Who will drive for Ferrari next?

Posted on | Author Duncan Stephen

Kimi Raikkonen\'s Ferrari contract runs out in 2009 - will he stay?
Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari contract runs out in 2009 - will he stay?

Doctorvee writes the F1 blog Vee8, helps moderate the F1 Fanatic Live Blogs and has written many comment for F1 Fanatic. In this guest article he asks whether Ferrari are happy with their current drivers – and who might replace them.

I just can’t get over the way this championship has unfolded.

Maybe I was mollycoddled in my formative F1-viewing years. I started watching Formula 1 in the mid-1990s. In those days, Williams were flawless and untouchable. In 1996 they won the constructors championship by a simply unreal margin of 105 points. Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve won drivers championships in a car which a monkey could have won in.

Then came a driving master class from Mika H??kkinen. All the while a certain Michael Schumacher was setting new standards for F1 drivers to reach. Shortly afterwards came a period of true dominance for the German who won five drivers championships in a row. Even when Schumacher was on the wane, I had the pleasure to watch a new youngster, Fernando Alonso, reach the top of his game.

Compared to that period which lasted just over a decade, this season just seems so amateurish. Each of the drivers battling for the championship (with the possible exception of Robert Kubica, who isn’t really in contention anyway) almost seems dead set on throwing it away.

Well, that is perhaps a bit harsh, but the point is that whoever wins the championship this year probably can’t look back on their season and feel that they maximised their potential. The leader currently has 70 points, which isn’t a great deal of points for this stage of the season.

Felipe Massa – a surprise contender

Felipe Massa has moved into second in the championship following his Valencia win
Felipe Massa has moved into second in the championship following his Valencia win

Lewis Hamilton is probably the one person who can feel most proud about his performance. He did have an awful moment in Canada which will in many ways overshadow this year. But apart from his normal tyre management issues, Hamilton has not disgraced himself at all. He has even thrown in a couple of really stonking performances at Silverstone and Hockenheim.

It is the Ferrari drivers that I really struggle to get a grasp on. It seems pretty clear that the Ferrari is the best car on the grid. Certainly, that has been the case for most of this season. Yet Ferrari’s drivers trail in the championship and the pair take it in turns to hold second place. If Ferrari have the best car on the grid, then it must be that their drivers are seriously letting them down.

Many people are now calling on the red team to throw their weight behind Felipe Massa in the Drivers Championship. This can’t have been what the Scuderia had in mind when they hired the partnership of Massa and Kimi R??ikk??nen.

I think most people imagined that Ferrari’s plan would be to focus their attention on the Finn as their replacement for Michael Schumacher. After all, Schumacher was effectively nudged out of Ferrari to make way for R??ikk??nen who was meant to be the next big thing in F1.

Instead, Ferrari find themselves with Felipe Massa spearheading their championship challenge. This surely wasn’t in the script. Although Felipe Massa has had a great deal of mentoring from Michael Schumacher, I doubt Massa was originally intended as a Ferrari number one. When he got the race seat at Ferrari a few years back, many suspected that it was a lot to do with nepotism. Felipe Massa’s manager is Nicolas Todt, son of Jean Todt, who at the time was the team principal at Ferrari.

However, much to the surprise of many, Felipe Massa has become a championship contender. Even though he eventually fell out of the title race in 2007, this was partly due to a bit of bad luck. In 2008 he finds himself expected by the tifosi to take on Hamilton in a two-way fight.

Whatever you think of Massa ?ǣ and I have my own views ?ǣ you have to hand it to him. This erratic Sauber driver has put in some truly Ferrari-grade performances since he joined the squad. His drive in Hungary was astonishing, to name just one.

However, there is no doubt about it that Massa is far from the complete package. A number of spins early in the season raised doubts as to whether he could cope without traction control. He is also known to struggle badly in the wet. He was an embarrassment at Silverstone where he had no fewer than five spins trundling round the back while Hamilton charged to victory by a margin of well over a minute.

