes in the wake of Ferrari’s appointment of Louis Camilleri as its new CEO – a known supporter of Räikkönen – who was promoted to the role in the wake of the death of former CEO Sergio Marchionne, who was agitating for the team to sign a new rising star in Leclerc.
Despite Räikkönen’s excellent performance at the team’s home Grand Prix at Monza, where the Finn claimed a brilliant pole position and drove to second place behind race-winner Lewis Hamilton, Ferrari opted to honour Marchionne’s original wishes.
“During these years, Kimi’s contribution to the team, both as a driver and on account of his human qualities, has been fundamental,” said team boss Maurizio Arrivabene in a Ferrari media release.
“He played a decisive role in the team’s growth and was, at the same time, always a great team player.
“As a world champion for Scuderia Ferrari, he will always be part of the team’s history and family. We thank Kimi for all of this and wish him and his family a prosperous future.”
It is not known from this announcement whether Räikkönen will end his F1 career for good or undertake a straight swap with Leclerc and return to Sauber, with whom he drove in his rookie season in 2001.
This is Räikkönen’s second stint with Ferrari, following a three-year period with the team between 2007 and 2009 where he peaked with the Drivers’ Championship title in his first year with the Maranello team. Prior to that he made his name with an outstanding rookie season with Sauber in 2001 before being signed on a long-term deal by McLaren as the replacement for his compatriot Mika Häkkinen.
He won his first Grand Prix in 2003 among a total of nine victories with the Woking outfit, twice finishing runner-up in the Drivers’ Championship in 2003 and 2005 before moving on to Ferrari in 2007.
Despite winning the 2007 World Championship by just one point in a tense scrap with the McLaren pairing of Fernando Alonso and newcomer Lewis Hamilton, his form faded and he was dropped at the end of 2009 in place of the incoming Alonso.
Stints in the World Rally Championship and NASCAR’s Truck and Nationwide series’ followed in 2010-11 before he earned a call-up to the Lotus F1 Team in 2012. Two further race wins with the team indicated a return to form and Ferrari re-signed him for 2014. He has failed to add to his tally of 20 Grand Prix victories and for years has been the subject of equal measures of speculation and criticism over his ongoing future. His performances this year, which see him lie third in the Drivers’ Championship standings, have earned considerable praise.
Räikkönen will leave Ferrari as one of its most successful and long-serving drivers, second only to Michael Schumacher’s tally of 179 Grand Prix starts with the team.
Ferrari is expected to announce Leclerc’s appointment shortly, with the Monégasque driver enjoying an impressive rookie season with Sauber with whom he lies 15th in the Drivers’ Championship standings with a best result of sixth at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The 20-year-old is considered a future F1 World Champion, having won the feeder GP3 Series and Formula 2 Championship titles in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
Images via Scuderia Ferrari