If you look at the results card, the British Grand Prix weekend went by as per prediction. Lewis Hamilton won his home race, Mercedes celebrated another dual podium finish with Nico Rosberg third, and Max Verstappen drove another stunning race.
There was an additional pointer to emanate from this weekend though, one which will certainly impact the next season as well: it was Ferrari re-signing Kimi Raikkonen on a one-year contract extension. In effect, the Iceman will now be driving for the Scuderia for a fourth successive season in his second stint with the team, and his seventh season overall, after driving for them from 2007-'09 previously. He also remains the last F1 drivers’ champion for the Italian automobile giant, taking the title in stunning fashion in 2007.
Since then, three drivers have tried their hand at the title driving for the prancing horse. Felipe Massa failed in 2008, after which Ferrari brought on Fernando Alonso and dumped Raikkonen unceremoniously in 2010. The Spaniard, too, failed before the team turned to four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel in 2015, even as Raikkonen had returned to his beloved team in 2014.
Two points are noteworthy herein, though. First, when one says "beloved", let it be known that Raikkonen derives immense pride in driving for the Scuderia. He has driven for Sauber, McLaren and Lotus at varied points in his career, but only with Ferrari he has expressed the desire to stay on. In fact, the willingness with which he moved from McLaren in 2007 to replace Michael Schumacher is a case in-point.
And then, there is the small matter of him stating last season that he would "want to finish his career with Ferrari". This is where the second point emerges. Should Ferrari have called time on the Finn’s contract already? What are they looking to achieve from this one-year contract extension?
What's on Ferrari's agenda?
Winning a drivers’ championship with him again is clearly not the agenda. Raikkonen has been consistently slower than his teammate ever since his return to Ferrari. In 2014, he scored a mere 55 points in 19 races while Alonso scored 161. In 2015, Vettel scored 278 points in 19 races while Raikkonen finished with 150. This season, in 10 races thus far he has outscored Vettel 106 to 98, but only because the German had two retirements and a did-not-start, as compared to the Finn’s two retirements.
Moreover, with the sizeable advantage Mercedes enjoy over the rest of the field at the moment, Ferrari are only ever fighting for second in the constructors’ championship. As such, that pitch was queered further when Red Bull Racing bested them at the British GP. At the quick Silverstone circuit, which requires good aerodynamics but even better engine power, both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo finished ahead of Raikkonen, with Vettel struggling once again with reliability issues.
Ferrari were expected to challenge Mercedes’ supremacy this season and, yet, they are now falling back in the pegging order. There is no denying that Red Bull has superior aerodynamics on its chassis, thanks to chief technical officer Adrian Newey. But the surprising factor is that the Renault engine has now started improving by leaps and bounds, meaning that even on power-circuits like Silverstone, Ferrari are no longer the second-best team.
It provokes the thought if Ferrari know that the best they can do now is challenge for points and hope to fight for the second spot. Thus, they decided to hedge their bets on an experienced driver. Raikkonen certainly does seem the healthier option in these circumstances, someone who doesn’t fuss too much and gets on with his job. The added rider, herein, is that he is on very friendly terms with Vettel. Having suffered silently through the brooding Alonso era, Ferrari want this happy environment to persist a little longer in their garage.
What about the younger brigade?
Even so, the Scuderia do need to answer the question Formula One as a sport may pose. What of the younger brigade who are eagerly awaiting their chance to drive for arguably the biggest name in motorsport? Nico Hulkenberg is one example, who has now been overlooked thrice by Ferrari, the latest instance being when they chose to re-sign Raikkonen.
His teammate at Force India, Sergio Perez, has also recently hit the headlines with his podium finishes in Monaco and Azerbaijan. Then, there is Romain Grosjean, who quietly moved to the Scuderia’s technical partner Haas F1 in a bid to work his way up the ladder. He has done well this season for the newcomer team and, yet, it hasn’t been enough to get him that elusive drive.
There is not an iota of doubt that despite not being a championship-winning seat at present, Ferrari is on top of the desire list of these young drivers. But is the feeling mutual? Perhaps not, for a school of thought suggests that the Scuderia are after only a top-talent to replace Raikkonen, someone proven with a top team. And therein lies the pickle.
Verstappen is contracted long-term to Red Bull. Rosberg is expected to sign a new Mercedes deal imminently. As such, Ferrari's eye could be on Hamilton, whose current Mercedes contract expires in 2018. Or even Ricciardo, who is currently being out-driven by his 18-year-old teammate. Furthermore, the Australian has been miffed with the team costing him victories in Spain and Monaco. If the 2017 rules do not favour Red Bull in the championship battle, Ricciardo could look to force a move elsewhere, with Ferrari lurking in the wings.
In summation, then, as much as he is liked by the world of motorsport, Raikkonen’s time in F1 is counting down, with his contract extension seemingly a continuation of marriage of convenience with Ferrari. How long will it last, though?