What a strange situation for a driver who makes as many errors as this is to be Ferrari’s main title challenger.

Second thoughts about Kimi Raikkonen

Kimi Raikkonen struggled in the rain at Monte-Carlo
Kimi Raikkonen struggled in the rain at Monte-Carlo

So how have Ferrari found themselves in the position where they have to rely on Massa? What has happened to Kimi R??ikk??nen? After a difficult start to the 2007 season, R??ikk??nen produced the goods big style by with an almost flawless second half of the year, and was the deserved winner of the drivers championship.

2008 has not been nearly as successful. The Australian Grand Prix set the scene for an erratic season for R??ikk??nen. The Finn had a couple of strange moments during the Grand Prix where he seemed to completely lose focus. This caused at least two major offs.

Since then we have seen a couple of solid performances from R??ikk??nen. But mostly we have seen more of those lapses on concentration and a great many instances where he seems to have completely lacked the motivation required to become a World Champion. The sad reality is that now the normal position for R??ikk??nen to be in is fifth.

There are numerous theories as to why R??ikk??nen has gone off the boil, but I’m not interested in going into them too deeply just now. The fact is that R??ikk??nen has, for whatever reason, lost his form. Just one or two years ago R??ikk??nen was hailed as among the very greatest. Earlier this year an F1 Racing poll ranked R??ikk??nen as the seventh greatest driver of all time. I suspect if the magazine was to conduct the same poll today R??ikk??nen would tumble a fair few places.

So who is the real Kimi R??ikk??nen? Did we get him wrong? Or is he actually a true great? Ferrari must be asking themselves that. They are reported to be paying R??ikk??nen a salary of $40 million. Massa, meanwhile, is rumoured to be getting paid no more than a quarter of that and is ahead of R??ikk??nen in the championship ?ǣ and you have to say that he does so on merit. The Brazilian has put in some stellar performances while R??ikk??nen has simply looked incapable of this year.

A lot of how we should judge R??ikk??nen will be based upon what Ferrari’s goals were when they signed him. Given his salary and the fact that none other than Herr Schumi was given the heave-ho, you would assume that Ferrari expected R??ikk??nen to at least take on the team leader role, if not to quite the extent that Schumacher did.

Now, hindsight is 20/20 vision. But it is now beginning to look like Ferrari chose the wrong person to replace Schumacher. At the time I could see clearly why Ferrari chose R??ikk??nen. I would have chosen R??ikk??nen. My feeling was simply that he was certainly in the top three drivers in the world, and it was an utter crime that he had never before won the world championship. But let’s not forget some of what we already knew about R??ikk??nen when he signed for Ferrari.

There are some parallels between R??ikk??nen and Schumacher. Neither driver has easy relations with the press. And on their day, both can be stunningly fast and exhilarating to watch. But the differences between the two drivers are much greater.

We can’t expect any driver to be completely flawless, but we knew that R??ikk??nen could be prone to lapses in concentration which sometimes ultimately ended his race. The best example of this is the 2005 European Grand Prix where R??ikk??nen lost concentration while he was a long way in the lead.

He missed his braking point and locked up heavily. This created a huge flat spot on his tyre. This developed and developed and in the closing laps it was plain that R??ikk??nen was touch and go as to whether or not he could finish the race. Then on the final lap ?ǣ bang ?ǣ his suspension could take no more and off R??ikk??nen spun into the barrier.

In addition to his occasional lapses on concentration, R??ikk??nen had a reputation ?ǣ whether it was justified or not ?ǣ for being a car-breaker. During his years at McLaren he suffered from some major reliability problems. For some reason, these reliability problems did not haunt his team mates to quite the same extent. The theory goes that there is something in R??ikk??nen’s driving style damages the car.

