Sauber’s Charles Leclerc and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen will swap seats next year
Rising star secures top F1 seat alongside Vettel, with former champ Raikkonen making shock return to Sauber
Rising Formula 1 star Charles Leclerc will replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari next season – with the Finn making a shock return to Sauber.
Monaco driver Leclerc, 20, has been part of the Ferrari Driver Academy since 2016, and has long been linked with the second seat at the team alongside Sebastian Vettel. Leclerc described the move to Ferrari by saying that “dreams do come true”.
Leclerc won the GP2 Series title in 2017, and has raced in F1 this season with Sauber. He has claimed five points finishes so far, including sixth in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The surprise news is that Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion, will effectively swap seats with Leclerc. The 38-year-old has signed a two-year deal to race for Sauber, which uses Ferrari engines and had Alfa Romeo sponsorship, and will return to the team he made his grand prix debut with in 2001.
“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 future,” said Sauber team boss Frédéric Vasseur.
“Kimi’s undoubted talent and immense experience in Formula 1 will not only contribute to the development of our car, but will also accelerate the growth and development of our team as a whole.”
Raikkonen finished in sixth place on his F1 debut for Sauber in the 2001 Australian Grand Prix, and raced for the Swiss squad for a single season before joining McLaren in 2002.
He moved to Ferrari in 2007, winning the drivers’ title in his first season with the team, before taking a sabbatical from F1 after the 2009 season. After returning to F1 with Lotus in 2012, he rejoined Ferrari in 2014.
Raikkonen has provided able back-up to Vettel, but hasn’t won a race since 2013 – although he narrowly missed out in the recent Italian Grand Prix, only losing the lead to Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton late in the race.
The latest in a string of major driver moves for 2019 means that Mercedes is the only leading squad that will have an unchanged line-up next season, with Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas both returning. Red Bull will run Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly, Renault has signed Daniel Ricciardo to join Nico Hülkenberg, and McLaren has an all-new line-up of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz.