The driver market went into overdrive following last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, and it looks increasingly likely that we’re going to hear some big news sometime this week.
You don’t need me to repeat what has already been reported on many different websites already. But the overwhelming evidence is that 2007 champion, Kimi Raikkonen, will return to Ferrari next season. Indeed, there’s a chance that by the time you’re reading this, he will already have been confirmed.
His move back to Ferrari would start a seismic shift in this year’s silly season, with all kind of repercussions being speculated at by the press. The big question is who will be Kimi’s team mate next season.
One school of thought is that it’ll be Fernando Alonso. A Raikkonen/Alonso combo would almost certainly rank among the most competitive team mate pairings in the history of the sport, but there is also the potential for it to cause a lot of tension within the team.
Make no mistake; Kimi Raikkonen will not be happy to play second fiddle to Alonso. There will be no repeat of what we saw at Monza, with Massa sacrificing his own qualifying to “tow” Alonso around the track. There would almost certainly be arguments about who is the “number one” driver within the team – because Ferrari’s history shows it tends to favour having a clear number one driver.
However, Raikkonen will be a lot more competitive than Massa has been, and his signing will make Ferrari a much stronger team as it aims to win both championships.
Another problem Ferrari may face should they sign Raikkonen is a simple one. Would they be able to afford his salary, particularly if Alonso remains at the team? Thankfully, it looks like Ferrari’s long time sponsor, Shell, who is reported to be keen on Kimi’s return, would pay his salary. Some reports suggest it could be a $20m deal, ten million shy of what Alonso is earning.
Nevertheless, despite Alonso having a contract with Ferrari for next year, there continues to be speculation that the double champion could be on his way out of Maranello. His relationship with the team has appeared strained, to put it politely, at times this year, and the revelation that he made his services known to Red Bull at Hungary showed that there is a possibility that Alonso is considering leaving.
But where could he go?
Lotus looks to be favoured option. A like-for-like swap with Raikkonen would certainly solve some of the team’s problems. Firstly, the CEO of Renault, Carlos Ghosn, is known to be pushing for Alonso to return to Enstone. It is likely that Renault would offer some financial backing to Lotus should they manage to sign Alonso. Furthermore, Santander, who were crucial in Alonso’s Ferrari deal, would almost certainly follow Fernando to Lotus and pump some much needed cash into the team to end their financial troubles.
There will be one driver who hopes that doesn’t happen though.
The German put himself firmly in the shop window following an impressive weekend at the Italian Grand Prix, and has confirmed that he is a free agent next year. A move from Sauber looks almost certain right now, but where could he end up?
For a while, he appeared to be heading to Ferrari. Hulkenberg’s move to Sauber this year was seen by many as an eventual move to Ferrari, but that changed when Kimi Raikkonen failed to sign for Red Bull.
Right now, Hulkenberg’s best chances of sealing a Ferrari drive depend on whether Alonso does leave the team. But then again, would Ferrari want to take the risk of two different drivers in the team for 2014, a year of such big change in the regulations?
Perhaps not. So if Alonso does remain at Ferrari, and Raikkonen is his team mate, Hulkenberg looks to be the favourite to replace Raikkonen at Lotus. He’d certainly be cheaper than either Raikkonen or Alonso, which would bring its own obvious benefits.
But what about the future of Felipe Massa? The Brazilian has been at Ferrari for seven years, but 2013 looks to be his last. Where could he end up? Once again, that depends on what Alonso does. If Alonso leaves, it may save Massa’s drive at Ferrari. As already outlined, Ferrari may wish to have some continuity in the team for 2014 over signing a new driver like Hulkenberg.
But, should Alonso remain, it looks like Massa will also be in contention with Hulkenberg for the vacant Lotus drive. Another option, should Hulkenberg end up at Lotus, could be for Felipe to go back to his old team, and take Hulkenberg’s vacant seat at Sauber.
That looks pretty unlikely though, with fellow countryman and current GP2 driver, Felipe Nasr, a potential candidate for that drive, especially with his financial backing from Brazil. Reports recently alleged that Bernie Ecclestone has offered to help Nasr find a seat in Formula One, with Ecclestone keen for a Brazilian driver to remain on the grid.
It is clear then, that whatever happens in the next few days, it will have a huge impact on the driver market. That is before you even start to consider who will replace Daniel Ricciardo at Toro Rosso.
Silly season by name, silly season by nature.