Well we’re halfway through the F1 season and that means two things are upon us. The first is the hellish month we face without a Grand Prix. The second is, of course, the increased chatter, rumors, and guesswork as to how the field will shape up in 2014. Some places are cemented by contract, others by logic, others by utter s*** loads of money thrown at a team.
Still, changing tides and the departure of some old names means this could be one of the better silly seasons. It’s only fitting that the biggest w*nkers in F1 journalism opine on who will go where. This will be a joint article, and a living one. It will be changed and updated as time goes on, and in a year y’all can come back and mock just how wrong we were about everything.
Three people will lead this discussion, and you, the reader, can give us your ideas on Twitter, via e-mail, or snail mail if you somehow have any of our addresses.
I, Matt, am not as in touch with the feeder series as my co-authors, so I’ll pretty much exclusively evaluate potential of current or trying to return F1 drivers. My comments will be in black.
Valentin is the Backmarkers Bridge so to speak. His work for Paddock Scout gives him an eye for the feeder series, and he writes some stuff for us when he’s not paying homage to his [DRIVER NAME REDACTED] shrine. His comments will be in red.
Pete Allen, head of Paddock Scout will be called upon to give us his in-depth knowledge of the feeder series drivers with an eye on immanent F1 entry. His comments will be in blue.
A final note, as of now McLaren and Mercedes are not going to see any movement, and as such will be excluded from this list.
Let’s do this!
Red Bull Racing
Sebastian Vettel is contracted to stay with the team and, baring some sort of divine intervention, that’s where he will stay. However, Mark Webber’s departure from the sport has everyone in the F1 world polishing off their CV. Who will take the seat? Most think there are only two remaining contenders for the spot, Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen. Both are obvious choices, one being a world champion and the other being the best of the two Red Bull Junior Team (aka Toro Rosso) drivers. One brings amazing race pace and only marginal qualifying prowess, the other brings the opposite and room to grow. What says the panel?
Matt- Kimi Raikkonen
Spoiler alert, saying that I’m a massive Kimi fan is a severe understatement. That said, purely on objective reasoning, I still think he’s the best fit for RBR. Red Bull want the strongest drivers to win WCC championships. Yes it’s great that Sebastian is faster than a lawsuit in America, but the team make their money in the constructors championship. Kimi doesn’t have the qualifying prowess of Vettel, and probably won’t be able to pop out purple laps on a whim, but he has the consistency. His racecraft and pace retention is, in my opinion, only equaled by Fernando Alonso. Unlike Vettel, he doesn’t need the strongest car to have a successful campaign, and unlike Mark, he’s not prone to sudden cliffs in form.
He also is a known quantity. While Ricciardo has shown promise, not every successful mid-tier team driver can perform as well or better in higher end machinery. Look at Hekki to McLaren for evidence. In other circumstances, with major technical changes incoming, Red Bull could afford to take a risk, and if Ricciardo underperforms, move on to a new driver. However with a world champion driver obviously on the market, and with the ability to pay his wage, Red Bull won’t want to pass this opportunity up.
The unfortunate side effect of recruiting Raikkonen is the final nail in RBR Junior’s coffin. In a program designed to find new talent to bring to Red Bull, in its entire history, only one driver has made that leap, the Great Fingerboy. You could argue that the strongest should prevail, and I respect that, but when you create an atmosphere of “bring it or die” and recruit these kids with the promise that they’ll get a shot if a seat opens up, throwing them by the wayside to recruit a champion seems disingenuous.
Matt- Fernando Alonso
I really doubt this will become more than a rumor. Still, it’s worth a mention. The recent telling off Fernando received for remarks about the team/car might not seem like much from most teams, but from Ferrari it could be a whole lot more. This is a prickly, almost childish team. They fired the great Alan Prost for saying his car was slow (spoilers, it was… very…) and payed off Kimi Raikkonen to grab a certain Spaniard.
Additionally, this isn’t the sort of thing I could see Alonso doing. Webber, Raikkonen, and to an extent Hulk may shy away from the PR-centric scripts their team hand them, but Alonso always seems to put Ferrari first. He’s always out front trying to keep team spirits up, to drive them forward when their car only wants to go backwards, and for him to strike out seems out of character.
