Much has been rumoured recently about the future of Ferrari’s driver line-up, and I think only a handful of Formula One pilots are key to the entire ecosystem of the driver market; Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Robert Kubica and Jenson Button. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are two other drivers that are held in high regard, but their medium-term futures seem pretty solid with their current teams. But at the top of the list are the two world champions, and with the eldest being just 28, is it really that odd that Kimi might be considering retirement?
In this day and age, drivers earn a lot of money for piloting a Formula One car, the world champions especially so. Raikkonen’s 2007 – 2009 contract is said be worth $153m, meaning that the Finn will earn $51m each year from Ferrari. Add on bonuses and merchandising/other business interests and you realise that Raikkonen should not need to work again once his contract is up or has been ended.
Michael Schumacher reportedly broke new ground when he signed for Ferrari back in 1996, the German’s contract for the first four years of his decade career at the Scuderia being worth approximately $124m. Schumacher was also reported to earn at least a further 30-60% on top of this with his merchandising. Michael, while he is still employed at Maranello, really doesn’t need to take a salary anymore.
Both drivers achieved their greatest success at Ferrari, and although Kimi is still riding at the top of his game (for arguments sake, he is the reigning champion even if he currently doesn’t look like it) I feel that unless Raikkonen switches to another team at exactly the right moment, he will likely see his Ferrari-years as the most successful in his F1 career.
However, Michael Schumacher went on for fifteen years, broke almost all the records and retired, in my opinion, before he really needed to. Although the speculation surrounding Schumacher’s retirement started in the early-to-mid-’00s, the multiple world champion looked as though he could keep on going for a few more years. You only have to look at his facial expressions while he tests the F2008 to see that he misses racing.
Conversely, Raikkonen looks as though he couldn’t be bothered with this racing nonsense and would rather muck about on a frozen lake in Finland on a skidoo. I’m not seriously suggesting for even a second that this is the case, but the passion just seems to come from somewhere else when you look and listen to the Finn. Kimi has also hinted in the past that he doesn’t want a long career like his predecessor at Ferrari. Raikkonen clearly wanted to be champion in all the years and races prior to Brazil 2007, but I don’t think he has the desire to continually want it over and over again.
Fernando Alonso is another modern-day driver who has expressed the desire to not want to race into his late-thirties. Interestingly though, Alonso appears to have continued the passion to date. The Spaniard moved to McLaren for 2007 because he felt they were the best team at the time to offer him the best chance of winning the title again. And to be fair, along with Ferrari, they were at the time he made the move.
But getting back to Raikkonen and the persistent rumour that he may retire in a year or two and make way for Alonso to join…
…Of all the theories, it appears to be a bit wild, but there is something in it that makes me hesitant to completely dismiss it. I can see Raikkonen retiring in the near future. He has money, security and has had his fun while proving to the world he can be world champion. Schumacher’s attitude was quite different, but then it was he along with his close associates (of which Jean Todt became) that rebuilt Ferrari into the dominant force that it was and to a degree, still is.
Schumacher’s attitude was perhaps traditional, the German driver arguably feeling compelled to continue winning for his team; to continually give back until he could no longer. Raikkonen is part of the new breed, the yoof, if you like. Neither attitude is really wrong. Schumacher had a long and successful career, Raikkonen – if he is of this ilk – sees little point in risking his life any more than he feels he needs to.
So let’s put it to the vote:[poll:16]
As always, reasons behind your choice are welcomed in the comments below.
Salary source: Wikipedia Entry – List of largest sports contracts.
Photos © Ferrari Spa.