Young Monaco driver Charles Leclerc will replace Finnish veteran Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari next season with the former world champion returning to Sauber, both Formula One teams announced on Tuesday.
The 20-year-old Leclerc – a Ferrari Driver Academy graduate – was the 2017 Formula 2 champion, and made his debut in F1 this season with the Sauber team.
“Scuderia Ferrari announces that, at the end of the 2018 season, Kimi Raikkonen will step down from his current role,” the team said in a statement. “In the next Formula One racing season, Charles Leclerc will drive for the Team alongside Sebastian Vettel,” it added.
“Dreams do come true,” Leclerc posted on Twitter. “I’ll be driving for @scuderiaferrari for the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship.”
Leclerc (pictured, AFP) has had a promising start to his rookie season, finishing sixth at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
He has been nurtured by the Scuderia Ferrari for several years and is managed by Nicolas Todt, son of former Ferrari team principal and current FIA president Jean Todt.
“I will be eternally grateful to @scuderiaferrari for the opportunity given. To @nicolastodt for supporting me since 2011. To my family,” Leclerc added.
The 38-year-old Raikkonen has started 287 Grands Prix, winning 20 since his debut in 2001 with Sauber.
Raikkonen achieved his 100th podium finish by finishing second at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza this month after claiming his 18th pole in style with F1’s all-time fastest lap.
“During these years, Kimi’s contribution to the team, both as a driver and on account of his human qualities, has been fundamental. He played a decisive role in the team’s growth and was always a great team player,” the team said.
Raikkonen left F1 two years after winning the world title with Ferrari and spent two years competing in the World Rally Championship, before returning to F1 with Lotus in 2012.
Raikkonen moved back to Ferrari in 2014.
“As a World Champion for Scuderia Ferrari, he will always be part of the team’s history and family. We thank Kimi for all of this and wish him and his family a prosperous future,” the team added.
Sauber later confirmed Raikkonen would return to the team he made his debut with in 2001.
“The Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team is delighted to announce that Kimi Raikkonen will join the team from 2019.
“The 2007 Formula One World Champion has signed for the next two seasons,” Sauber said.
Raikkonen left Sauber for McLaren in 2002 before rejoining Ferrari in 2006.
He tweeted: “Guess who’s back?! Next two years with @sauberf1team ahead! Feels extremely good to go back where it all began!”
Sauber team principal said: “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 near future.
“Kimi’s undoubted talent and immense experience in Formula One will not only contribute to the development of our car, but will also accelerate the growth and development of our team as a whole.”