There is also the fact that R??ikk??nen likes a drink. You can argue that this is R??ikk??nen’s private life and what he does in his own time is his own business. And I would accept that. However, Ferrari were used to the disciplined approach of Michael Schumacher who brought intense fitness regimes into fashion in F1 in the mid-1990s. Apart from the odd post-championship bender Schumacher was seldom caught drinking anything stronger than an apple juice. R??ikk??nen was once alleged to have been found half-naked in someone’s front garden when he was supposed to be testing for McLaren. The difference in attitude and commitment is plain to see.

Given R??ikk??nen’s woes, it is easy to give more prominence to the negative aspects. As I said, at the time I felt that R??ikk??nen was the right choice for Ferrari to make. But given that McLaren were known to be losing patience with the driver for his various antics, one wonders if Ferrari were really on the hunt for the next Schumacher or if they were just going through the motions with driver selection.

Fernando Alonso – Schumacher’s true heir?

Fernando Alonso beat Schumacher twice - should he join Ferrari next?
Fernando Alonso beat Schumacher twice - should he join Ferrari next?

I am not sure why Fernando Alonso was never pursued by Ferrari in the way that R??ikk??nen clearly was. Alonso seems to share many more of Schumacher’s traits. He helped bring a team struggling in the midfield into regular championship contention.

Alonso was breaking records left, right and centre as he became the youngest driver to get pole position, the youngest driver to win a race, the youngest driver to become world champion and the youngest driver to become a double world champion.

Okay, these records are to do with his age rather than sheer numbers like Schumacher’s. But it demonstrates that Alonso is truly head and shoulders above his peers, just like Schumacher was. Just like Schumacher, Alonso was exciting as a youngster and in his earliest races put his car in places where it shouldn’t have been.

While Alonso’s successful spell has now dried up somewhat, though this is mainly due to circumstances largely beyond his control.

This year Alonso has often been a joy to watch, driving a car that is by all accounts pretty awful. It is no secret that last year Alonso struggled to fit in at McLaren which has a very different culture to the Renault squad. There was also the fact that he was paired up with the hottest rookie since… well, probably since Alonso himself. Only this rookie happened to have an association with McLaren that already lasted ten years. No wonder Alonso was uncomfortable.

It still amazes me that so many people write off Fernando Alonso. You don’t hear him discussed in the same kind of reverential tones as Mika H??kkinen or even Kimi R??ikk??nen. Yet, Fernando Alonso is the only driver who can say he beat Michael Schumacher legitimately twice (H??kkinen, remember, won his second WDC when Michael Schumacher was out for a chunk of the year with a broken leg). It seems sensible to me that, if you’re looking for the next Schumacher, you look to the guy who has been most successful against Schumacher.

Yes, this is with the benefit of hindsight. But Ferrari would have been better off signing Fernando Alonso for the 2007 season. It is strongly rumoured that Ferrari will sign or have already signed Fernando Alonso for 2010.

This is not to say that Alonso is flawless to a Schumacher-type extent. Far from it. Alonso’s main weakness is that he can get rattled if he is beaten by his team mate. This isn’t just a reference to Lewis Hamilton. Alonso lost his head once or twice when Giancarlo Fisichella got ahead of him at Renault, most memorably in Canada in 2005.

However, Alonso’s behaviour doesn’t rule him out of a Ferrari seat. In fact, this tendency is perfect for a Schumacher-style scenario, where the entire team can be built around one person and resources are fully focused on helping that person win.

Other drivers for Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel - Ferrari\'s next German star?
Sebastian Vettel - Ferrari's next German star?

There are two other drivers that Ferrari must surely be keeping their eye on as long term prospects. One is Sebastian Vettel. He too has a couple of similarities to Michael Schumacher. First, he is German. But more importantly, Vettel has awesome pace and several times this season he has put his Toro Rosso car into positions that few other drivers would have been capable of.

The other driver is Robert Kubica. You don’t see this name linked to Ferrari very often, but I think the Italian squad would be mad not to consider him. Kubica has helped pull BMW Sauber up from the midfield and has won a race for them. He has the pace, having shown Nick Heidfeld the way a number of times over the past three years ?ǣ and Heidfeld is no slouch.

