By John O'Brien
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene has said the decision to replace the experience of Kimi Raikkonen with the raw talent of Charles Leclerc for next season was made with the long-term future of the team in mind.
Leclerc has impressed in his first Formula One season at the modest Sauber team and the 20-year-old Ferrari academy graduate from Monaco was announced earlier this week as quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel's team mate from 2019.
Speaking to reporters at the Singapore Grand Prix on Friday, Arrivabene stressed he was the driving force behind the decision to hire Leclerc, feeling that Raikkonen's subsequent move in the opposite direction had worked best for all concerned.
"When you make choices like this, that are related to the driver, you don't only have to make a short-term commitment but a long-term one," Arrivabene said.
"We are not only looking ahead to next year, we are looking into the future, that being the future of the team.
"This was a decision taken by me, discussed with the top management and taking into consideration many, many factors. It has nothing to do with the respect I have for Kimi as both a human being and as a driver," he added of the 38-year-old Finn.
"If you have to make a choice about the future of the team then I think we made the right one for us and for Kimi, who we appreciate for everything he has done for us and wish him the best for the future."
Arrivabene added that while the step up for Leclerc, the reigning Formula Two world champion, was a major one, Ferrari would not be demanding too much from the driver in the early stages of his career at the Maranello-based outfit.
"The first mistake would be to put much too much pressure on the shoulders of this guy... that could be potentially a huge mistake," Arrivabene said.
"Charles signed his first contract at the Ferrari academy in November 2015. In that contract, we designed a future for him in Formula One, making sure we made adjustments at the academy to ensure drivers would eventually make the step up.
"All the other teams are doing this so its good for Formula One to be taking these steps to build towards the future."
(Reporting by John O'Brien; Editing by Christian Radnedge)