Leclerc promoted to Ferrari seat as Raikkonen joins Sauber

Kimi Raikkonen has stepped down from Scuderia Ferrari at the end of this season, giving way for rising Formula 1 star Charles Leclerc.

Long-time Ferrari protege Leclerc had been tipped to replace Raikkonen earlier this season after an awesome start to his rookie season at Sauber that impressed then Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne.

Marchionne’s death in July threatened Leclerc’s promotion and boosted Raikkonen’s prospects of extending his second stint at Ferrari by another year because Marchionne’s replacement as CEO, Louis Camilleri, is a supporter of The Iceman.

The situation then advanced over the Italian Grand Prix weekend when it emerged Ferrari wanted to honour Marchionne’s original plan to replace Raikkonen with Leclerc next season.

Ferrari has now confirmed Raikkonen “will step down from his current role” and officially announced that Leclerc will team up with Sebastian Vettel from next season on wards.

The 2007 world champion has started 284 Grands Prix, winning 20 of them since making his debut with Sauber in 2001.

Raikkonen left Formula 1 two years after winning the world title with Ferrari to spend two years competing in the World Rally Championship, before returning to the sport with Lotus in 2012.

He rejoined Ferrari two years later but has failed to add to his nine victories with the team in his second spell – he qualified on pole for the recent Italian Grand Prix but was denied the win by Lewis Hamilton.

“During these years, Kimi’s contribution to the team, both as a driver and on account of his human qualities, has been fundamental,” said Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene.

“He played a decisive role in the team’s growth and was, at the same time, always a great team player.

“As a world champion for Scuderia Ferrari, he will always be part of the team’s history and family.

“We thank Kimi for all of this and wish him and his family a prosperous future.”

Raikkonen will leave Ferrari as one of its most successful drivers, racking up 144 starts – only Michael Schumacher (179) has more – and nine wins with the famous team.

With Charles Leclerc’s promotion to the works Scuderia team confirmed, he becomes the first Ferrari Driver Academy graduate an unique opportunity to drive for the main outfit.

The 20-year-old will also be the second-youngest driver in history to race for Ferrari, older only than Ricardo Rodriguez.

Leclerc took to social media after the announcement to declare that “dreams do come true” and his messages included a heartfelt tribute to his late father Herve and friend Jules Bianchi.

“Eternally grateful to Scuderia Ferrari for the opportunity given,” Leclerc wrote.

“To Nicolas Todt for supporting me since 2011. To my family.

“To a person that is not part of this world anymore but to whom I owe everything of what is happening to me, Papa.

“To Jules, thank you for all the things you learnt me [sic], we will never forget you.

“And to all the persons that supported me and believed in me.

“I will work harder than ever to not disappoint you.

“But first, there is a season to finish with an amazing team that gave me the opportunity to fight and show my potential.”

Leclerc won back-to-back titles in GP3 and Formula 2 to earn his Formula 1 graduation with Sauber this season, and a stunning start to his Grand Prix racing career convinced Ferrari’s top management he was ready for an immediate promotion.

He has scored a best result of sixth, in Azerbaijan, and bagged 13 points to lie P15 in the championship, outperforming his much more experienced team-mate Marcus Ericsson.

His results and a dip in form for Raikkonen convinced the late Sergio Marchionne, Ferrari’s former chairman, to green-light Leclerc replacing The Iceman next season.

That was complicated when Marchionne passed away in July and was replaced by Louis Camilleri, a supporter of Raikkonen, but Ferrari’s new hierarchy decided to honour Marchionne’s original plan.

Leclerc’s current team boss at Sauber, Fred Vasseur, said: “It has been a great pleasure to support Charles Leclerc in his rookie year in Formula 1.

“Since his arrival, he has given the team great motivation. We have constantly improved and we will work hard until the end of this season to achieve the best possible results together.

“We are aware of Charles’ talent and are confident that he will have a bright future.

“We will keep on following him closely and we wish him the best on his path.”

So fantastic news for Charles Leclerc. A promotion to the senior Ferrari team is a brilliant career move for Leclerc and it’s going to be a major challenge to drive alongside Sebastian Vettel. The pressure to succeed is on.

As for Kimi Raikkonen, he will return to Sauber in 2019 after losing his spot at Ferrari.

Raikkonen made his Formula 1 debut with Sauber in 2001, before joining McLaren the following year, and will now head back to the Swiss team next season.

The move to Sauber is a two-year deal for Raikkonen, who wrote on his official Instagram account: “Guess who’s back?! Next two years with Sauber F1 team ahead!

“Feels extremely good to go back where it all began!”

Though the 2007 world champion has not won a race since 2013, and has not tasted victory in his second stint with Ferrari, his return represents a major signing for Sauber.

The team has been on a major rebuilding project over the last year since Fred Vasseur took charge amid an ownership change.

“Signing Kimi Raikkonen as our driver represents an important pillar of our project, and brings us closer to our target of making significant progress as a team in the near future,” said Vasseur.

“Kimi’s undoubted talent and immense experience in Formula 1 will not only contribute to the development of our car, but will also accelerate the growth and development of our team as a whole.

“Together, we will start the 2019 season with a strong foundation, driven by the determination to fight for results that count.”