There is another element that makes Kubica stand out for me. He clearly has the determination to go the extra step to make himself a race winner. This year Robert Kubica has used an extraordinary diet which helped him lose five kilos in five days. This is a significant factor in his strong form this season.

This wasn’t just a one-off for Kubica. Even at the young age of 14 he took an important step in his career that few others would have had the commitment to pull off. He moved out of Poland, where there was no motor racing structure for him to progress though, and moved to Italy in an attempt to progress through the motor racing ladder. That is the kind of commitment that we came to expect from Schumacher, but few other drivers have ever demonstrated.

So what do you think? Did Ferrari make a mistake by signing R??ikk??nen? Or was it a correct decision at the time that has simply transpired to be wrong? Which drivers should Ferrari be pursuing? Is it even worth trying to find the next Schumacher?

This is a guest article by Doctorvee If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.

50 comments on “Who will drive for Ferrari next?”

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  1. Kimi flat spotted his tire trying to get around Villeneuve.

    The problem for Ferrari is having Massa and Schumacher test the car for their styles instead of Kimi.

  2. Great article, vee!

    Well, you don’t go finding the next Schumacher, you find the driver that fits your goals best. In Ferrari’s case, it’s the driver that will win races and titleS (note the plurals).

    The thing with Kimi is, we knew he was hungry to win last year, and the 2nd half showed as much. What we did not see (and what probably would have been VERY difficult to see back in 2006) was that after winning the title, Kimi… well, lost his mojo. He lost his focus. Why so? It could be because he won the title already, and after all, many think that’s the only reason he has stayed in F1 for so long, having hated F1 politics and PR work.

    This reminds me a bit of Kimi circa-2006 at McLaren, but many would’ve blamed that on the fact that Kimi’s lifestyle doesn’t fit with McLaren’s culture, thus distorting the picture for everyone. In reality, Kimi’s lifestyle doesn’t fit with modern F1 culture (regardless of team). Why? Because to stay at the top of modern F1, you have to work for it to deserve it (see Michael). Kimi’s not that type of guy – and he never will be.

    Perhaps Jackie Stewart’s description of Jochen Rindt would fit Kimi perfectly: Kimi loves F1, but he’s not IN love with F1.

  3. Kimi clearly was the right choice. He was the only man out their that beat the Mclarens.

    This year it seems he has lost his way a little, but it doesn’t mean he’s not still one of the best out there.

    Like Di Montezemolo said recently “The criticism on Kimi Raikkonen remembers[sic] me of the time that Filippo Inzaghi played for Juventus. If he didn’t score for 3 games, they questioned his qualities. Raikkonen remains motivated. He only needs to start faster, we still have to work on that.”

  4. So Doctorvee, why didn’t you mention that Ferrari can also hire Lewis Hamilton – after all, he equaled the driver that beat Schumacher twice and is now leading the driver that replaced Schumacher at Ferrari. Is it that you do not consider Lewis good enough for Ferrari or was is just an oversight? I think Ferrari made an error of judgment in paying Kimi $40m. If he was on $20m or even $25m, he’d still be worth it.

  5. Robert Kubica (Koo-BEETS-a) will replace Kimi Raikkonen & join Ferrari in 2010 :)

  6. I think Kimi still has all the excellent traits that we saw in his Mclaren days and late 2007. Journeyers quote about him not being IN love with F1 probably sums him up. He lacks a certain focus. I don’t mean that over a race weekend, where we all know he can dominate. He lacks a focus that lasts a whole season. Michael had that and Alonso has that in 2005 and 2006. Last years turn around was astonishing, it was like he was caught drifting off to sleep when someone nudged him to wake him up to say “come on, don’t you think you should try now”

    I think that it is this inconsistency in Kimi’s approach to a season that has caught him out this year. With Massa keen to help the Ferrari team all the time and working with Schumacher has probably led to Kimi being an slight outsider when it comes to the development direction the teams takes because the feedback is coming from other drivers not Kimi, now the team and Kimi are panicking like they are preparing for an exam on the night before the test – it is like “how did this end up like this?” “Oh yeah Kimi never went to class!”

