F1 now young man's game but Kimi Raikkonen gives Sauber global appeal

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It’s incredible to see Kimi Raikkonen extend his F1 stay with Sauber until 2020 when he will be aged 41 – and with it should come the record for the most races ahead of Rubens Barrichello at 322.

But his departure from a comfortable seat at Ferrari should be greeted with optimism – paving the way for a new generation of F1 drivers.

With Mercedes sticking with their two big guns in Lewis Hamilton (33) and Valtteri Bottas (29) for 2019, Ferrari and Red Bull are putting their faith in youth, with Max Verstappen (21), Pierre Gasly (22) and Charles Leclerc (20) filling three of the big four seats.

That’s not to mention Lando Norris (18) who will team up with Carlos Sainz (24) at McLaren next season, while also taking into account the young pair of Lance Stroll (19) and Sergey Sirotkin (23) at Williams.

Although it is not confirmed which team Stroll will be driving for next season – his father recently led a consortium to buy Force India – it is expected both drivers will remain in Formula One.

If Stroll switches to Force India, he could take Esteban Ocon’s (21) place with Sergio Perez (28) guaranteed a seat due to his lucrative backing from Mexican businessman Carlos Slim. If Ocon is replaced, there are theoretical openings at Toro Rosso, Williams and Haas for next season, so the Frenchman’s future shouldn’t be in doubt just yet.

But for all the sparkling talent coming through the ranks, this era of Formula One drivers is set to dominate the grid for the next decade and beyond.

It’s the youngest line-up in over 20 years, with the 2008 grid boasting an average age of 28.6 in comparison to a youthful 27.8 in 2018. Even going back as far as 1998, the season ending Japanese GP had an average age of 28.8.

As it stands, the seats at Haas, Toro Rosso and Williams are yet to be confirmed for next season, but Renault and Red Bull will be the joint-youngest teams on the grid with a current average age of 21.5.

Mercedes will boast the oldest line-up on the grid with an average age of 31, while Renault will follow closely behind with an average age of 30 between the experienced duo of Niko Hulkenberg (31) and Daniel Ricciardo (30).

Then there is the outlier, the Iceman himself – who has seemingly been cyrogenically preserved to take his F1 career into his fifth decade and beyond.

Many fans expected Raikkonen to join Fernando Alonso (37) in retiring from F1 but his addition to Sauber gives the 2019 grid a fascinating look.

The flying Finn may well be past his best, but whether it’s worth it or not for Sauber, he will bring fans, attention and a chance to prolong his career as one of the oldest and popular drivers in history.

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Sebastian Vettel takes aim at Lewis Hamilton with Singapore sling

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Sebastian Vettel is under growing pressure to slash Lewis Hamilton‘s championship lead at this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix – and erase Ferrari’s painful memories from last year in the process.

Mercedes normally struggle at the steamy Marina Bay Circuit, but in 2017 Hamilton won from fifth on a rain-soaked grid after a first-lap shunt scuppered both Ferraris and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.

Ferrari and Vettel are still smarting after Hamilton won at Italy’s Monza 10 days ago, despite the Marinello team locking out the front row at their home grand prix.

Vettel’s first-lap spin after contact with Hamilton enabled the Englishman to extend his lead in the drivers’ standings to 30 points and the German vowed to bounce straight back in Singapore, where he has won a record four times.

“For sure it’s a disappointment right now,” Vettel said after the race. “But I am turning the page and focusing on Singapore – I like the place and I am happy to go there.”

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff warned this week that Ferrari and Red Bull would have the edge on Mercedes on the tight, twisting street circuit. But with rain forecast again this week, anything could happen.

“Singapore has features that we’ve struggled with in the past,” said Wolff.

“The short straights, the slow, tight corners and the bumpy surface all make the Marina Bay Street Circuit one of the trickiest for us.

“On paper, the track should favour the Ferraris, but the championship fight is so close that predictions are almost meaningless.”

Vettel said he was not worried about the gap to Hamilton growing to 30 points with seven races remaining, and is relishing the chance to pounce on one of his favourite tracks.

“I think we have the pace,” the four-time world champion said. “The points sound a lot, but actually it doesn’t take a long time to get them down.”

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Sebastian Vettel needs to step up with the pressure now firmly on

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As Sebastian Vettel drove down the home straight at Monza to finish a disappointing fourth, there was no doubt that under his helmet the German knew he had blown another opportunity in the title race.

A touch of understeer on the opening lap saw the 31-year-old clip Lewis Hamilton and fall from second place to 18th. The stewards deemed neither he nor Hamilton was at fault for the collision and it effectively ended all hope of a Ferrari win in front of their home fans.

A late P4 finish thanks to Max Verstappen’s penalty would have given him a hint of respite, but the reality is 30 points now separates him from Hamilton in the title race, and it looks like time is running out for the four-time champion with just seven races remaining.

For all the talk of a two-horse challenge this year, Vettel’s consistency and ability to lose his composure in the heat of battle has cost him dearly.

It’s his fifth race error this season, which includes his grid penalty for impeding Carlos Sainz in qualifying in Austria, his clash Max Verstappen in China, his lap one collision with Valtteri Bottas in France and his crash while leading the German GP in July.

With the gap widening in standings, Sunday’s result looks to be a decisive moment in the championship, especially with Ferrari failing to capitalise on the front-row advantage coming into race day.

Vettel and Hamilton are both chasing a fifth title to move level with Argentine legend Juan Manuel Fangio and go two behind Michael Schumacher.

Small errors are bound to happen for every driver, but the reality is the team and driver who makes least mistakes, and has the best strategy and best development on the engines, will prevail this season.

It’s clear Vettel has absolute faith in his car, with Ferrari upping the intensity, with pace, strong balance on the corners and a serious reliability in their engine. All this potential world championship winning car is missing is consistency from their maestro.

With seven races remaining, Vettel will not want a repeat of last year when he lost his firm grip on the crown, retiring in Singapore and Japan, and showing a lack of composure and confidence behind the wheel in Mexico.

In contrast, Hamilton would win five out of six races between Belgium and America to effectively seal his fourth world title. Now, after his triumph in Italy, the Briton looks in pole position to successfully defend his title, benefiting once again from Vettel’s blunders.

Sunday’s mistake will be frustrating when the Ferrari star reflects on the weekend’s race at his home Switzerland this week, but now he must move on, and redeem himself in Singapore in 11 days time.

His talent is unquestionable, but with the pressure firmly on, Vettel needs to step up and show why he is considered one of the greatest drivers of the era.

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