Sauber’s revival has facilitated Leclerc’s stunning rookie season, which has earned the 20-year-old an immediate graduation to Ferrari.

Raikkonen taking one of the 2019 Sauber seats means its other 2018 driver Marcus Ericsson is under pressure to earn his stay with the team.

So a major swap deal between the Ferrari-backed drivers. Kimi Raikkonen for Charles Leclerc. Position switched at Ferrari and Sauber. Best of luck to both in their new roles at the outfits and it’s going to be fascinating how competitive both will be come the new Formula 1 season.

3 thoughts to “Leclerc promoted to Ferrari seat as Raikkonen joins Sauber”

  1. Leclerc to Ferrari: The stats you need to know as reported by

    A dream rookie season has got even better for Charles Leclerc, after Ferrari confirmed that their protege will partner Sebastian Vettel at the Scuderia next season. Here’s everything you need to know about one of the biggest moves in recent Formula 1 history…

    Ferrari’s first Monegasque driver…

    Leclerc is one of just three drivers born in Monaco to have raced in Formula 1 – Louis Chiron and Olivier Beretta are the other two – so Ferrari haven’t exactly had a big pool to choose from.

    So when the move was announced, not only was it an historic moment for the Italian squad – but Monaco can be proud too, with the nation set to be associated with the iconic team for the first time.

    “It is a dream since a child to drive for the red cars,” Leclerc revealed ahead of his home Grand Prix this year. “So hopefully this will happen one day.

    “I will give everything for it to happen next year but the decision is not in my hands and the only thing I can do is give the best of myself on track and then hopefully it will be enough to consider me for the seat next year.”

    That dream has now become a reality – and he will proudly fly the Monaco flag.

    Their youngest driver since 1961…

    When he gets off the line at next year’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Leclerc will become the youngster driver to compete for Ferrari since the late Ricardo Rodriguez.

    The Mexican still holds the record as the youngest ever driver to race for Ferrari, after competing at the 1961 Italian Grand Prix aged 19 years and 208 days.

    He’ll hold onto that record too, given Leclerc will be 21 once the 2019 curtain-raiser arrives, but it’s certainly an achievement for the current Sauber star.

    Not many can say they drive for Ferrari at such a young age…

    The least experienced Ferrari debutant since Villeneuve…

    Ferrari traditionally opt for experience when deciding their line up, but Leclerc’s impressive showing this season has persuaded them to go against the grain.

    The last driver they signed up was Vettel, who arrived from Red Bull in 2015 on the back of securing four consecutive world titles – and before the German, their last signing Kimi Raikkonen had previously won the 2007 championship with the squad.

    Leclerc doesn’t boast a CV anything like those, yet. As it stands, the exciting talent has competed in just 14 Grands Prix, with a best finish of sixth arriving in Azerbaijan.

    In fact, he’ll be the least experienced Prancing Horse debutant since a certain Gilles Villeneuve – who had just one Grand Prix to his name when Ferrari pinched the Canadian from McLaren in 1977.

    Villeneuve, whose career would later be cut tragically short after a fatal crash during qualifying for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix, went on to secure a maiden F1 triumph in his first full season for Ferrari.

    How Leclerc will want to follow in his footsteps.

    Spectacular success in his junior career

    Leclerc has been making noise in motorsport since his karting days, having enjoyed success on the national and European scene, while he also competed for CIK-FIA World KZ Championship glory against a certain Max Verstappen in 2013.

    He made the step up to single-seaters in 2014 with a campaign in the Formula Renault 2.0 Alps series. Success came quickly, with two wins in his first year as well as three podiums from six outings in the more competitive Formula Renault 2.0 Euro series.

    For 2015, promotion to the FIA F3 Euro championship resulted in four victories and fourth place overall, and he also impressed with a second-place finish in the prestigious Macau Grand Prix.

    His rise continued apace in 2016 (the year in which he became a Ferrari Driver Academy member) and he carried on winning – three times en route to the GP3 title in his rookie season.

    And he couldn’t break the habit in 2017, when he secured the Formula 2 crown in dominant style at his first attempt, taking seven wins and eight pole positions with Prema. By doing so, he became the only driver to win both the GP3 and F2 championships as a rookie, and – at 19 – the youngest driver yet to win the main support series to F1.

    He also joined an elite club of just three drivers to have won the F2 (or GP2) title as a rookie, the others being Nico Hulkenberg (2009) and F1 champs Lewis Hamilton (2006) and Nico Rosberg (2005).

    It was perhaps no surprise then, that he made the step up to Formula 1 this year. He hasn’t looked back since.

    So, what persuaded Ferrari?

    Leclerc has wasted no time finding his feet in Formula 1 this season, with the 20-year-old enjoying a stellar maiden season which has yielded three Q3 appearances and five top-ten finishes.

    His form of late has stuttered slightly – the young Monegasque has suffered two retirements at the last three Grands Prix – but his early exploits have done enough to persuade Ferrari to promote him.

    He has big boots to fill, with the experienced Raikkonen making way, but he’s already proved this season that he has the ability to get the best out of his machinery.

    And with better equipment to use next year, who knows what he can achieve?

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