Kimi Raikkonen goes into his last race as a Ferrari driver, about to be paid to leave with one year of his contract still remaining. It's a situation that would have been virtually unthinkable when he joined just three years ago.
He was earmarked as Ferrari's future by Luca di Montezemolo even before Michael Schumacher had made up his mind about retirement. In late 2005 Schumacher was told that Raikkonen was on his way for '07 - and not on terms of being Schuey's support act, take it or leave it.
This was di Montezemolo playing hardball and Michael did not take kindly to it. When explaining his retirement at the end of 2006 Michael made oblique reference to the level of challenge Kimi represented, saying: "I still had the desire and motivation necessary [in 2006] but whether I would still have it for the challenge of '07, I couldn't be sure." In other words, it was one thing operating as the lead driver with a junior driver in support, quite another to take on Kimi Raikkonen on equal terms.
It was easy to understand Schumacher's resentment. Why should he be placed in this position after all he had done for the team, when he was still, furthermore, at the top of his game? He figured he'd done enough to be accorded more respect than that. In reality the boss was just trying to stay one step ahead of the cold hand of time, just trying to keep the momentum of the relay race going before the guy with the baton began to slow. Even if that guy had just run the most remarkable stint of all time, he was going to slow eventually. Raikkonen, 10 years younger than Schumacher, would be ready to take over.
Kimi was a very different animal from Michael, of course. Their working methods were diametrically opposed. Michael pushed the team, made demands of them. Kimi just turned up and did his - frequently devastating - stuff and the team sort of pulled what they needed from him. But that was okay, they felt. They could work with that - so long as he was delivering.
With Schumacher they had built up a very sophisticated way of working and for Raikkonen's arrival they trimmed that right back and set about building it up from basics, expecting that process to take most of the first season. They were amazed, therefore, with his instant grasp of everything and how he was at Michael levels of understanding even before the season began. Even today, they will tell you that his understanding and ease with the massive array of functions available on the car is fantastic and that, if anything, he plays with them even more than Michael did.
They were also amazed at his ease with oversteer. So it was more than a little unfortunate that they had developed over the years a car/tyre combination that was prone to understeer, especially on new tyres. It was a trait that Kimi's team-mate Felipe Massa was very at ease with. He could maintain huge momentum despite the understeer, though was much less at ease with fast-corner oversteer. The combination of this car, these tyres and the current mix of corners on the calendar suited Massa's style rather more than Raikkonen's.
The Ferrari lineage of cars had been developed over the years to be kind on the tyres. That objective would have driven a series of design decisions over that time. One of the concomitant traits of doing that is a car that understeers on new rubber.
At this point Raikkonen needed to take the initiative, be more Michael-like in his demands. But that's not in his nature. He tells them what he needs, then shrugs if they can't deliver it. When your team-mate is going faster than you, such an attitude understandably generates a few question marks.
So Ferrari decided they did, after all, need a leader. It was time for di Montezemolo to play hardball again. Fernando Alonso will do all the things Kimi didn't. But he will bring challenges that neither Kimi nor Michael ever did. That's the story of the next relay stint.