Kimi Raikkonen has stepped down from the Ferrari Formula One team, in a departure described by the Scot’s manager as a “great emotional moment”. Raikkonen has played a key role in Ferrari’s recent resurgence and won five championships and 38 races during his 22-year career.
The Finn, 40, has been close to team owner Sergio Marchionne since they were both rookies in 1989. Ferrari has been eager to create a legacy for the veteran driver, who won a title in 2007.
“It has been a great emotional moment for me since yesterday and with this decision I can look to the future,” Raikkonen said in a statement on Thursday. “I would like to thank the team, the people, and of course, the fans for their many years of support.”
Alfa Romeo-backed and later Ferrari-branded, Raikkonen had been in talks for several years about staying with the team beyond this season. Ferrari management, however, insisted on an extension to a shared exit clause included in Raikkonen’s contract.
Raikkonen has won a total of 10 races during his two-decade tenure in F1, making him only the second driver to win as many or more as 10 races in both F1 and IndyCar. The first was Emerson Fittipaldi, with 13. Raikkonen has been invited to compete in the United States Formula One Grand Prix, which is scheduled for late May at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
There was an uproar from Formula One drivers when Raikkonen announced on his Instagram account in 2016 that he was bidding farewell to F1 after 11 years at Ferrari. He won five races in five seasons, the last coming in 2016.
“I think everyone has to make the difficult decisions which he has made,” Fernando Alonso, the former F1 star who now races in the World Endurance Championship, told The Times of London. “Kimi, however, is one of the best drivers in the history of our sport and his legacy can never be forgotten.”
Alonso, who is close friends with Raikkonen, added: “His character is very strong. He is a likeable guy and he said, ‘Well, I won’t be at Ferrari anymore and it’s time to move on.’ And obviously, once that happens, no one will be sad to see him go.”
Alonso is the defending champion of the World Endurance Championship and he is aiming to defend the title. The two drivers have crossed paths in F1 several times but have never competed together. Alonso has 22 career wins. Raikkonen has 30, including 18 titles and 39 wins.
“He’s going to be difficult for Fernando to beat, I think,” Paddy Lowe, Lowe’s successor as Ferrari’s technical chief, told The Times. “He’s a different driver now. He’s a lot more dangerous and technical. Kimi’s engine power was massive.”