Ferrari Must Listen to Sebastian Vettel When Deciding Kimi Raikkonen's F1 Future

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistAugust 14, 2015

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 05:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari speaks with Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari during the drivers' parade before the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 5, 2015 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Nine days ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix came the news Kimi Raikkonen would have been waiting for.

An article by Corriere dello Sport (h/t Sky Sports) claimed Ferrari, following months of speculation over their intentions for 2016, had agreed a fee of €12 million with Williams for the transfer of Valtteri Bottas, who would partner four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel next season.

Given that the Italian press are rarely wide of the mark when it comes to matters relating to Ferrari, the report—nothing more, nothing less—was praised as The Word of The Lord.

Bottas has been strongly linked to Raikkonen's seat for 2016.
Bottas has been strongly linked to Raikkonen's seat for 2016.Paul Gilham/Getty Images

And Raikkonen, after spending the best part of a year trying to convince Ferrari to keep him for one more season, one last dance, was suddenly yesterday's man, bracing himself for being chewed up and spat out by Formula One's most sacred team.

Yet the news, and the apparent sense of closure, seemed to have a positive effect on the 2007 world champion.

Having previously admitted he would retire when his time with Ferrari came to an end, per Crash.net, Raikkonen—as we noted ahead of the Hungarian GP—could approach the final 10 races of the season, and his career, with a degree of freedom.

With his future reportedly decided, Kimi seemed to drive with no pressure in Hungary.
With his future reportedly decided, Kimi seemed to drive with no pressure in Hungary.Clive Mason/Getty Images
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No longer was he burdened by the Prancing Horse—Kimi Raikkonen was, at long last, driving for Kimi Raikkonen.

There was, then, a certain inevitability that he went on to produce his finest performance since his return to the team, little more than a week after Ferrari seemingly decided to push him into retirement.

After a strong start from fifth on the grid, Raikkonen found himself in second place by Turn 2 after following Vettel around the outside of Lewis Hamilton at the first corner and spooking Nico Rosberg out of the way under braking for the hairpin.

Vettel established a healthy lead in Hungary as Raikkonen kept Rosberg behind.
Vettel established a healthy lead in Hungary as Raikkonen kept Rosberg behind.Lars Baron/Getty Images

Second place was where he would have remained had his car not failed piece by piece, with Raikkonen first losing a chunk of his front wing on Lap 18 before suffering the dreaded, irreversible MGU-K failure on Lap 40, leaving him significantly down on power.

While he was eventually forced to retire 12 laps from the end, the 59 laps he completed at the Hungaroring proved why Raikkonen—despite failing to win a race for almost three years—remains the perfect team-mate for Vettel.

Fast enough to keep the chasing pack behind but not quite quick enough to challenge Seb, Raikkonen mastered the rear-gunner role in Hungary, acting as the first line of defence and offering Ferrari and Vettel the latitude to control the race and, ultimately, win.

Such qualities will come in handy should Ferrari produce a championship-winning car in 2016, allowing Raikkonen to contain and suppress the Mercedes drivers as Vettel racks up grand prix victories.

And while Vettel has proven he can succeed in an unhealthy atmosphere—his poor relationship with Mark Webber didn't stop him securing four consecutive titles at Red Bull Racing between 2010 and '13—his personal bond with Raikkonen could be an advantage for Ferrari, with the German telling Sky Sports' William Esler:

I think I have said many times that I am very happy with Kimi, because since day one that I got to know him he hasn’t changed, he is very straight, he hasn’t changed, becoming a world champion that didn’t change him, the years he wasn’t in Formula 1 didn’t change him.

I think it is good for Formula 1 to have him back and it is straightforward—there is no b------t with him and that is the quality I really enjoy. ...

I know we have this season left, and I don't know what the contract for next year entails, but it would be nice to have him on the team for next year.

Vettel's fondness of Raikkonen makes Ferrari's pursuit of the likes of Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo, both of whom are considered future world champions, bizarre when you consider that Seb—by his own admission—arrived at the Prancing Horse hoping to emulate his boyhood inspiration, Michael Schumacher.

Throughout his five successive championship triumphs with Ferrari, Schumacher was partnered by a clear No. 2 in the shape of Rubens Barrichello and, to all intents and purposes, would never have tolerated the signing of a driver whom he considered a genuine threat.

It was this selfishness, this sense of self-preservation, that cemented Schumacher's status as the most successful F1 driver of all time.

And should Ferrari ignore Vettel's pleas of resigning Raikkonen and appoint Bottas or Ricciardo—who could both realistically challenge his No. 1 status—there will be significant questions surrounding the team's long-term commitment to the man affectionately known as "Baby Schumi."

This would be particularly compelling in the case of Ricciardo—who, for a time, overtook Bottas as Ferrari's prime target, per BBC Sport's Andrew Benson—after the Australian outperformed and ultimately chased Vettel out of Red Bull in 2014.

When a driver is beaten by their team-mate or engage in a rivalry over a sustained period of time, it is common for them to avoid being partnered by that driver for the remainder of their career, even going to the extreme length of issuing a veto.

Yet should Vettel welcome Ricciardo into his territory for 2016, it would reveal much about his view of his 2014 campaign as well as Ferrari's renewed approach.

Are Ferrari, now under the stewardship of Sergio Marchionne and Maurizio Arrivabene, determined to have the strongest possible lineup, regardless of the affinity and history between their drivers?

Would Vettel really want to be partnered by Bottas or Ricciardo in 2016?
Would Vettel really want to be partnered by Bottas or Ricciardo in 2016?Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Does Vettel regard 2014, his first full season without a win, as a perfect storm in which he initially struggled to adapt to the demands of the V6 turbo machinery and, in any case, was suffering a hangover from his four years of success?

Is he confident of beating Ricciardo in a more controlled environment? Or, with his motivation and reputation now restored, does Vettel believe he can take on anyone and win?

Raikkonen was a dead man walking as Formula One headed for Hungary, and while his poor run of results continued (albeit through no fault of his own), the nature of his performance proved that—though his own title-winning days are almost certainly over—he can still serve Ferrari and his team-mate.

In a title-winning team, Raikkonen can be a valuable, if understated, asset, capable of taking the points away from Vettel's rivals, rather than taking points away from Vettel himself.

Ferrari must seriously consider Vettel's opinion when they come to finalise their 2016 driver lineup, or they will run the risk of alienating their new hero.