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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