But then again, maybe that’s the very reason he came out against the team. Alonso is a double world champion come to the most prestigious team in F1, and in his three years what does he have to show for it? Three lost championships. One to pitlane incompetence (2010), once to inability to keep up with rivals’ development pace (2011), followed by inability to create a car that was worth a damn (2012). While not as dramatic as 2012’s machine, the 2013 Ferrari isn’t that fast either, and perhaps Fernando is tired of watching title chances melt away when he’s putting in world class performances.
My inclusion of him here isn’t to say I think Fernando is going to sign with RBR. We don’t have enough information to determine that. However, if this developing rift between driver and team is real, I can’t see Alonso going anywhere else.
For the sake of the article, let’s assume Alonso stays put at Ferrari for 2014. We still have one Felipe Massa to take care of. While many (myself included) thought we might see a return of the old Massa after some great opening performances, Felipebaby has gone back to his usual terrible driving. But is is replacement a guarantee?
Matt- Nico Hulkenberg
With Nico’s departure from Sauber joining death and taxes as one of life’s certainties, I think he could be a perfect candidate to back up Alonso at Ferrari. He’s quick, consistent, and has deserved a sharp end seat for a long while. I’m no fan of his personality true enough, but i would rather have a quick, slightly prickish driver in a top slot than a nice, slow one.
Ferrari are a risk adverse team to a fault. While Bianchi or some feeder kid may be a more exciting prospect, excitement keeps Luca and Stephano awake at night. Hulkenberg has proven time and again he’s up for the challenge, and I think it’s past the point where the risk of a new driver outweighs Felipe’s poor form.
Matt- Felipe Stays
Like I said above, Ferrari are risk adverse to a fault. Just look at the 2012 machine and you’ll see that in the flesh (or I guess in the carbon… whatever). As we enter a new Formula there are already many, many unknowns at play. Hell, the regulations still haven’t been completed. The very thought must have Ferrari management s***ting bricks. Even with Felipe making the Ferrari look like an HRT in red, I suspect a certain element would rather see him stay on. The guy does have a fanbase from his glory days pre-2009, and I’d rather have Brazilians on my side than against me (I know what they do to football refs over there…)
With Lotus we arrive at the first team who could potentially do away with their entire 2013 lineup. As previously mentioned, all indications are that Kimi is on the move onward and upward. As for Romain, he continues to be F1’s resident bipolar driver. He can be extraordinarily quick over a single lap, and has a qualifying edge on his teammate. However, we all know what happens in the race when Grosjean finds himself having to actually race. Hungary featured the Frenchman throwing away a podium spot due to a stupid overtaking attempt (shock) and exceeding the track limits to pass a la Vettel in Germany. While he has been less dangerous so far in 2013, one has to question how many WCC points Lotus will let him blow in the future.
Matt- Valtteri Bottas / Lower Formula Young Driver
I’ve already gone on record saying I think Kimi will be donning Red Bull blues this time next year, so who better to replace him than another Finn? Obvious nationalistic purposes aside, Valtteri has done very well in his rookie season to match, and sometimes beat, his teammate. This is even more impressive considering Bottas’ lower formula cars probably handled better than the 2013 Williams.
Also, seeing as their are a team strapped for cash, I could see Williams wanting to follow Sauber’s lead and taking on some moneybags from Russia. Lotus offers the young Finn a chance to move to what is virtually the Renault works team, having spent a year under their power already. Bottas deserves the chance to prove himself in a proper F1 car, and Lotus are shaping up to be consistent title contenders in a few years time.
As for the second seat, I think it should go to some young junior formula talent. I defer to my other two authors on this one, since I have very little knowledge in that area. Grosjean is becoming a more reckless version of Felipe, that is, his flashes of talent are overshadowed by some utterly terrible driving. At least Massa only takes himself out of races, instead of others. After a disastrous ’09, a disastrous ’12, and so far mediocre ’13, it’s time to move on. Give some budding young talent a chance, and let Grosjean go to NASCAR.