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French GP: Kimi Raikkonen’s grand response to reports of Ferrari ditch

With rumours suggesting that Ferrari is ready to replace Kimi Raikkonen with rising star Charles LeClerc in its Formula One driver line-up for 2019, the Finn performed extremely well in the French Grand Prix last week, finishing third.

other sports Updated: Jun 26, 2018 09:42 IST
Raja Sen
Raja Sen
Hindustan Times
French Grand Prix,French GP,Kimi Raikkonen
Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen finished third in the French Grand Prix. (AFP)

Motivation hides in the strangest of places. Four days before the French Grand Prix, it was reported that Ferrari might be looking to replace Kimi Raikkonen for the next season, swapping the flamboyant Finnish driver with a bright young Frenchman.

This is far from typical Ferrari behaviour since the Italian outfit is known to hire highly experienced and proven pilots. Raikkonen, the last Ferrari driver to win a world championship (2007) has raced 278 races, a whopping 138 of those wearing the Ferrari scarlet.

ALSO READ: Lewis Hamilton cruises back to standings summit with France win

The 20-year-old Charles LeClerc, on the other hand, is nine races old, but these have been sterling performances where the youngster has driven the wheels off his Sauber and made the car look better than it is. Lending credence to the rumours is the fact that LeClerc is the most impressive product of the Ferrari Driving Academy, and if he replaces Raikkonen — at 38 he is sadly beginning to look his age on the track —he could rejuvenate the spirit of Ferrari with raw homegrown talent, much like Lewis Hamilton did back in the day as a creation of McLaren racing.

The story may of course have been wily timing on Ferrari’s part, granting them buzzy press in the run up to France’s first Grand Prix in 10 years.

It clearly lit a fire under Raikkonen’s bottom, with the Finn scalding the timesheets throughout the race and broaching the podium in style, pulling off the most gorgeous passes on two drivers in contention for this year’s world championship, the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo and the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. Kimi on song is a sight to behold, even if it takes a scare to get him to shine.

ALSO READ: Formula One: Red Bull to leave Renault, use Honda engines

There was no fear in Hamilton’s path as he stormed to victory from pole even as hell broke loose right behind him. At the start, a jumpy Vettel tagged the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, sending the German, who was leading the world championship, to the very back of the grid and earning him a five-second penalty.

Vettel drove fearlessly, overtaking with grace and savagery, but managed only to make it to fifth position, in a poetic reprisal of the Canadian Grand Prix a fortnight ago where Hamilton finished fifth and the German won. This is turning into an absurdly see-saw season where fortunes flip around in every race as engines are upgraded and small tweaks work (or don’t). It is the kind of season where bookmakers will sweat all through.

They will certainly have it tough the next few weeks. The French Grand Prix marked the start of the first-ever triple header in F1 history, where races will take place on three successive Sundays, with the Austrian and British races coming up.

This relentless schedule will be tough on teams, engineers and tyre-makers, and damnably hard on the nerves —for drivers and spectators. There will be little time to regroup, rethink, and come back stronger. It’s all in the now. This is the Formula One World Cup.

Raja Sen is a film critic who has been writing about Formula One since 2004. He shares his birthday with Michael Schumacher. Views expressed are personal.

First Published: Jun 26, 2018 08:54 IST