Hot shot joins Ferrari
One of the youngest drivers ever to turn out for the Italian F1 giants
Monaco’s 20-year old rookie Charles Leclerc will replace Formula One veteran Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari next season in a seat swap with the Finnish 2007 world champion, who returns to Sauber.
The moves had been widely expected and were announced by both teams yesterday.
Leclerc, a Ferrari protégé who has long been tipped for promotion to the sport’s oldest and most successful team, made his debut with Sauber this season after winning last year’s Formula Two title.
He will now partner four-time world champion and title contender Sebastian Vettel.
“Scuderia Ferrari announces that, at the end of the 2018 season, Kimi Raikkonen will step down from his current role,” said Ferrari. “As a world champion for Scuderia Ferrari, he will always be part of the team’s history and family.”
Ferrari is Formula One’s most glamorous team and Leclerc will be one of the youngest and least experienced drivers to race for them.
Raikkonen, 38, posted a message on Instagram announcing he would be rejoining Sauber - a team with Ferrari engines and Alfa Romeo sponsorship - on a two-year deal.
The Finn first drove for them in 2001, before moving to McLaren and then on to Ferrari, where he won a title that remains the team’s most recent champion.
Sauber’s move will keep three world champions on the starting grid next season after Spaniard Fernando Alonso’s departure. “Kimi’s undoubted talent and immense experience in Formula One will not only contribute to the development of our car, but will also accelerate the growth and development of our team as a whole,” said Sauber principal Frederic Vasseur. Raikkonen, known as the “Iceman”, turns 39 next month and is the oldest driver on the grid as well as one of the most popular. More than 87 000 fans recently signed an online petition, urging Ferrari to retain him.
Vettel would also have been happy to continue the partnership with a team-mate he has got on well with.
The late Ferrari chairman, Sergio Marchionne, had flagged up Leclerc as Raikkonen’s obvious successor last year.
The youngster will be the first native of the Mediterranean principality, which hosts the sport’s most glamorous race, to drive for Ferrari. Managed by Nicolas Todt, whose father Jean is head of the sport’s governing body and a former Ferrari boss, Leclerc is already seen as a future champion.