    Strangely enough, I think that if Ferrari want another great season out of Kimi next year (and I am not writing him off for this year) I feel if they had a big name along side him, Kimi might wake up again. For example if Alonso joined the team.

    Despite if Kimi stumbles this year and if he manages to get another year at Ferrari, I think he will leave in 2010. That said Ferrari would be best suited in going for Alonso. He can handle the pressure, direct a team around him and deliver the goods year on year. Kubica is slightly less unknown under the pressure that a whole champion ship brings.

    Get Lewis and Alonso at Ferrari – Could you imagine that -the world would come to an end!!

  7. NDINYO: Do you honestly see Hamilton leaving McLaren? They’d have to get pretty uncompetitive for that to happen I think.

  8. MarathonMan801
    4th September 2008, 17:05

    “. . . Herr Schumi was given the heave-ho . . .”
    Is that correct Keith, was he urged into retirement by Ferrari, rather than by his family?

  9. MarathonMan801
    4th September 2008, 17:07

    Apologies. I didn’t read your by-line, Doctorvee.

  10. I believe I don’t have much company in my opinion but I’ll tell you what that is anyway – good for debate.
    I just can’t see why Kimi has such a good reputation. He started at Sauber and was bested by Heidfeld (yep, Heidfeld). He got the Mclaren gig anyway. There he accomplished the great feat of beating De la Rosa and Montoya – yehh!! But, as mentioned by Doctorvee, he seemed maul his car – Mclaren had good reliability record before him and it has been flawless after him, but during his tenure..good grief!
    Now he is at Ferrari and he is more or less matched with Felipe. Let me make it clear, I support Felipe but I am painfully aware of his flaws (mostly, he is useless in raining conditions). Furthermore, Felipe has had his share of bad luck in both years (much more than Kimi). In short, Kimi has not impressed me much at Ferrari either – and this bears two additional comments:
    1. Domenicalli and Montezemolo keep on saying good things about Kimi because that is what they are supposed to do. They pay the guy 40 million a year – you recognize you made a mistake and you look pretty stupid. And it is not only the Ferrari bosses who tend to cuddle their underperforming drivers, take a look at what Mclaren has been saying about Kovi.
    2. Until, say, Canada, when the guy was hot, nobody was saying anything about the car not fitting his driving stile. Now that he lost his touch, you have all this bull**** about how the car is unsuitable for his driving technique – yeah right. (this amounts to say that at a certain point Ferrari looked at kimi’s performance and decide to shoot itself in the foot by spoiling the car for him – lets help Felipe)
    The point is that many people start from the “he is an exceptional driver” point and then twist and turn the evidence available to fit the preconceived conclusion instead of taking a cold look at the facts to analyse how good he really is.

  11. Thing is, antifia, Kimi IS good. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have become World Champion, McLaren teammate warfare or no. And didn’t you watch Suzuka 2005?

    So we know the ability is there. It’s the focus that’s lacking.

  12. Robert Kubica was also bested by Heidfeld LAST YEAR.

  13. @Vee , How u consider Massa as the title contender for Ferrari , its just couple of points , the whole story can be changed at the End of this week . I cant hear all the rubbish statements like kimi is gonna support Massa .. ha ha..i am sure a person like kimi will quit the league the same day , if it happens ..i am sure its not going to happen .

    I think he is one of the best drivers in the league now and i am so sad that people are comparing kimi with massa ….

  14. I’ve never understood this car-breaker argument. It seems so childish. These are F1 cars, not suzukis!!

    The only major thing that the driver has to take care of are the tyres. All in all, I’ll always be confused by Raikkonen’s career.

