Kimi Raikkonen enters the Austrian Grand Prix 2018 with an air of uncertainty regarding his F1 future.
This is going to be the fifth time that he will be racing at the picturesque Spielberg circuit since his return to the Scuderia stable in 2014.
But more than concerns and questions as to what he might manage in the qualifying on Saturday, given that his 2018 qualifying form hasn’t been particularly exciting, the focus seems to be elsewhere.
Kimi Raikkonen’s imminent future
Raikkonen’s name is the latest jigsaw in the current puzzle dominating the world of F1 racing regarding many a driver’s racing future.
This comes at a time where one is yet to learn about Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo’s fate.
But that told, not for the first time have there been a slew of questions regarding Raikkonen’s future in Grand Prix racing. It’s been the situation back in 2017 as well as in 2016 seasons, where despite there being a string of anticipations suggesting Kimi will throw in the hat, he was re-signed by Ferrari.
In 2016, around Monza, just when it was presumed that Raikkonen would hang up at the end of the season, Ferrari came in with an official word, handing Raikkonen a year’s extension.
The phenomenon would be repeated toward the closing stages of the 2017 season.
However, at the conclusion of 2017, Raikkonen was reemployed again by the Scuderia Ferrari.
This time, however, the worry surrounding Raikkonen is real
A month ago, right before the start of the Canadian Grand Prix- where Raikkonen secured a rather sedate P6- the rabble regarding Sauber’s Charles Leclerc joining Ferrari in 2019 began gaining ground.
This was, however, being speculated even before the start of the Monaco Grand Prix- where Raikkonen, when compared to 2017’s second, would gather a fourth.
By the time F1 hit Circuit Paul Ricard for the first time in 10 years, the word regarding Leclerc- Ferrari’s young force from the junior driver academy; future Scuderia star in making- joining the Italian team in 2019 gained fever pitch.
Even a few hours back, Kimi was questioned again
It seems, more than analysing arguably the most picturesque circuit alongside Spa-Francorchamps, there’s more curiosity to predict what lies in store for the Ferrari driver.
Mclaren, a possibility?
This is precisely when the word of McLaren was thrown at the table
It’s believed that a possible door for Raikkonen in 2019 season may open at his previous racing outfit: McLaren.
Raikkonen’s been at McLaren for 5 back-to-back seasons starting 2002 to 2006. Under Ron Dennis’ watchful eyes, Raikkonen twice came close to lifting the title in an earlier heroic stint at Mclaren.
Currently, there’s growing belief that Raikkonen and McLaren have possibly had a word for the new racing season in 2019.
Is Kimi going to leave Ferrari?
While Kimi Raikkonen continues to enjoy an incredible fan-base, his admirers measuring in millions around the globe, even a die-hard fan wouldn’t resist suggesting that he seems past his best.
While raw-pace is still very much a natural strength of the laconic Finn, the speed hasn’t resulted in wins yet.
The biggest blithe, at this time in Kimi Raikkonen’s career, is that he’s been unable to clinch a win at Ferrari. This, lest it is forgotten, is his 5th back-to-back season at the Prancing Horse, ever since returning in 2014.
Whether that elusive win is around the corner can give even Sherlock a run for his money and would make guesswork seem an endless exercise in futility.
While 2017 and 2016 seasons went in his favour, there’s little doubt Raikkonen seems to have run out of favour with those who call the shots at Ferrari particularly for the 2019 season.
But what may have inadvertently added fuel to the speculative fire surrounding Kimi throwing the towel on the floor is his self-admission that he’d want to end his career at Ferrari.
Are we seeing the last of him?
What doesn’t help Raikkonen’s fate at the Scuderia is intrinsic presence of Charles Leclerc, doing phenomenally well in his maiden season at the Sauber, where the engine suppliers are Ferrari. Having featured in points in four of his past five Grands Prix have only solidified everyone’s belief that he’s slated to be an incredible figure at the Italian stable.
