Many observers were surprised when Ferrari gave Kimi Raikkonen a one-year extension on his contract at the end of the 2017 season. A seasoned campaigner, there is no doubt that the Finn still has it in him to win when the cards fall his way, but at 38 years of age he is not the driver he was in his heyday.
Stability within the team is one of the benefits of having a Raikkonen-Sebastian Vettel pairing, as Raikkonen is a non-political individual who is not averse to playing second-fiddle. However, the talk in the paddock is of the opinion this is his last hear at Maranello. The question is – who can Ferrari hire to replace him?
Young Gun Not Ready
The Ferrari young driver academy has placed Charles Leclerc, the talented Monegasque, at Sauber, where it is expected he will gain experience and move on to Ferrari at the future. We may be only three races into the season, but the general opinion is that Leclerc has struggled somewhat, hence he ins unlikely to be a ready substitute for the experienced Raikkonen for 2019.
Who does that leave as candidates?
There are a couple of potential drivers who are without contracts come the end of the season, and one name keeps coming up: that is Daniel Ricciardo, winner of the recent Chinese Grand Prix for Red Bull.
Opening Old Wounds
The problem with a Vettel-Ricciardo partnership is that it would undoubtedly be political. The two had their problems when paired at Red Bull, and it is thought by many that Vettel would not be happy about the Australian joining him at Ferrari.
There are some who see Nico Hulkenberg as the ideal choice. He is a known quantity, although if he doesn’t get a top-flight seat soon, he could miss the boat. Sergio Perez is another possibility, and Romain Grosjean’s name has also been mentioned.
Out of contract at the end of this season is Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, and he would also make an ideal non-political partner for Vettel.
It’s an open market right now, so it may be worth keeping an eye on the F1 gossip columns for the latest news.
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