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Does Raikkonen deserve to continue in F1? Our verdicts

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
6 min read

Alfa Romeo has announced it is sticking with an unchanged driver line-up for 2021, meaning Kimi Raikkonen will enter his 19th season in the championship and is set to be racing into age 42 at least.

Already the most experienced driver in F1 history, Raikkonen has had a mixed time through Lotus, Ferrari and Alfa during his second stint in grand prix racing. But is Alfa right to keep him around, is he right to keep going, what does he bring to F1 and can he meaningfully add to his legacy?

Our team of F1 experts offer their views on the aforementioned questions below.

Alfa’s giving up a couple of tenths

Mark Hughes

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Budapest, HungaryIt’s great for Kimi in that he gets to extend what he has described as his “hobby”, great for his legions of fans that they get to enjoy him further. But although he still has moments of magic within him – as we saw in the opening laps of Portimao where he was superb in utilising a temporary grip advantage in tricky conditions – I cant help feeling that the team is surrendering a couple of tenths of raw qualifying performance in what is a very sensitive part of the grid (i.e. where a small laptime margin can buy you valuable grid places), compared to what it had when the rookie Charles Leclerc was there.

The question then becomes whether there is anyone of that calibre available and even if the likes of Nico Hulkenberg could be considered a certain upgrade or not. A motivated and engaged Raikkonen can still be a great asset. But is that what the team is going to get, every race?

Alfa should be desperate for stability

Gary Anderson

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Steiermark Grand Prix Race Day Spielberg, AustriaRaikkonen brings with him the stability that the Alfa Romeo team badly needs. As he showed at the last race, give him a set of circumstances that suit and he will just get on with it.

He still has the magic of Raikkonen, both in his driving and in his personality. I am all for giving young drivers the opportunity to get into F1 but we need characters like Kimi and I am glad to see him get at least another season out of F1.

Remember, when he first kicked off his F1 career with Sauber, Ron Dennis said he was too young and inexperienced to be an F1 driver. How much more wrong can anyone be? It wasn’t long until he was putting a McLaren contract under Kimi’s nose.

I think Kimi said at that time if you’re fast enough, you’re old enough. Now he says if you’re fast enough, you’re young enough.

Give him the tools and he will bring you the results.

Raikkonen isn’t washed up, but change was desirable

Scott Mitchell

Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo F1 2020 garageI think there are better qualifiers and more combative racing drivers than 2020-spec Kimi around in F1 (and outside it: see Hulkenberg and a crop of exciting Formula 2 talents).

So, my gut feeling is that I’d have liked to see a change. However, I do think Kimi on his day – as he proved at Algarve – has something fabulous to offer F1 because he remains a driver with a wonderfully instinctive talent. And he is a popular driver, even if that popularity continues to baffle me!

Therefore, this is at least a palatable decision. Kimi’s upped his game after a disappointing start to 2020 even if at 41 many will say he’s well past his sell-by date.

He’s not the number one driver I’d pick from 2020 to remain on the grid – someone like Sergio Perez is in far greater need of a reprieve than Kimi. But he’s also not an offensive choice, and it clearly still works for him and the team. If that doesn’t change before the end of 2021, one more year of Kimi is fine by me.

A conservative but understandable move

Edd Straw

Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo, F1 2020Raikkonen wasn’t absolutely the best available option, but as he has shown with his form from Spain onwards – perhaps Sochi and Nurburgring aside – he can still do a decent job on track.

While Perez would have been my choice, Raikkonen offers excellent technical feedback, significant promotional appeal and a level of consistency that is of value even if his outright pace isn’t what it once was.

The overall speed is the main concern the team had, something that did appear set to mean he wouldn’t continue next year at one stage, but the all-round package still appeals and clearly Raikkonen is motivated enough to keep going in F1. The fact the car will be largely carried over in 2021 is another positive for him.

It’s a conservative choice but you can’t say Raikkonen can’t at least do a job in F1. So an understandable choice, if not the most bold – and it’s no bad thing to get another season out of F1’s star names.

Giovinazzi, not Raikkonen, is the questionable deal here

Glenn Freeman

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Austrian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Spielberg, AustriaIf the silly season shakes out with a deserving Ferrari junior stuck on the sidelines, it’s not the decision to keep Raikkonen that should be scrutinised.

The fact Raikkonen is willing to stay for what is likely to be another year of struggle in 2021 is a credit to him. For someone who’s very good at looking like he doesn’t care very much, he clearly still has the motivation to be an F1 driver.

If Ferrari believes it has deserving candidates waiting in the wings, then Giovinazzi keeping his place is the one that raises an eyebrow. Nearly two full seasons with the same team is a fair crack at F1, and he’s not shown himself to be consistent or reliable enough.

Raikkonen gives Alfa Romeo a known quantity, which it has desperately needed in a year when F1 has developed a ‘Class C’ at the back of the field. Giovinazzi can count himself fortunate to get a third year, and he must not waste it.

A boring choice, but Alfa can’t be forced to mix it up

Valentin Khorounzhiy

Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo, F1 2020As someone who tends to grade F1 moves on whether or not they’re interesting rather than whether or not they’re justified, Raikkonen earning a 2021 deal is not massively interesting, especially as he will continue to go up against the same benchmark in Giovinazzi (who is at least more of an enigma).

Raikkonen has not been bad at all in 2020, especially as of late, but these past two years have not done anything, good or bad, for his F1 legacy and ’21 is unlikely to do anything either, given you’d the expect the Alfa Romeo to retain a generally similar performance level.

There were two very recent occasions at Monza and Portimao where Raikkonen ended up in superb track position, and in both cases he ended up slipping outside of the points. It wasn’t by any means his fault, but because of the current performance of the Alfa Romeo these races are probably not even a footnote in his CV.

A Callum Ilott or a Robert Shwartzman, Nico Hulkenberg or Sergio Perez, or even one of the two dropped Haas drivers would’ve made for a better storyline. At the same time, I’d be crazy to fault Alfa Romeo for not making a decision on the basis of it being interesting – if the team feels it’s getting its money’s worth and Raikkonen is still enjoying himself, that’s all that matters.

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