Evening Express

How Ferrari’s driver change impacts on Formula One

Ferrari will have a new driver line-up next year after the Italian team confirmed that Charles Leclerc will replace Kimi Raikkonen.

Leclerc joins from Sauber after just one season in Formula One, while Raikkonen moves in the opposite direction to the team with whom he started his career in 2001.

Here, Press Association Sport’s Phil Duncan takes a closer look at Ferrari’s announcement.

Why have Ferrari dropped Raikkonen?

In recent seasons, Ferrari have resisted calls to dump Raikkonen by renewing his one-year deal, but on Tuesday the Italian team finally announced they are severing ties with the Finn. Raikkonen may be the last driver to win a world championship for Ferrari, but he has been below his best during his second spell with the team, and has not won a race in more than five years. Given their history of: a) employing only experienced drivers and b) a clear hierarchy, Ferrari have taken a bold decision to replace Raikkonen with Leclerc. But the Italian team now have a car capable of beating Mercedes to both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships, and they feel Raikkonen is no longer up to
the challenge. Leclerc may be only 20, but he is the future for Ferrari, and they did not want to risk losing him to a rival team.

Will Leclerc be up to it?

The Monegasque is just 14 races into his grand prix career, but has already proved his worth at Sauber. After a shaky start, Leclerc outqualified his team-mate Marcus Ericsson (a driver with four seasons under his belt) in nine consecutive rounds by an eye-watering average of three-quarters-of-a-second. He has scored more points than Ericsson, too, and finished a lofty sixth at Azerbaijan in only his fourth race. Ferrari will be an almighty step up for Leclerc, but there is every chance he will put the wind up Sebastian Vettel next season.

What else do we know about Leclerc?

Jules Bianchi, the French driver who died following horrific head injuries he sustained at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, was Leclerc’s godfather and mentor. Bianchi, like Leclerc, was also a graduate of the Ferrari driver academy. Earlier this season, Leclerc became the first Monaco-born driver to compete at their home race in more than two decades. He also made history by becoming the first driver to win both of F1’s feeder championships,
GP3 and Formula Two, in successive seasons. He is managed by FIA president Jean Todt’s son, Nicolas, and aged 21, four months and 27 days for next season’s curtain raiser in Melbourne, Bianchi will become the second youngest driver in Ferrari’s Formula One history.

What does it mean for the rest of the driver market?

Ferrari have now joined Mercedes (Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas) and Red Bull (Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly) in announcing their driver line-up for next year. Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris have also been named as Renault and McLaren drivers respectively for 2019. Force India are likely to confirm that Lance Stroll will partner Sergio Perez, which could leave Esteban Ocon – the highly-rated Mercedes junior driver – without a seat. Englishman George Russell, 20, leads the Formula Two championship and will be hopeful of joining Norris as the second British rookie on the grid next year. Williams looks like his best bet.