Ferrari team principal explains decision to drop Raikkonen

Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen of Finland, center, arrives at the Marina Bay City Circuit ahead of the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix in Singapore, Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim)

SINGAPORE — Ferrari's decision not to keep Kimi Raikkonen next season was based on the team's long-term future rather than the driver's current form.

The 38-year-old Raikkonen, the 2007 Formula One champion, is being replaced next season by 20-year-old Charles Leclerc.

Leclerc came through the Ferrari academy program but is racing in his first F1 season with the Sauber team. Raikkonen has 20 grand prix wins among his 100 career podiums.

"It's very important to look at the team perspective, in two or three years. In my opinion that justifies our choice enough," Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said Friday.

"It's not a decision looking at the (current) situation or only next year. My job is to look at the future of the team. ... How you're going to grow a young talent and what you're going to expect from him in the future."

Raikkonen will replace Leclerc at Sauber next year. He is joining on a two-year deal, meaning he will be 41 by the end of the 2020 season.

But the decision not to keep the consistent Raikkonen surprised some observers, because he has six podiums in the past seven races and nine in 13 overall this season.

"This has nothing to do with the respect I have for Kimi, which is great as a human being and as a driver. If you have to (make) a choice, thinking about the future, we made the right choice for us and for Kimi," Arrivabene said. "I took him through the process of the decision and he didn't even try to say, 'I would like you to change your mind.'"

Raikkonen was told shortly before the Italian GP. Two days later, he took pole position in Monza.

Arrivabene responded sarcastically to suggestions Raikkonen took the decision badly.

"Kimi was so nervous and so unhappy when I told him on Thursday that he made pole position on Saturday," Arrivabene said. "When I read criticism I was thinking, if it's like this I'm going to make him unhappy every week so he gives us pole position. We're talking about a professional driver, not kids driving at the Lunar Park, OK?"

The spotlight will be firmly on Leclerc next season, but Arrivabene thinks it may be unrealistic to expect him to compete for the title.

"The first mistake is to put too much pressure on the shoulders of this guy," Arrivabene said. "It could potentially be a huge mistake."

Meanwhile, Arrivabene left the door open for another young driver to come through the Ferrari ranks at Maranello: Mick Schumacher.

The 19-old-Schumacher is second in the F3 championship. He is the son of F1 great Michael Schumacher, who won five of his record seven F1 titles with Ferrari.

"The most important thing is to let him grow, without pressure. I wish him a great career. With a name like this I think the door is always open, of course, but without burning steps," Arrivabene said. "To go slowly but (surely), then we will see about the future. How can you say no at Maranello to a name like this?"

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

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This story corrects the spelling of Schumacher.

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