Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen are two of the superstars of the last decade of Formula One. They have combined for 59 grand prix victories since 2003 and between them have won five of the last eight drivers' championships.
Now, they are team-mates at Ferrari.
One year ago, Ferrari looked to have the best driver line-up on the grid, partnering Raikkonen with another former world champ, Fernando Alonso. They promptly produced the Scuderia's worst season since the dark years of the early 1990s before Michael Schumacher arrived in Maranello.
Of course, the blame does not fall only (or even mostly) on the drivers' shoulders. Ferrari's engine was underpowered compared to the Mercedes power unit, and Raikkonen, in particular, was never comfortable in the car.
Even Alonso, who for years coaxed the maximum performance out of subpar Ferraris, could only manage two podium finishes. Still, had Raikkonen been able to match Alonso's points total, the team would have finished third in the constructors' championship ahead of Williams. Instead, they were closer to McLaren in fifth.
Now, Alonso is off to McLaren, replaced by Vettel, who also struggled in 2014. After four straight championships, he was soundly beaten by team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.
And so, here we are. Ferrari have two very good drivers coming off down years. They are also friends.
"The guy I have most to do with outside of racing is Vettel," Raikkonen told CNN's Sarah Holt and Amanda Davies. "The rest I don't really see as friends—I race against them."
What could go wrong?
But Raikkonen and Vettel won't be fighting for the title this year—Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne recently admitted the new car is behind schedule, per ESPN F1—so their friendship will not undergo the same strain Hamilton and Rosberg's did last year.
It will be interesting to see whether Ferrari gives preference to one driver over the other, though. Vettel is clearly the team's future, being eight years younger than Raikkonen, who is nearing the end of his career.
During the Schumacher glory years, Rubens Barrichello was the clear No. 2 behind the German champion. Even during the less glorious Alonso years, the Spaniard was given preferential treatment over Felipe Massa—remember the "Fernando is faster than you" incident?
The difference in the current situation is Raikkonen. He is so laid-back that it probably does not matter to him whether he is the first, second or 15th driver on his team. He just wants to drive fast and have fun. And he believes he can do that with Vettel as a team-mate.
"We try to beat each other all the time, but we can have fun and get things done in a good way," Raikkonen said, per Autosport's Jonathan Noble, after Vettel was announced as his new team-mate.
Both men will also have to overcome their struggles with the new technical regulations introduced for 2014, which meant less aerodynamic downforce, more torque from the new engines and a new brake-by-wire system.
One of the biggest problems for Raikkonen was the lack of front-end grip on the Ferrari F14 T, as ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson explained.
Vettel, conversely, was thought to be struggling with the reduction in rear grip on his Red Bull, given the ban on blown rear diffusers. However, Vettel said his problems were more complicated than just that one issue, according to the BBC's James Galloway.
Now, one must wonder whether the benefit of an extra year working with the Ferrari engineers and designers will give Raikkonen an advantage on the track. The team knows what he wants out of the car and were working to provide it for him last year. Vettel was comparatively late to the party and will not have had nearly as much input into the design of the 2015 car.
But Vettel is a long-term project for Ferrari. For now, it is enough that he has energized their fanbase and brought new hope to the team.
After a large-scale culling of the team at the end of last year, 2015 will be a rebuilding season for the Scuderia. Victories are not expected.
They will be in the near future, though. And in the meantime, we can enjoy what should be an entertaining duel between two world champions—although we thought that about Raikkonen and Alonso last year too.
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