It’s a “Shame for the sport”, says BBC 5 Live’s Jolyon Palmer, “There are 20 seats available in F1, to have one taken up by an underperforming 38-year-old seems a bit of a shame. Raikkonen had his chances”.
Palmer argues that Ocon, Giovinazzi, Vandoorne, Russell are all potential drivers and Raikkonen is just taking up a seat and denying these young, full-of-energy, drivers a chance. Is this a fair statement or an ageist comment or something else entirely?
For me, Ferrari and their good friends at Alfa Romeo Sauber are not obliged to develop and place the grid’s young drivers in their teams in order to give young folks a chance. They are there to win races or do the best they can. I won’t deny that I feel Vandoorne would be a good option for Toro Rosso over Daniil Kvyat but there are several factors regarding Raikkonen that I’m offering as consideration contrary to Palmer’s comments.
Kimi Raikkonen may have not won a single race to Sebastian Vettel’s 13 in the same car but he is, by any measure, a star of the sport and this much-loved Finnish driver brings a lot of attention to any team he drives for in the form of merchandizing, ticket sales and media attention.
Charles Leclerc was a rookie phenom but he won’t sell as many Sauber hats or get the kind of media attention that Kimi will in a Sauber. He may get it now that Ferrari’s brand is much larger than he is but, in many ways, Kimi’s brand is larger than Sauber’s.
Kimi is just a stone’s throw away for Ferrari should Leclerc falter and if the young driver flourishes, having Kimi help Sauber improve their ties with Ferrari, develop their car and bring attention and brand impact to the team, that’s a good thing for Ferrari. Ferrari and Sauber do not owe young talent—tied to competitors’ teams—a chance in their cars because we believe 38-year-old drivers are old, slow and incapable of driving like an 18-year-old.
Kimi didn’t want to leave F1 and I’m not sure where he would have gone. Accepting the role at Sauber is a good move for his career and while one could argue that Ocon would be a better choice, I doubt there would be a world where Ocon or George Russell would find a spare ride at a Ferrari-powered team. Not going to happen. Vandoorne is a possibility but given his McLaren outings, Sauber may feel Kimi is faster.
Do you agree with Jolyon? Is a Kimi a washed-up driver denying a young, vibrant driver a chance? Should Sauber be more concerned about getting youth in F1 instead of hiring an old driver?
Hat Tip: BBC 5 Live