Young, confident, full of promise, Leclerc is in the nascent stages of the career while Raikkonen stares at the sunset.
The question for Ferrari, regardless, is what they’d value more: the exuberance of Charles Leclerc or the experience of Raikkonen. But if you gaze past Sebastian Vettel, inarguably, the number 1 driver at the team, there’s no dearth of experience and importantly race-wins, whatsoever.
So this doesn’t become a tardy puzzle to solve.
What also doesn’t help Raikkonen’s Scuderia future is how unprepared and amateurish does the Finn seem on all-important Saturdays.
Apart from Australia and Bahrain, where Raikkonen clinched vital second-placed starts in both Grands Prix, he’s had rather ordinary runs at Canada, Azerbaijan, China and France.
What he’s done incredibly well, however, is to convert lackadaisical qualifying runs into promising podiums.
4 Podium Finishes already
From 8 Grands Prix in the year, Raikkonen’s bagged 4 podiums already. With Austria to go, there are 12 more races on the roster.
Considering Raikkonen, by current average, is grabbing 1 podium in every 2 races isn’t bad at all for a driver who’s entrusted with the big ask to fight hard for a team like Ferrari and, for someone who’s 38 already.
Compare Kimi in 2018 to his previous seasons & you’ll know just how he’s faring. Ever since the “Iceman” returned to Ferrari- in 2014- he’s grabbed 18 podium finishes.
In 2014- inarguably his worst-ever run, he failed to get onto a single podium. Cut to 2015 and there were 3 podiums: at Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and, Singapore.
In 2016, Raikkonen would go one better and gather 4 podiums, including those at Bahrain, Russia, Spain and, Austria.
Does that suggest that he’s not in form? Maybe it’s an unfounded assessment of Raikkonen’s ability. Interestingly, a thing or two about Kimi’s consistency can be gathered from what he managed in 2017- a season wherein he picked 7 podiums, including a hat-trick at Mexico, USA and, Brazil.
Still no wins.
But haven’t the number two; substantially unfavourable treatment when compared to Vettel and some pit blunders done him in?
Should Raikkonen move to McLaren, it might be the final nail in his coffin
We know what Raikkonen can do when he is in a winnable car. We know where Kimi was in 2017 Monaco Grand Prix. Had the events of Lap 37 not transpired- there would’ve been no questions whatsoever regarding Raikkonen’s winless streak at the Maranello-based outfit.
Alas, those weren’t to be.
But the Raikkonen we are seeing today was nowhere in sight in a hardly undrivable car in 2014. McLaren, arguably, are several notches below the sub-standard Scuderia produce for a forgettable 2014 season.
Kimi would be committing career-harakiri should he move to the Woking-based outfit.
Everyone knows what a driver of Fernando Alonso’s repute is enduring in a recalcitrant McLaren. The Honda-powered car, also now, the engine suppliers of 2019 to Red Bull, have robbed off the Spaniard of any possible chances to even finish close to the top five; forget fighting for a podium.
Would Raikkonen be keen to endure the ignominy of being a potential backmarker at Mclaren? A possibility, given the cars they are running in 2018, one’s not sure.
Kimi’s move to McLaren depends on Alonso
At present, the former double world champion is contemplating between staying back at McLaren or moving to Indycar. Raikkonen can only step in should the latter happen and provided, McLaren, want to continue with a world champion in their ranks.
While on the count of experience that’s a must, one never knows for a stumbling outfit.
But even then, there are rumors that McLaren might want to try out glowing British racing driver, Lando Norris, who’s growing in contention for F1.
That’s Kimi’s life for now, even as the cool Finn seems disinterested to be drawn into speculations about his own future.
But regardless, Raikkonen would want to end on a high. That might augur well for the man who’s hailed as the Iceman; for being his own man, for being renonwed for his steely resolve, for being cold bloodedly against shenanigans of any sort.