By Stephen Williams
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Kimi Raikkonen will partner Sebastian Vettel for a third season as Ferrari announced he will drive for their team again in 2017. There had been speculation that Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz were contenders to replace Raikkonen, but it now looks like they will stay with Force India and Toro Rosso respectively.
Is it the right decision?
In my opinion, yes. He is currently fourth in the championship and level on points with his team mate. It is true that Vettel has experienced a lot of trouble in the races this season, but so has Kimi. Kimi has suffered misforunate such as the fire in Melbourne, the collision with Vettel in Shanghai, and there have also been other reliability issues that have affected his race pace like in Montreal and Baku. The Iceman is considered Ferrari's second driver and is often put on a strategy to enable Vettel to get the best possible result.
Would replacing Raikkonen be a good thing?
Ultimately, Ferrari want a second driver that can keep Vettel honest and pick up the pieces when Vettel can't. To be fair, Raikkonen has done that. He was unfortunate not to win in Spain when he looked quicker than Verstappen but was unable to overtake on the track. People say that had Vettel been in Raikkonen's position, he would have won. The circuit in Barcelona is notoriously difficult to overtake on and even Ricciardo renowned for his brave overtaking skills, was unable to pass Vettel. So, perhaps second was the best Raikkonen and Ferrari could achieve that day.
How much could Vettel improve if he was pushed by a faster driver?
Although Vettel was not comfortable when F1 moved to the hybrid era he was still comprehensively beaten by his new team mate Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian won three races when the German could only manage a best of second. There also seemed some disharmony in the team that year as Vettel for the first time in his career was beaten by his team mate. If a competitive driver did replace Kimi, would it affect Vettel's performances again?
What are the options for 2018?
Perhaps at the end of 2017 there will be an opportunity for a young driver to fill that seat. Antonio Giovinazzi has looked competitive in GP2 in his debut season and could be Ferrari's dream driver in the future being an Italian. Similarly Charles Leclerc drove for Haas in the first practice session at Silverstone so Ferrari will be able to look at his data to see if he may be an option. Ferrari have never been a team to promote young drivers straight to their first team so it is extremely unlikely to find these two drivers in the top seat at Ferrari in the next few years. Haas also have Romain Grosjean in their team, but when Raikkonen and Grosjean were at Lotus together there was not that much between them and it was often Raikkonen who came out ahead.
The chance for a Bottas or a Hulkenberg joining Ferrari looks to have gone. The momentum is now with the younger generation of drivers coming through like Sainz, Verstappen, Vandoorne, Ocon and Giovinazzi.
For Ferrari, the Vettel and Raikkonen partnership is exactly what they need right now. There's a good dynamic between the drivers which I'm sure is exactly what Maurizio Arrivabene and Sergio Marchionne want in their team.
The latest rumours are that Ferrari are interested in Lewis Hamilton for 2018. Vettel and Hamilton. Now what a team that could be.
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