Formula One's most open "secret" finally became common knowledge yesterday when Ferrari confirmed that Fernando Alonso is to take Kimi Raikkonen's place for the next three years.
The deal has been widely predicted in the paddock for more than a year. But recently prolonged legal negotiations to end Raikkonen's contract, which had one more year to run, and the Renault "Crashgate" scandal, conspired to defer the expected announcement at the Italian Grand Prix earlier this month.
As anticipated, the recovering Felipe Massa remains a key part of Ferrari's driver line-up, with Giancarlo Fisichella confirmed in the role of reserve driver.
Raikkonen will leave the team at the end of the season, and will shortly be announced as Lewis Hamilton's 2010 partner at McLaren.
Ferrari described their relationship with the mercurial Finn as "a rewarding and fruitful partnership". In 2007 he narrowly pipped Hamilton to the world championship for drivers, emulating the success of his predecessor Michael Schumacher and achieving his life's ambition. In 2008 he also played a role in securing the world championship for constructors for the team. But a succession of lacklustre races, and the continuing emergence of Massa who was beaten by a point by Hamilton last year, led to speculation that Raikkonen's contract might be terminated then. This year he was overshadowed again by Massa until the Brazilian suffered a head injury during qualifying for the Hungarian GP in July, whereupon Raikkonen staged a resurgence and won the Belgian GP in August, his first victory since Spain in May 2008.
"We are very proud to welcome to our team another winning driver, who has demonstrated his amazing talent by winning two World Championships in his career to date," said Ferrari team principal, Stefano Domenicali. "Of course, we wish to thank Kimi for everything he has done during his time with Ferrari: in his first year with us, he managed to win the Drivers' title, thus making his contribution to Ferrari's history and he played a vital role in our taking of the Constructors' title in 2007 and 2008. Even during a difficult season like this one, he has demonstrated his great talent, with several good results, including a great win in Spa, and we are sure that we can share more good times together in the final three races of this season."
Raikkonen said: "With common consent, we have agreed to terminate the contract binding me to Ferrari to the end of 2010, one year ahead of schedule. I am very sad to be leaving a team with which I have spent three fantastic years, during which time I won plenty of races. Together, we have won 50 per cent of the world titles in that period and I managed to take the Drivers' title in 2007, thus achieving the target I had set myself at the start of my career. I have always felt at home with everyone here and I will have many happy memories of my time with the team."
The confirmation of Alonso's deal is expected to trigger several key driver change announcements. The Spaniard, who did not make any comment yesterday, may face censure from the FIA after he upset the governing body by dedicating his podium position in last weekend's Singapore GP to disgraced former Renault team principal Flavio Briatore, whom they recently banned for life.