  15. William Wilgus
    4th September 2008, 18:19

    Alonso beat Schumi twice? I think Michelin beating Bridgestone had more to do with it.

  16. Ferrari absolutely did NOT hire the wrong person in Kimi Raikkonen. In my view, he’s the most naturally gifted driver out there today, and maybe even the most naturally gifted driver of all time. NO ONE has his ability to just gut out a fast lap at the critical time that is beyond the car’s capability. His car control is right up there with Hamilton’s, and handling of transitions is sublime. Whatever your problem with Raikkonen, it better not be due to skill; otherwise, you’re an idiot.

    There have been reports that Raikkonen’s main problems this year have been due to: 1) the car’s handling under different fuel loads (Raik has been fueled heavier than Massa most of the year), and 2) his struggle to get his tires up to temperature for the golden lap in qualify (the same problem Heidfeld is facing). In fact, if you observe the two drivers’ performances under different tire scenarios, Massa has been faster this year on the harder compound and has been able to get better laps in qualifying out of them, while Raikkonen has been faster on the softer compound. I would attribute this to Massa’s relatively harsh driving style, which gets the tires up to tempo and which the hard compound can take. Raikkonen’s style is much smoother than Massa’s, which lends to less sliding of the car and thus better management of the softs.

    It certainly looks as though Alonso is headed to Ferrari for 2010, with a Raikkonen retirement accompanying it. I think the move of sponsor Santander from McLaren to Ferrari pretty much sealed the deal on it. I also think that Vettel is primed for a drive with Ferrari at some point, given comments that Schumacher (who no doubt still has much influence at the team) has made about him. However, Vettel is going to be a pretty hot commodity in the near future. There are reports that McLaren pursued him to fill the other seat this year when Alonso left, and given Vettel’s nationality and the fact that Mercedes has been open about wanting a German driver, I would expect to hear that link come up again soon. If there is a departure from BMW’s driving lineup, I would expect that Vettel would be right at the top of their list, as well, given his nationality.

    One driver I’m surprised you didn’t discuss, given that his name has been linked very closely to Ferrari in rumors, is Kubica. I don’t know if it will happen, but Kubica seems pretty keen to go there based on his comments.

  17. I realize Kimi is an excellent driver but he won the WDC last year primarily because of McLaren’s infighting, which demoralized Alonso and induced Hamilton’s loss of points in the final races, and because Massa allowed him to win in São Paulo. I don’t think he’s proven himself to be an ‘all time great’ and I doubt he will.

    Alonso is the blindingly obvious choice for Ferrari. Given that they can’t (yet) get Hamilton. I really hope Alonso gets the Ferrari spot.

    The comment on Hamilton in Canada is a bit misplaced: he blew everyone else out of the water in qualifying, and made one bad mistake in the pits (which to be honest could easily be put down to a rubbish pit light design and rubbish safety car rules).

  18. Paige,

    I cant agree when you said that Kimi is “the most naturally gifted driver of all time”. This is a hell of a hyperbole… :)

    Anyway, you´re right about Bob. He sealed a deal with BMW for only ONE year, what put him in a route of collision with Alonso for only ONE seat at Ferrari in 2010, bearing in mind that Massa are doing well and will be around Maranello until the end of 2010…

  19. Doctorvee: as usual, the most objective writer I have ever read.

    I also can understand why Ferrary bet for Kimi at that time, although the choice between Fernando and him sure was not easy (I suspect the Todt’s position at the time had something to do with the final decission).

    Now, I do not doubt a second Ferrari should hire Fernando; the other only natural possibility is Lewis. In fact, I for one would love to see these two in the same team again, as long as it is not an English team (at least a RD ruled team).

  20. @Vee
    First of all, great article. And i, along with many others, do feel sad people comparing Kimi with Massa and even commenting like Kimi should support Massa for the WDC .After all all of us have seen things like Suzuka ’05! And last year’s epic comeback in the second half!

    And yes, Ferrari should have considered Alonso much earlier.

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