Kimi Raikkonen's F1 career might be almost at a close, after two decades racing at the top level of motorsport. That's the opinion of RacingNews365 F1 journalist Dieter Rencken.
Speaking on this week's RN365 F1 Podcast with Thomas Maher, Rencken explained that he believes Raikkonen, the eldest driver on the grid, is now having to push himself to the limit in order to keep up with the pace of Formula 1. Having been involved in a weird crash at the end of the Austrian Grand Prix when the Alfa Romeo clashed with Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel, Rencken had a theory as to what went wrong.
"Well, it was certainly bizarre, and it was, in many ways, inexplicable and, accordingly, I wonder whether Kimi wasn't just tired at the end of the race," Rencken said.
"It's a pretty arduous circuit. The speeds are very high. It wasn't the coolest of afternoons.
"I think Kimi was slightly tired and had a lapse of concentration, right at the end of the race, final lap. And that was it. And again, we have to guard against these, because that could have been a very serious incident."
Asked whether he believes Raikkonen's legendary prowess at wheel to wheel racing is starting to fade, in light of the incident and an earlier crash in Portimao where he drove into the back of teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, Rencken said he thinks the end is nigh for the Finn's F1 career.
"I think that, ultimately, Kimi is now having to push himself very, very hard to perform at the sort of level that once came naturally for him," he said.
"I think that that's probably where it's at. And I frankly believe that this is the last year for Kimi, I don't believe we won't ever see him racing again. But I doubt very much that you'll see him in Formula 1 going forward. I think he'll probably end up in WEC or GTs, possibly go back to rallying which he's done. He's had a fairly varied career as well. There's no reason why he can't go and be successful in, say, WEC or GT or something similar."
Rencken doesn't believe a switch to follow former F1 teammate Romain Grosjean into IndyCar is viable for Raikkonen, who is happily married and settled in Switzerland with a young family.
"I think that sort of move right now at this age will be a demanding challenge. I really do," Rencken said.
"He's well settled in Switzerland. He's got his family there, he's a very happy family man. The WEC programme is nowhere near as arduous as the IndyCar programme. So he could perform at World Championship level in WEC, be it at this sort of LMP type cars or be at GT and sports cars, whatever. But I think that he could have a very successful career there."
As for what Alfa Romeo might do if Raikkonen does decide to retire, Rencken believes his compatriot might be a very viable option for the Swiss team.
"I'm hearing that one of the replacements for Kimi, assuming he doesn't continue next year, could possibly be Valtteri Bottas," he said.
"I know that that sounds almost too leftfield to be true, but there are various pointers, which would suggest that Valtteri could actually end up there.
"He's, he's very well spoken. He's clean cut, and he's very presentable. Alfa Romeo, assuming they continue with the Sauber team and I believe that the the contract is going to be extended shortly, would need that sort of brand ambassador. Valtteri would tick that box."
Having witnessed all of Raikkonen's long career, Rencken remembers the first time he had the opportunity to meet the Finn over twenty years ago.
"I was very fortunate to be the first journalist to to interview Kimi back in 2001, when he was announced as a Formula 1 driver by Sauber and I remember that interview and it really was, it was just so much fun," he said.
"He was just so happy to be in Formula 1. I still think that he loves racing, he loves driving. And all the rest of it is to him just secondary."
You can listen to the full RacingNews365 F1 Podcast below, or find us on Spotify and Apple Music!