Kimi Holds the Key

The Finnish press are insisting that Kimi Raikkonen, currently enjoying a successful year with Lotus, has agreed terms to return to Ferrari for 2014. Given that he left in not so friendly circumstances to make way for current Maranello star Fernando Alonso it would be a curious decision. Alonso has been on the receiving end of Luca di Montezemelo’s ire of late after criticising the team openly recently, and there are tales of tension between the Spaniard and the team. He has, like Raikkonen, been mentioned in terms of a possible move to Red Bull, presumably alongside Sebastian Vettel.

Of course, the summer break is a traditional time for wild stories, but is there any possibility of truth in these latest rumours? The Finnish journalist who broke the Raikkonen story is sticking by his sources – who insist the deal is done for the Finn to return to Ferrari – but that means little in a world where managers often dangle red herrings in order to put pressure on the opposition; it is no secret that the two candidates for the seat Mark Webber is vacating are Raikkonen and Red Bull Junior driver Daniel Ricciardo, who has been impressive of late. If Raikkonen has signed for Ferrari, the young Australian should be a shoe-in.

But – and it’s a big but – where would that leave Alonso? Regarded by many as the best driver on the grid at the moment – and I would agree- he would certainly be in demand. His tenure at Ferrari has so far failed to bring him a title, and there is only one serious option is that is what he wants: Red Bull. Alonso and Vettel in the same team – a feisty combination without a doubt, but Alonso is not known for being happy when his team-mate beats him (see his McLaren adventure for example).

Or what about Alonso and Raikkonen at Ferrari? Kimi is a cool customer, perhaps the least abrasive of all the drivers, and he would be unlikely to get involved in any of the Italian team’s legendary politics. It’s a tricky situation, but one that poises several interesting possibilities.

I think it’s fair to say that Felipe Massa’s time at Ferrari is coming to an end; quite clearly, Jules Bianchi fits in there somewhere in the future, but not yet. My take on the situation is this: I’m inclined to believe the Finnish reports, and venture that Raikkonen is going back to Ferrari. I also believe that it will not be alongside Alonso, who will move elsewhere. Will the Spaniard head to Red Bull? They will certainly try and get him if they can’t get Raikkonen, but Vettel might have something to say about that. And what of the – possibly – vacant Ferrari seat? I’ve said it before, and will again: Nico Hulkenberg is on the market, and deserves a chance at a top team.
So, come Monza – the traditional event for revealing changes at Ferrari – we should have some form of confirmation.

All of this is, of course, my opinion; I don’t claim to have inside information, I’m simply telling it as I see it. Either way, we are looking at one of the most interesting silly season circuses for a long time.

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Who Goes Where with Webber off to Porsche?

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.

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Tyre Saga Spawns Strike Threat

After a long absence – due mainly to the pressures of work, moving house and going to the pub – I feel it is time to return, as things are getting a little hot under the collar in the F1 world. The fall-out from the Silverstone fiasco (see grandprix.com for the full statement on the cause of the spectacular tyre explosions) has been stellar and, while Pirelli is hardly blameless, it was clear all along that the teams, and the FIA, should also shoulder some of the blame.

With just one week between the British and German Grands Prix the Italian tyre maker has been put firmly on the back foot; without going into complex detail, Pirelli has reverted to a Kevlar-banded tyre for this event, in the hope of alleviating the problems experienced last weekend. However, the Grand Prix Drivers Association has issued a potentially explosive statement, confirming the threat of a boycott should the problems recur. It reads:

“The drivers of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association wish to express their deepest concerns about the events that took place at Silverstone. We trust that the changes made to the tyres will have the desired results and that similar problems will not occur during the German GP weekend. We are ready to drive our cars to the limit, as we always do, and as it is expected by our teams, sponsors and fans. However, the drivers have decided that, if similar problems should manifest themselves during the German GP, we shall immediately withdraw from the event, as this avoidable problem with the tyres endangers again the lives of drivers, marshals and fans.”

Joe Saward raises an interesting point in that if drivers withdraw en-masse, the teams may still wish to race; drivers with licences, he states, would be ‘in demand’. Most teams have third drivers on hand – who may or may not be members of the GPDA – and Saward also infers that some current drivers are not members of the GPDA. Could we have a crisis on our hands? The likelihood of a drivers ‘strike’ is not great, but the threat is clearly very real.

Those of us with long memories will remember – with fondness, in fact – the 1982 Kyalami driver’s strike – more of that soon – but the hope is that, this time around, things go smoothly. It will be interesting to keep an eye on both practice sessions today.

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Behind Every Great Man – Thoughts for Sir Frank Williams

On the eve of a new F1 season it is sad to report the following:

“It is with great sadness that today we report the death of Lady Virginia Williams, wife of Williams Founder and Team Principal Sir Frank Williams.

