It has been rumored for months that Fernando Alonso would be wearing red coveralls next season, and that current Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen would be encouraged to explore his future in rally driving, in order to make room for the Spaniard.
Judging by outward appearances, Raikkonen has suffered from a chronic loss of motivation since taking the F1 crown in 2007. This is speculation, of course: getting a fix on the Finn’s psyche is no simple matter, as he’s not the most voluble of men. Whatever the cause, Raikkonen has been generally outperformed by team mate Felipe Massa over the past year and a half, which has only fueled speculation that the Finn’s contract would be terminated prematurely.
Ferrari have steadfastly refused to confirm or deny the rumors of Kimi’s replacement. Their consistent response to queries has been to state the obvious. Team boss Stefano Domenicali was recently quoted in The Guardian as saying, “Kimi has a contract with us next year and this is what we can say now.” Indeed, this is the limit of what the team has been willing to confirm since the rumors of Kimi’s exit first emerged last year.
But Domencali, and Ferrari Chairman Luca di Montezemolo, are now faced with a dilemma similar to the one confronting Ross Brawn at the moment (i.e. a late season resurgence by a driver who had been outclassed by his team mate during the first half of the year). In Brawn’s case, it’s Barrichello who has made the home stretch charge from behind. At Ferrari, it’s Raikonnen. The Finn has earned a win and a podium in the past two races, and has garnered 30 points in the past four races, while in the first nine races of the season, he had only amassed a total of 10 points.
So, on the surface at least, it would appear that Kimi has gotten his groove back. It should be noted, however, Ferrari no longer has Massa to use as a relative scale. Is it Kimi that has markedly improved, or is it the car? If Massa hadn’t suffered his accident in Hungary, who’s to say that he wouldn’t have racked up more points than the Finn during the same time frame, and that Kimi wouldn’t have continued to suffer by comparison?
Comparing the relative performance of team mates is the best way to judge individual driver performance. Assuming the drivers are using identical equipment, there are no excuses to be made. Massa out of the picture, however, Kimi’s grade curve has been drastically altered. He’s been partnered by stand-ins Luca Badoer and Giancarlo Fisichella, and if the two Italians havea accomplished nothing else while subbing for Massa, they’ve certainly made Raikkonen look good. Whether this is good enough for Ferrari remains to be seen.
Image by mhinsta, licensed through Creative Commons.