Iceman cool with Sauber return

Raikkonen to rejoin former team next year, highly rated Leclerc to replace him at Ferrari

MILAN • Kimi Raikkonen has expressed his delight at returning to Sauber - where he first started his Formula One career in 2001 - for the 2019 season.

The Finn, a world champion in 2007 with current team Ferrari, will leave the Italian outfit at the end of the season in a swop with Sauber's Charles Leclerc, both teams announced yesterday.

Raikkonen, nicknamed "Iceman", posted a message on Instagram announcing he would be rejoining Sauber on a two-year deal.

"Guess who's back?! Next two years with @sauberf1team ahead! Feels extremely good to go back where it all began!" the 38-year-old told his 974,000 followers.

Ferrari have paid tribute to Raikkonen in a statement, while also confirming Leclerc's arrival.

"During these years, Kimi's contribution to the team, both as a driver and on account of his human qualities, has been fundamental. He played a decisive role in the team's growth and was, at the same time, always a great team player," the statement read.

"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 has started 287 grands prix, winning 20 since his debut. He left F1 two years after winning the world title with Ferrari and spent two years competing in the World Rally Championship, before returning to F1 with Lotus in 2012. He moved back to Ferrari in 2014.

Although a win has eluded him this season, the Finn has nine podium finishes and he leads compatriot Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes in the standings, behind Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

"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 Sauber principal Frederic Vasseur.

Monegasque rookie Leclerc, a Ferrari protege, made his debut with Sauber this season after winning last year's Formula Two title.

The 20-year-old has had a promising start to his rookie season, finishing sixth at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. He has been nurtured by Ferrari for several years and is managed by Nicolas Todt, son of former Ferrari team principal and current FIA president Jean Todt.

"Dreams do come true," Leclerc posted on Twitter.

"I will be eternally grateful to @scuderiaferrari for the opportunity given. To @nicolastodt for supporting me since 2011. To my family."

He has also drawn praise from no less than four-time world champions Vettel - his future Ferrari team-mate - and Mercedes' Hamilton.

"The races he's had so far, he has used his opportunities, scored points with a car that doesn't belong in the points," said Vettel.

"So he is doing everything he can."

Hamilton said Leclerc "really has the potential to do great things - and you can't say that about every kid who has come through in the past years".

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2018, with the headline 'Iceman cool with Sauber return'. Print Edition | Subscribe