Lady Virginia, or ‘Ginny’ as she was better known, died peacefully at the family home last night surrounded by Frank and the rest of the Williams family. Ginny had been bravely battling cancer for the past two and a half years.

Ginny will always be an integral part of Williams’ history and success, and today we pay tribute to a much loved member of the Williams family who will be sorely missed. Please respect the family’s wishes for privacy at this time.”

They say that, behind every great man is a great woman. My thoughts go out to Sir Frank and his family.

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Sutil In, Razia Out, It’s Musical Chairs in F1!

The third test at Barcelona – the last chance to test before shipping the cars to Australia – is under way, and the talk is of two teams: Force India, where Adrian Sutil has been confirmed as team mate to Paul di Resta, and Marussia, where it seems that Luiz Razia may not be driving after all.

Sutil is a good driver – in the eyes of this writer, one with unfinished business in F1 – and while nobody can condone the actions that got him a criminal conviction in the incident with Eric Lux, without the full details it is unwise to pass judgement. Some commentators have stated ‘the judge says he is a criminal, therefore he is a criminal’; perhaps it is more sensible to consider that, in times of anger, many people respond in an extreme manner. To destroy someone’s career over one such indiscretion is unfair; let’s welcome him the second chance.

Razia, the Brazilian, signed with Marussia some time ago, but has not been seen in the car since the original Jerez test. The story goes that his sponsors have not paid up, and that the deal may be on the rocks. The team, therefore, is in need of a replacement. Jules Bianchi, long favoured for the Force India drive, has been one suggestion, with Ferrari – he is one of their academy drivers – reportedly keen on getting him a race seat. Some sources suggest that this option has not gone down well with McLaren, with whom Marussia has a technical deal.

The strong story now is that none other than Heikki Kovalainen – a former McLaren driver, of course – is being lined up for the drive, and that the Finn will test at Barcelona tomorrow (Saturday). As with Sutil, I am a fan of Kovalainen, and believe him also to be one with more to do in F1. Marussia may not be the best place to show your wares, but Heikki is more than worthy of a place in F1, and here’s hoping he gets the gig.

The new season is almost underway, and from the testing results we have yet to see a clear picture emerging; there are those who say that the Mercedes is better than expected, that the Lotus is a real contender, that the Red Bull is not as impressive as expected, and so on. As always, nothing can be truly determined until the circus gets to Europe, so let’s look forward to the first race, and see who hits the ground running.

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Final Day’s Testing at Jerez

Testing comes to a close today at Jerez where Felipe Massa, and the Ferrari F138, set the fastest time of the week so far to top the times yesterday. He has been replaced today by Pedro de la Rosa, but the Spaniard has suffered a disastrous start to his Ferrari career as the car broke down after only a couple of laps.

Lewis Hamilton is back at the wheel of the Mercedes W04 today and hoping for a better days work than his troubled Tuesday outing, and Sergio Perez gets another go in the McLaren. Kimi Raikkonen – impressed with the Lotus E21 so far – drives the black and gold car for the final day, and Sebastian Vettel will be on track for Red Bull.

Others taking part are: Esteban Gutierrez in the Sauber, Charles Pic in the Caterham, Valtteri Bottas in the Williams – last year’s car, remember – Luiz Razia in the Marussia and Jules Bianchi, who makes his debut for Force India where there is considerable speculation he is about to be confirmed as the race driver alongside Nico Hulkenberg. Jean Eric Vergne is the last runner in the STR.

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The Lotus Position

Romain Grosjean and the Lotus E21 set the fastest time of the Jerez test so far on the second day, a lap of 1:18.218 on the softer of the Pirelli tyres. The Frenchman declared the car to be an ‘all-round improvement’ over last year’s race-winning design, and hands over to Kimi Raikkonen for today and tomorrow.

The day went badly for Mercedes – again – when a brake failure put Lewis Hamilton’s W04 into the wall. The damage was too much to repair in time, meaning that for the second day running the team had to cut short its test after just a few laps.

Paul di Resta ran second to Grosjean in the Force India VJM06 before giving the car to James Rossiter for the afternoon session, while Daniel Ricciardo and the STR continued their promising showing with fastest lap just shy of the Scotsman. Mark Webber put more miles on the Red Bull RB9 with a hefty 101 laps completed, Nico Hulkenberg almost managed 100 in the Sauber, and Sergio Perez made a cautious debut for McLaren.

At the foot of the table was Luiz Razia, the Brazilian having his first taste of life as a Marussia race driver.

Today sees Charles Pic in the Caterham, and Esteban Gutierrez making his debut for Sauber. Valtteri Bottas takes the wheel of the Williams FW34 for the first time this year, Jean-Eric Vergne gets his turn in the STR, and we expect Jules Bianchi to drive the Force India today. World Champion Sebastian Vettel will also be on track for the first time in the Red Bull.

 

 

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