So the cat is finally out of the bag. Kimi Raikkonen will return to Ferrari on a two-year deal next season, teaming up with Fernando Alonso to form arguably the most potent driver combination on the grid.
The move sets us up for the mouth-watering prospect of watching two world champions on the top of their game going head to head in equal machinery, driving for the most successful team in Formula One, and guarantees off-track drama as two men with a fierce will to win try to get the upper hand over the other within the team.
The Alonso and Raikkonen intra-team battle will, without a doubt, be one of the biggest storylines of the 2014 season and how the two go about stamping their authority on the team, and indeed over one another, will be intriguing to watch.
Fireworks are guaranteed and like any Formula One fan I am curious to see how the relationship between the two will play out.
On the one hand there’s Alonso. We all know how his relationship with McLaren imploded when he was challenged and beaten by a young Lewis Hamilton competing in just his first year of Formula One.
The Spaniard, then the reigning double world champion, didn’t get the number one status in the team that he felt he deserved over a rookie and he left the team in bitter circumstances (landing them in hot water in the ‘Spygate’ scandal) after just a single season, choosing instead to return to the uncompetitive Renault squad, biding his time as he lay in wait for the seat at Ferrari to open up.
Then once at Ferrari, he quickly set about stamping his authority on the team, relegating long-time Ferrari man Felipe Massa to playing a supporting role — in one instance ruthlessly overtaking the Brazilian on the entry into the pits as the two Ferraris went in for their stops.
Alonso gets what he wants and when he is denied, the toys tend to start flying out of the pram.
The McLaren falling out is the example that stands out but there have been other instances as well, like after the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix when Alonso felt his Renault team were not fully committed to helping him win the championship as they did not want Alonso to take the ‘number 1’ sticker on the car with him to McLaren.
In fact, cracks have already started appearing in his relationship with Ferrari as Alonso has grown frustrated at not having added to his two titles thanks largely to a car that hasn’t been able to match the Adrian Newey-designed Red Bull which has allowed Sebastian Vettel to claim three championships in succession.
One of the most political drivers on the grid, Alonso has been resorting to off-track maneuvering to motivate his team, a ploy that has backfired and prompted a rare public rebuke from Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo who reminded his star driver that he isn’t bigger than the team.
Raikkonen is most certainly not what Alonso would have wanted. The Finn is fast, unflappable and unlikely to be fazed by anything Alonso might throw his way. He has been on blistering form since his comeback, a completely different driver to the one that left the sport in 2009, and has scored a record 27 straight points finishes since his return.
Indeed, Alonso had been pushing Ferrari to retain Massa and Raikkonen’s signing is unlikely to go down well with him.
But Ferrari, in what appears to be a move by the team to show Alonso who runs the show and hedge against the increasingly frustrated Spaniard’s possible departure, have put their interests – the constructors’ championship – over Alonso’s own.
I am sure Ferrari know what they are doing. James Allison, who recently left Lotus for Ferrari, and Pat Fry, formerly a McLaren man, have both in the past worked with Alonso and Raikkonen and must have had some input into Raikkonen’s hiring.
However, I can’t help but feel that Nico Hulkenberg, who was in the frame for the drive, would have been a better bet for Ferrari.
While the German will not be content playing a supporting role to Alonso, he is still young and relatively inexperienced and could have spent the next few years honing his ability, learning at the double world champion’s knee before Alonso’s contract ends.
Instead, I fear Raikkonen’s signing will further dent the already strained relationship between Alonso and Ferrari and could well spell the end of the partnership.
First Published On : Sep 13, 2013 07:33 IST