Räikkönen's second stint at Ferrari


The last two world champions simultaneously employed by Scuderia Ferrari fought like cat and dog. Giuseppe Farina was still in a hissing fury at Alberto Ascari’s disobeying of team orders at the preceding Grand Prix when they became entangled with a backmarker at the last corner and thus handed victory in their home race to sworn Modenese rivals Maserati.

Alberto Ascari, 1953

That this occurred 60 years ago suggests strongly that Ferrari learned well a harsh lesson. And the stats it has generated since – 13 drivers’ and 16 constructors’ world titles – plus the most dominant extended sequence in the category’s history validate it.

So why change now? Why re-employ a driver whom presumably it considered to be underperforming – and therefore wildly overpaid – at the end of 2009? And why risk destabilising its incumbent number one, the driver whom most consider to be the best in the business and a man who does not respond well to challenges from within?

The passage of time focuses the mind – no matter how bloody-minded – of sportsmen with necessarily short careers, yet outwardly Kimi Räikkönen remains the same, monosyllabic individualist he’s always been: as consistently fast and reliable – but no doubt cheaper – as he was in that buoyant maiden campaign with Ferrari in 2007.

That season he snuck the title from under the nose of a McLaren in schism. In the latter’s defence, not even those who had nurtured Lewis Hamilton every step from karts to Formula 1 can have expected him to be as sensational and insouciant as he was; Alonso got the shock of his life. Ferrari cannot say the same about the established credentials of Räikkönen, yet still it has pulled the pin and lobbed him in.

The Finn has little to lose: his car should be competitive and his cheques should arrive on time. Alonso, who has much to lose, is more obviously needy. It’s a strange game that the Spaniard has been playing recently: team radio whinges, public denials and upbeat tweets. Signed by Ferrari in 2010 to administer a kick in the pants, it would appear that his employer is ready for another slice of Kimi’s simpler, laissez faire approach. Luca di Montezemolo wears the slacks in this team, grazie.

Twice since nudging Michael Schumacher into retirement in 2006, Ferrari’s increasingly detached president has attempted to create a new dynasty. Neither worked quite as he envisaged – though Kimi’s, with Felipe Massa’s impressive support and ultimately lead, won three world titles to Alonso’s conspicuous zero. So now Luca, unconvinced by the available young guns, has been persuaded to bolt them together: a short-term gamble for a seismic, unpredictable season.

Latin heat meets Scandinavian cool, it’s going to be a bitch to control – I’m not entirely convinced that nice guy Stefano Domenicali knows what he has let himself in for – but fascinating to watch.

From Massa to an unholy mess? I give it a year. Max.

But which of them will leave? Alonso has pledged his allegiance and expressed a wish to extend his contract beyond its current 2016 cut-off. Räikkönen has signed, somewhat surprisingly, a two-year deal. (He still has clout). And both possess sufficient moxie to walk away if they are unhappy with their situation.

Alonso, having failed to head Räikkönen off at the pass, is my tip to pack his bags first – even if, as I suspect, he wins their battle. Kimi, the cuckoo (from Espoo) in the nest, is much more likely to sit tight, is much more accommodating, if not exactly malleable, and therefore much more likely to accept the best of the next generation – or Sebastian Vettel – as his team-mate. And that’s a plus. Let’s face it, Ferrari eventually grew weary – should that be wary? – of Schumacher’s golden grip. Not even a seven-time champion can be allowed to become bigger than F1’s biggest team.

Räikkönen, at 33, isn’t the future of Ferrari, but he is the most likely link to it. Alonso, as good as he is, has failed to create an empire. By forcing him to now share command, di Montezemolo has softened Fernando’s eventual departure from jarring full stop to a smoother semi-colon. Think of Räikkönen, therefore, as a new, improved Gerhard Berger. The Austrian returned to Ferrari in 1993 after three enjoyable and reasonably successful albeit contextualising seasons as Ayrton Senna’s team-mate at McLaren. Viewed by then as a safe pair of hands rather than a hot shoe, he helped the team – parlous in contrast to today’s iteration – to regroup before handing it on to a German superstar.

There is a long history of drivers retracing their Ferrari roots. Ascari, who had created an empire from 1952-53, and promptly left for Lancia because he felt insufficiently regarded and remunerated, showed Enzo what he’d been missing with a battling one-off performance at the 1954 Italian GP, leading for more than 40 laps before his 625’s engine cried enough.

Ascari at Monza, 1954

Froilán González, back at Ferrari after two seasons with Maserati, was team leader that season. He scored another victory at Silverstone’s British GP and finished second in the points. He promptly retired because of injury, but couldn’t resist offers from the Scuderia to drive for it in the Argentinean GPs of 1955, 1957 and 1960.

Mike Hawthorn left at the end of 1954, having won the Spanish GP finale. He’d signed for Britain’s Vanwall, with a view to spending more time at his Farnham garage in the aftermath of father Leslie’s fatal road accident. Disillusioned, he was back at Ferrari by the middle of 1955. He returned for good after a disastrous 1956 with BRM (plus a French GP outing in the much-improved Vanwall) and became the 1958 world champion in its 246 Dino.

Lorenzo Bandini, third on his world championship debut with Ferrari at Monaco in 1962, was welcomed back into its fold late in 1963 after reaffirming his worth in Scuderia Centro Sud’s year-old BRM.

Pedro Rodríguez thrice contested GPs for Ferrari from 1964-65 under the auspices of Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team. In 1969, he rejoined mid-season and thereafter subbed for the recently departed Chris Amon, again ostensibly for NART.

In 1970, Jacky Ickx, a winner for Ferrari at Rouen two years prior, returned after a successful season with Brabham. The flat-12 engine that had finally broken Amon’s Maranello spirit, of course came good and the Belgian came within an ace of winning a world championship forever marred by Jochen Rindt’s death at Monza.

Jacky Ickx leads Jackie Oliver, Clay Regazzoni, Jackie Stewart and Rolf Stommelen at Monza, 1970

Ickx was joined that year by Clay Regazzoni, who enjoyed a remarkable rookie half-season topped by victory at Monza. This pair stayed together until 1972. But whereas Ickx eked a brace of wins from two disappointing seasons, ‘Regga’ fell out of favour and washed up at creaking BRM. Back in favour by 1974 – Ickx had had enough – the rugged Swiss almost won that year’s title. More important, however, was his glowing recommendation that tipped Enzo into signing his BRM team-mate, too: Niki Lauda.

Mario Andretti’s 1982 comeback was a diamond in the rough. Like Räikkönen, he had won on his F1 debut with the team: the 1971 South African GP. Eleven years later, wearing a Ferrari cap and cowboy boots as he stepped from an Alitalia plane at Milan’s Malpensa, the 42-year-old legend’s call to arms triggered the largest crowd at Monza for years, and his pole position sent it wild. A sticking throttle would limit him to third in the race, but his remains, without question, the most stylish Ferrari return.

None of the above examples, however, carried the potential – both constructive and destructive – of Räikkönen’s. His is the most intriguing signing since Senna joined Alain Prost at McLaren.

Click here for more on Formula 1

Click here for more from Paul Fearnley

history  Ferrari at Monza

You may also like