Ferrari decide to ditch Kimi Raikkonen and bring in Charles Leclerc for 2019

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Charles Leclerc will join Ferrari next year after Kimi Raikkonen was dropped by the Italian team.

Raikkonen, who won the world championship in his first spell at Ferrari in 2007, has signed a two-year deal with Sauber, the Swiss team with whom he began his Formula One career nearly two decades ago.

Raikkonen, the last driver to win a world title for Ferrari, will be 41 at the conclusion of his new Sauber contract.

Monegasque Leclerc, 20, has impressed in his first season with Sauber, and the Ferrari junior driver will now switch seats with Raikkonen to team up with Sebastian Vettel next season.

Vettel, 30 points adrift of Lewis Hamilton in the championship ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday, has been the number one at Ferrari since his move from Red Bull in 2015.

But the German’s status is set to be challenged by Leclerc with Ferrari holding high hopes for the rookie. Indeed, it is highly unusual for the Scuderia to hire such an inexperienced, and relatively untested, driver.

Leclerc, who has scored 13 points from 14 rounds this season, paid tribute to his father, Herve, who died last year following a long illness, and Jules Bianchi following Ferrari’s announcement.

Bianchi died three years ago from the devastating head injuries he sustained in a crash at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.

“Dreams do come true,” Leclerc said in a post on social media. “I will be eternally grateful to Ferrari for the opportunity given.

“To [manager] Nicolas Todt for supporting me since 2011, to my family [and] 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, 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.”

Ferrari have made the move to stand down Raikkonen despite an online petition, which had urged the Italian team to retain him, attracting nearly 90,000 signatures.

The Finn is a popular figure among fans, but he has failed to win a race in more than five years, and since he re-joined Ferrari for a second time in 2014. His last victory was for Lotus at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix.

Ironically, Raikkonen’s impending departure comes amid some of his better performances in recent seasons. He put his Ferrari on pole position at the Italian Grand Prix earlier this month, and was on course to win in Monza before Hamilton passed him with eight laps remaining.

McLaren had been monitoring Raikkonen, but the British team announced last week that they are promoting their English teenager reserve driver, Lando Norris for 2019.

“Feels extremely good to go back to where it all began,” Raikkonen wrote in a post to Instagram.

Maurizio Arrivabene, the Ferrari team principal, added: “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.”

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Sergio Marchionne's contributions to Formula One are immeasurable, says Chase Carey

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Former Ferrari team principal Jean Todt has hailed Sergio Marchionne as a “visionary leader” following his death on Wednesday.

Marchionne, who was stood down as Ferrari chairman only on Saturday, died in a Zurich hospital, aged 66, following complications from shoulder surgery.

He helped to re-establish Ferrari as a Formula One championship contender after he took over from Luca Di Montezemolo in September 2014.

Marchionne was also an outspoken and influential voice away from the track, and threatened to pull Ferrari out of the sport.

“It is with great sadness that I learned that Sergio Marchionne tragically and unexpectedly passed away,” Todt said. “Sergio achieved a colossal amount for the automotive industry and motor sport worldwide.

“He dedicated himself fully to turn around the FIAT-Chrysler group and put all his energy to bring Scuderia Ferrari back to the top.”

Frenchman Todt, who is now serving his third term as president for F1’s governing body, the FIA, added: “He was an endearing, upstanding and brave man, an unconventional and visionary leader. His death is a considerable loss.”

Sergio Marchionne

Ferrari are eight points behind Mercedes in this season’s constructors’ championship, while their lead driver Sebastian Vettel is second to Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ standings.

The famous Italian team are expected to pay tribute to Marchionne at this week’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

F1 chairman Chase Carey added: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Sergio Marchionne. He was a great leader of not just Formula One and the automobile world, but the business world overall.

“He led with great passion, energy and insight, and inspired all around him. His contributions to Formula One are immeasurable. He was also a true friend to all of us and he will be deeply missed.”

Marchionne formed a strong allegiance with Mercedes following concerns over Liberty Media’s vision for the sport beyond 2020.

“This is a sad day for all of us in F1,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff added. “We have a lost a huge supporter of our sport, a fierce competitor, an ally and a friend.”

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Sebastian Vettel handed three-place grid penalty ahead of Austrian GP

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Lewis Hamilton has been handed a championship boost as Sebastian Vettel was left to rue what could prove to be another pivotal mistake in their battle for the Formula One world title.

Six days after he collided with Valtteri Bottas in France, Vettel will start the Austrian Grand Prix from only sixth after he was penalised for blocking another driver in qualifying.

Hamilton was beaten to pole position by Bottas in the sister Mercedes, but the Englishman, 33, will take huge comfort from Vettel’s latest setback.

Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff celebrated Vettel’s penalty with a fist-pump as news of the stewards’ verdict emerged during the Austrian’s media briefing.

Vettel qualified third at the Red Bull Ring, but was demoted three places after he was adjuged to have impeded Carlos Sainz as the Renault driver attempted a flying lap.

Vettel argued that his Ferrari team did not tell him about Sainz, and he was unaware of the approaching Spaniard. However, Vettel also admitted to briefly taking his eyes off the road.

Speaking before the penalty was issued, Vettel said: “I was looking down on the main straight, and I didn’t see him. I wasn’t told on the radio, so I can only apologise to him. Obviously, there was no intention.”

But the German was summoned to the officials, and following a 90-minute investigation, he was hit with the grid penalty.

“It is the belief of the stewards that notwithstanding the absence of a radio call, the driver of car 5 (Vettel) should not have been so slow and on the racing line during a slow-down lap,” F1’s governing body, the FIA, said in a statement.

The error marked Vettel’s sixth high-profile mistake in the last calendar year. He banged wheels with Hamilton in Azerbaijan, crashed out in Singapore, tangled with Hamilton and Max Verstappen at the start in Mexico, and fell from second to fourth when he ran off the road in Baku earlier this season. He also lost 15 points to Hamilton last Sunday after his crash with Bottas at the start.

“In order to win a championship you need to be as fast as possible, as reliable as possible and with the least errors,” Wolff said. “Sometimes it is difficult to put of all these things together.

“Sebastian’s biggest strength is certainly his ambition, but sometimes, as in France, it goes against him.

“Every team is aware that you need to get out of the way in order not to have a penalty, and all drivers are instructed by their engineers about what is happening behind them.” 

Wolff added: “It is important to collect every single point. If you leave something on the table, it can bite you. The situation is more comfortable like this.”

With Wolff’s Mercedes cars locking out the front row, Vettel will now start behind team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, Red Bull’s Verstappen, and the Haas of Romain Grosjean.

Hamilton is 14 points ahead of Vettel and now looks set to establish an even greater championship lead ahead of his home race at Silverstone a week on Sunday.

Bottas denied Hamilton his 50th career pole for Mercedes after edging out the four-time champion by just 0.019 seconds.

Hamilton made a mistake on his penultimate run after he ran wide at turn two which left him with too much to do to.

“Valtteri did a fantastic job, and he deserved the pole,” Hamilton said. “I made a mistake and when you don’t have your first lap in Q3 as a banker, you’re building from scratch for the second one. There’s lots to play for tomorrow.”

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