The Return of the Prodigal Son, a painting famed for the father and son relationship it symbols, depicts a son returning to the loving embrace of his father after being lost. This was the image I thought of upon hearing that Raikkonen was returning to Ferrari Scuderia amidst the disapproval of Ferrari Chairman Luca di Montezemolo. The question remaining is who is returning to whom: is Raikkonen returning to Ferrari, or the other way around?
It is no secret that Raikkonen and Montezemolo have a rocky history, with Montezemolo having paid off Raikkonen to not race in 2010. Montezemolo was keen on removing the then underperforming Finn from the Italian roster to make way for the charismatic Spaniard, Alonso. Raikkonen will now partner the very man he was replaced by, in the team that gave him his first and only world championship. While many will question the decision to hire Raikkonen to partner Alonso – the ‘two roosters in a henhouse’ analogy keeps returning – there might be more to this new partnership than the mere desire to have the two most enigmatic drivers on the grid.
Aside from bringing his cool character and the largest shades in the paddock to partner Alonso’s, Raikkonen brings with him years of experience, something drivers like Hulkenberg or Bianchi lack to a similar extent. Ferrari have struggled to keep up with Red Bull, a team that has lifted the constructors championship trophy for the last three years in a row. With the 2014 V6 engines and regulations slowly making their way to the
grid, however, the playing field becomes more levelled, since everyone starts from scratch. Ferrari already made the strategic move to lure James Allison from Lotus to lead their technical development along with Pat Fry. The decision to employ Raikkonen from the constructors’ perspective is clear; his previous knowledge of working with Ferrari and his experience with the engineers makes him very desirable to develop a race winning car with, and after two years they can employ a younger driver that can build upon Kimi’s work.
Winning races is what Ferrari can offer to Raikkonen, and surely the reason he chose to make the move from the occasionally underperforming and indebted Lotus. By replacing Massa Ferrari will have two drivers that are able to win races instead of just one. Massa has not won a race since 2008, and this is partly the reason Ferrari have suffered in the constructors’ championship. But the reason Massa has not won is, to an extent, down to the fact that he has been playing a supporting role for Alonso. Ferrari will now be faced with two world championship winners, men of different character and background but driven by the same thirst to win the title.
Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari‘s team principal, gave assurances that no favouritism will exist for either driver. “Since the world began, our drivers have always started on equal terms. It’s always been that way and always will. Then, during the course of the season, if the situation is such that one driver can help the other based on the points table, it’s logical and right that it should happen.” He went on to say that: “… at Ferrari, everyone knows the interests of the team come first and only then those of the individual.” It will be interesting to see whether Kimi’s and Alonso’s interests will collide with that of Ferrari’s as the season progresses.
Ferrari are now faced with a situation that needs perfect balancing. They have two experienced drivers who have the ability to bring the constructors’ trophy back to Maranello, but also two drivers who are used to being in a position where the team is oriented toward their needs. Whether this is a match made in heaven for Ferrari, or an impending clash of the titans approaching the grand prix circuits, one thing is for sure – the next two years will be entertaining.
But off-the-track drama should not detract from the fact that this has been yet another interesting season in Formula One which will soon be nearing its end. The European stage of the tour has concluded with Sebastian Vettel winning five races for his Red Bull team.
Vettel is a driver with a great set of skills and I suspect, despite the challenges of Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, that he will come away with the final cheequered flag at the end of the season. The next race is Sunday 22 September in Singapore before the tour continues around Asia and concludes in Brazil on November 24, having made stop-offs in Abu Dhabi and the United States of America. These tracks often provide some late drama so keep your eyes peeled on what will be the fascinating final lap of a very competitive season.
Eventually, when all is done and dusted this time around, eyes will no doubt wander over to the pit lanes to see where the real drama might be taking place next season as two of Formula One’s most formidable and excitable egos come together underneath the biggest brand in the world of F1.