When you take a look back at the 2019 Formula One season, the emergence of the young drivers is a notable highlight. We witnessed the real beginning of names that we will continue to hear for many years to come. Albon, Norris, and Russell made real impressions in their rookie seasons and quickly joined the already established Verstappen as youth who are in F1 due to raw talent. The young driver we really saw come into his own in 2019 was Charles Leclerc.
Taking nothing away from the rest of the sports “new generation”, Leclerc shone more than the others. Yes, it was his second full season compared to the others’ first. But despite having a four-time world champion as a teammate, he was the only driver of this young squadron to outscore his same garage rival.
For the first time in the turbo-hybrid era, Ferrari had two drivers who were competing at a similar level. For the first time in the turbo-hybrid era, both Ferrari drivers finished the season with less than 25 points (one win) between them. For the first time in the turbo-hybrid era, Ferrari didn’t have Kimi Raikkonen.
Kimi Raikkonen, despite his popularity, has his early years in Formula One to thank for his reputation. He undoubtedly has the necessary talent to drive in the sport. The Finn is one of just three current drivers who have a world championship. His 2019 season at Alfa Romeo showed that he still the spirit to compete comfortably in the midfield. Ferrari, however, has never had any aspiration to be a midfield team.
The Start of the Finn
Raikkonen became part of the F1 circus way back in 2001. He debuted with Sauber at 21 with only 23 junior race series starts to his name. He scored points at his first race in a time where only the top 6 earned points. Kimi promptly moved to McLaren for the following season where his perennially unreliable car either retired or finished 4th or above. His McLaren years were unfortunate to coincide with the Schumacher-Ferrari dominance years or else a championship would’ve been his. An impressive 2005 challenge was put to bed by Alonso and the brief rise of Renault.
And so in 2007, Raikkonen jumped ship to Ferrari. He won a thrilling championship battle by just one point ahead of each of his former team’s replacements, Alonso and Hamilton.
He won 6 races for the Scuderia in that championship-winning year. He won 4 in his next seven seasons with the team. 4.
His first tenure at the Maranello outfit had him partnered with Felipe Massa, the nearly-man of Formula One. A lot of people have called Massa the 40-second champion due to his near championship of 2008. I remember watching, in person, Massa spin five times at Silverstone that year. I also remember seeing Hamilton cross the line in first place at Spa, again in person, before Massa inherited the win due to a dodgy FIA penalty. If Massa were to be a champion, he would be a poor one… yet he did outscore reigning champ Kimi that season.
For completeness, I’ll briefly note Raikkonen left Ferrari in 2009 despite having a contract for 2010. Failed negotiations with McLaren, Mercedes, and allegedly Toyota, resulted in the Finn leaving the sport until 2012. His return at Lotus was strong with Kimi scoring points at all but two races that he finished over two seasons, also picking up two victories. Then he returned to Ferrari.
Return to Red
Raikkonen’s second stint at Ferrari pitted him against 2 of the indisputable best drivers of the modern generation, Alonso in 2014, and Vettel from 2015 to 2018. Both outshone the Finn.
The 2014 Ferrari was woeful. Mercedes had made the best engine for the new regulations and Ferrari had no answer. Alonso dragged the F14 T to just two podiums, Raikkonen managed none. Alonso scored 151 points over the season, Raikkonen mustered 55. No team could’ve stopped Mercedes this year, but Ferrari finished a dismal and distant 4th. It was enough for Alonso to give up on the Scuderia. And it opened the door for a world-champion German seeking further glory to step in.
Let’s remember that Vettel benefitted massively from the timing of Alonso leaving Ferrari. That season he didn’t win once after coming off the back of a record nine wins in a row. Ricciardo got promoted from Toro Rosso and promptly outscored, and outshone his German teammate. Vettel saw the opportunity to not only emulate his hero and fellow countryman, Schumacher. But also could escape another season of being made to look slow by the honey badger. Vettel knew Raikkonen would be his teammate and happily joined regardless.
A German walks into Maranello…
In his first season at Ferrari, Vettel outscored Raikkonen by nearly double — 278 points vs 150. Vettel managed to make the podium 13 times in 19 races while Raikkonen visited just thrice. And even though the Mercedes team continued 2015 in a similar commanding fashion to 2014, Vettel could guide his Ferrari to victory on three occasions. Raikkonen did not win once.
2016 wasn’t didn’t have much difference between the two Ferrari drivers. Well, aside from that they didn’t have a race-winning car that season. It was shades of 2014 again for the team. No wins for the team, but Raikkonen being shown up by his superior teammate. Despite no victories, Vettel did get on the podium seven times to Raikkonen’s four. The gap between the Ferrari drivers was at its lowest during Kimi’s second tour at the team. He “only” finished 26 points behind Vettel. But he did finish last amongst the top 3 teams.
2017 was a different year for Ferrari. Rosberg had surprised everybody, including Mercedes, and retired after his championship. His replacement, Bottas, was not familiar with the team and wasn’t expected to perform on Hamilton’s level. And even more importantly, the Mercedes team were beatable. After three years when Mercedes battled themselves for both championships, it was to be a two-team battle for the top. Even if Hamilton were to win the drivers championship, an established duo with a capable car surely would get the constructors, right?
Finn vs Finn
The first half of the season was almost a tit-for-tat battle between Vettel and Hamilton. Ricciardo and Bottas achieved some token wins, but the two at the top were in a league of their own. In the second, Vettel lost steam, and it was Verstappen who took the wins from Hamilton instead. After the Bottas took the final chequered flag of the season, Vettel finished second with 317 points to Hamiltons 363. 46 more points throughout a 20-race season against a new number-two driver is all Raikkonen needed to let Ferrari win their first title since 2008.
Kimi scored 205.
One hundred points were the difference between the two. Four race victories. And that’s four victories for Raikkonen where Bottas would’ve needed to have had DNFs. In fact, Raikkonen was barely ahead of the Red Bulls. Bottas meanwhile was challenging for the title. If it were in any doubt before, 2017 confirmed it. Raikkonen was holding the Tifosi celebrations back.
2018 was a big difference for the battle of the Finn number-two drivers though. Bottas scored zero victories all season. He did get to the podium seven times though — six times as the runner-up. But no wins. For reference, Hamilton won eleven times this season.
Vettel did all he could to challenge but succumbed to a vast 88 point deficit in the end. But if Bottas could outperform a lacklustre Raikkonen in 2017 by one hundred points, what could Kimi do with Valterri now on the back foot? The Iceman scored five more podiums than Bottas and even a victory. Could he lead Ferrari to a consolation constructors title? No. No, he couldn’t. Although he managed third in the championship this year, it was only by four points versus Bottas. Well below the required 88 points needed for a constructors victory.
Before we imagine what might’ve been, we have to remember that a more competitive partner to Vettel in 2017–2018 would also have taken points off of the 4-time champion. A net-zero win for Ferrari. But when we consider the success of Leclerc in 2019, he didn’t just take points from Vettel. He took them from Hamilton too. And he took them pretty often.
In all reality, the only season the Ferrari was anywhere near close to Mercedes was 2017. That double-DNF in Singapore is painful for any Tifosi to remember. But if you had a Leclerc level driver in the second Ferrari that season, it’s not difficult to think it would’ve been a 4-way scrap for the title. Bottas did well, but how many more points did he score because Raikkonen was that much worse? We can only speculate and will never know. But in the eyes of this fan that 2017 constructors title would be Red and not Silver if Ferrari had upgraded from Raikkonen earlier.
Originally published at https://www.fortloc.com where you can find more motoring news and reviews.