Was Ferrari Right to Keep Raikkonen?

Ferrari’s Formula 1 racing team decided to keep driver Kimi Raikkonen for next year despite the fact that his performance this year has been merely adequate. Raikkonen’s teammate, Sebastian Vettel, has scored twice as many points as Raikkonen and Raikkonen has made some painful mistakes.

Were they right to keep him? It depends on the criteria you use to make driver hiring decisions. I can see two possibilities:

(1) Is this driver the best driver we could have for next year?
(2) Has this driver done well enough to keep his seat?

These criteria yield different answers. The answer to #1 is no, Raikkonen should be fired. Ferrari could have almost any driver. Raikkonen is good, but on a blank slate, Ferrari would pick a talented young driver like Bottas, Hulkenberg, or Ricciardo. Each of the them could become one of the top drivers with the right environment. Raikkonen is on the downslope of his career and does not have that potential. If we use #2, the answer is yes, Raikkonen should stay. It’s not a firing offense to make a few mistakes or to fail to match Vettel, who is one of the best drivers in history.

So which criteria is right? If you want better competition next year, you’d opt for #1. Mercedes will run away with the title again unless Ferrari is as strong as possible. Ferrari can’t afford to compromise on driver quality given Mercedes’s superior car designs.

But if you think sports are a moral example, you might opt for #2. Business leaders often look to sports analogies to guide their decisions. We’d all hate to work for a company where a short period of merely adequate performance was enough to get us fired.

Alternatively, one could argue that #2 is an investment in team culture and team culture leads to long term success. Excessive pressure to succeed can lead to panic rather than excellence. By keeping Raikkonen, Ferrari may be saying that it believes in its people enough to give them some time to up their game if they hit a rough patch. Ferrari employees who experience difficulty can then calmly go about fixing the problem rather than wasting time wondering about their careers.