With practice well under way at the Nurburgring, and no sign yet of exploding tyres or drivers throwing in the towel, I’ve opted to reflect on another news item that I missed during the recent absence: Mark Webber’s retirement from F1.
Naturally, the popular Aussie’s announcement is the main catalyst for a new round of musical chairs; one of the plum seats in F1 is now available, and every driver worth his salt will be enquiring as to its availability. Christian Horner has seemingly declared that there is a shortlist of three for the job: Red Bull junior drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, and Kimi Raikkonen, currently impressing at Lotus. Let’s consider the relative merits of each.
Raikkonen is a known quantity, a former champion who is competitive and a proven race winner. The two Toro Rosso boys are something of a conundrum: Ricciardo has impressed lately this year, while Vergne has not quite lived up to the promise that his early career threatened. Look closer, however, and there are signs that the Frenchman is equally as good as his Australian team-mate, if less able over a single flying lap. It will be a difficult choice, whichever route the team decides to take.
Others have been mentioned in contention for the Red Bull drive, notably Jenson Button who is enduring a dismal season at McLaren. It seems unlikely to me that Button would jump ship, although anything is possible. Others being touted as possible are the current Force India drivers, Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta, both of whom are showing fine form in 2013, but favourite for the driver must, on current terms, be Ricciardo. It will be a tough job for whoever gets the seat, however, to go head to head with Vettel, and surely the man most likely to take the fight to him is Raikkonen? We will have to wait and see.
As seems to happen every year there are doubts about Felipe Massa’s continued tenure at Ferrari for 2014. The Brazilian has not had a dreadful season by any means, but is being comprehensively shown up by Fernando Alonso (as most, it should noted, would be). However, the likelihood of him being retained next season is surely less than it was at this point last year. Jules Bianchi – impressive at Marussia – is a Ferrari protégé and must be in with a shout, while the aforementioned Force India pair will be keen to prove their worth as Maranello possible. It would be unusual for Ferrari to take a relatively unproven driver – such as Bianchi – so the possibility of him being ‘placed’ at, say, Force India while one of those two moves to Ferrari is certainly worth considering.
There is, I must add, another name to add to the mix, and he is my tip to replace Massa next year. Nico Hulkenberg’s obvious talent is being masked by a Sauber that is more revolution than evolution, and he must be on Ferrari’s radar. What happens in the next few months will certainly be interesting, to say the least.