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Pressure growing at a difficult moment for Raikkonen, what is Ferrari's answer?

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Pressure growing at a difficult moment for Raikkonen, what is Ferrari's answer?
Jun 22, 2015, 10:00 AM

Kimi Raikkonen's exit from the Austrian Grand Prix, following on from the equally puzzling exit from Montreal has certainly not helped his claims t...

Kimi Raikkonen's exit from the Austrian Grand Prix, following on from the equally puzzling exit from Montreal has certainly not helped his claims to the Ferrari seat for next season.

Raikkonen lost control of the Ferrari on the opening lap in Austria, while in Montreal he spun when a podium was beckoning.

It's easy to jump on a bandwagon when a driver is going through a bad spell, but this situation is more complex and worth some examination.

Raikkonen was signed by Ferrari in the second half of 2013 at a time when he was minded to leave Lotus as they had not been paying his invoices and Ferrari had become concerned that Fernando Alonso might leave the team. This follows the notorious "ear-tweaking" which then Chairman Luca di Montezemolo gave him after he was caught trying to get a Red Bull drive and criticising the team.

Raikkonen, Ferrari's last world champion, was the insurance policy against things going wrong with Alonso, which they subsequently did in 2014 leading to his exit.

The master plan was to hire Vettel, which worked out very neatly in late 2014 and to pair him with Jules Bianchi. The Frenchman was due to race for Sauber this season and then move into Raikkonen's seat for 2016. Sadly Bianchi's accident in Suzuka put and end to that.

So Ferrari have been moving ahead with no firm idea of who is the long term partner to Vettel. Raikkonen fits in terms of team harmony and as a world champion he should be bringing in plenty of points, as he did with Lotus.

But this is a new Ferrari from the one he signed with. The Sergio Marchionne/ Maurizio Arrivabene management makes for a different mentality from before. Neither is a racer in the truest sense, both are corporate men, although Arrivabene is a clever operator who has spent the last 20 years in F1 so he understands it well. Marchionne is not a sporting man, he is a business man, a pragmatist and a very tough customer. Failure equals removal in his eyes.

Sergio Marchionne

Marchionne was in Austria and in Canada and said of Raikkonen after yesterdays' race, "He's a champion who is going through a difficult moment. We support him, but his future depends on him alone. He has to start bringing in results or decide to give up."

Meanwhile Arrivabene's statement in the official team press release after the race was more pointed: he did not mention Raikkonen at all and added this, "Once more we are aware that Sebastian was the big asset we could get this year, together with a team which is fully committed and now is said to be the second force in the championship."

Raikkonen now has 72 points to Vettel's 120, 60% of the German's total.

The two obvious candidates to replace Raikkonen are probably not available for next season: Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo. The latter might cause some alarm for Vettel, although the reasons for his relative underachievement compared to Ricciardo at Red Bull are becoming clearer now that he is back to his best with Ferrari. And Ricciardo is having a tough time himself at present.

Bottas belongs to Toto Wolff and while his prospects of getting a Mercedes drive any time soon have receded with Rosberg and Hamilton both on new long term contracts, he will none the less be keen to progress his career into a winning car. Williams, as a customer of Mercedes, is always going to be secondary to the works team.

The old Ferrari management of Stefano Domenicali and Montezemolo had considered hiring Nico Hulkenberg to replace Felipe Massa and the stars briefly aligned, but it didn't happen. His size and weight at a time when the technical regulations favoured lighter drivers, didn't help him.

This past history means nothing to the new management team. They approach the situation afresh.

Hulkenberg, Bottas

Hulkenberg currently has a glow, after winning Le Mans and then putting in a fighting performance against Williams at the weekend. His spirited battle with Bottas in a faster car reflected well on him. Before becoming a "winner" again he was seen as a good driver, who looked like he was being fitted up to play the role of a nearly-man. There is now a window of opportunity for him to capitalise on that glow.

If Ferrari believe that either Bottas or Ricciardo might be available at the end of 2016, they may well throw the dice and give Hulkenberg one year next season to prove himself. He has nothing to lose; if it didn't work out he could slip into a Haas F1 seat the following year, Ferrari's "B Team", or if it did work out the team might not feel the need to hire another driver.

Hulkenberg's other options are to stay at Force India, but the clouds are gathering for the small teams as the prospect of customer cars or 'franchise cars' becomes more likely. Or he could take a risk next year on Haas, which is looking for someone like him to start its adventure with. But to go from where he is now to a new team starting out would be tricky at this stage of his career. He'd be auditioning for a Ferrari seat that may never come.

Hulkenberg on a one year 'prove yourself' contract with Ferrari would play well with fans and would provide some real interest. For both sides it's certainly worth considering from a racing point of view.

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