Ferrari should replace Kimi Raikkonen for next season to help Sebastian Vettel's title chances
The Finn's inability to prevent Hamilton winning the Italian Grand Prix was a snapshot of his deficiencies as a No 2 teammate to Vettel, writes Graham Caygill
There were a lot of milestones for Kimi Raikkonen to cherish at the Italian Grand Prix this past weekend.
The Finn's pole position lap around Monza was the fastest in Formula One history as the 2007 world champion averaged 163.78mph in his Ferrari.
Then on Sunday, Raikkonen achieved the 100th podium of his career, becoming only the fifth driver in history to achieve the feat.
Yet despite a weekend of fine accomplishment, Raikkonen also underlined why Ferrari should dispense with his services at the end of the season and bring in Charles Leclerc to partner Sebastian Vettel for 2019.
Raikkonen, 38, did a lot of things right at Monza, but winning the race was not one of them as he was beaten into second place by Lewis Hamilton, who passed him late in the race to take the 68th win of his career.
Granted, it was not all Raikkonen’s fault that he was beaten by reigning world champion Hamilton.
Mercedes-GP outsmarted Ferrari on strategy and Raikkonen was forced to run a longer final stint on soft tyres after his team pitted him early in an attempt to prevent Hamilton gaining track position at the pit stops.
The first part of that worked, but it meant Raikkonen became stuck behind Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, who had not pitted.
Bottas's slower pace boxed Raikonnen in and allowed Hamilton, on fresher tyres, to close in and then pounce in the latter stages.
Raikkonen was a sitting duck by that point, his Pirelli tyres were badly worn and he did well to keep Hamilton behind as long as he did.
The race was lost because Raikkonen was not quick enough in the opening 20 laps. He had retaken the lead from Hamilton after an early tussle, but could not pull away despite the Ferrari being the fastest car on the track.
Raikkonen needed a three or four-second advantage to allow him to control the race, but it was just one by the time the pit stops came around and it allowed Mercedes to control the race.
Ferrari needed Raikkonen to win after Vettel, their championship contender, had spun following light contact with Hamilton on the opening lap.
It was a poor weekend from Vettel – beaten to pole by Raikkonen before getting caught out by Hamilton in the lead-up to their clash.
This is where Ferrari needed Vettel to have a strong teammate who can step up.
Hamilton has had that in Bottas. It is easy to forget that the Finn played a big role in helping Hamilton’s run to the title last year.
The four-time world champion had some off days in the early half of the season, and was out of contention in both Russia and Austria.
But the damage was limited as Bottas won those races, preventing Vettel from claiming victory on both occasions and ensuring the German scored seven less points then he might have done.
If Raikkonen had won on Sunday, Hamilton would have gained only six points on Vettel, who finished fourth, but instead he gained 13.
Raikkonen has rarely been a match for Vettel on straight race pace throughout their four seasons as teammates.
Vettel is reportedly a big advocate of Raikkonen being his teammate, but a cynic would think it also helps that he knows he has the Finn’s number on outright performance.
However, as Vettel reflects on the fact he now trails Hamilton by 30 points with seven races to go, he must be aware that a stronger teammate would actually be a benefit.
Raikkonen has only finished ahead of Hamilton once this season in races that they have both completed.
Bottas has done so twice against Ferrari’s No 1, but arguably he could have done so more had car unreliability, a puncture and a collision with Vettel not happened.
Leclerc has done wonders with Sauber in his first year at F1. Ferrari could take the easy option and keep him there or move him to Haas and retain Raikkonen.
Raikkonen is a popular figure in F1. He has not won a race for Ferrari since returning to the team in 2014, but the reaction of the Italian crowd to his pole lap shows how much support he still has.
But he is not quick enough, not any more. If Ferrari are to learn from their mistakes then they must make a change.
Vettel may be out of his comfort zone with a younger charge alongside him but if Leclerc can take points away from Hamilton, then it could actually make future title hopes stronger.
Updated: September 3, 2018 02:13 PM