In the last month, three of Ferrari’s strongest prospects to replace Kimi Raikkonen extended their contracts with Red Bull Racing. Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo will now be locked with the Red Bull Racing till end of 2018 whereas Carlos Sainz Jr. has signed a one year extension with Red Bull Racing’s sister team, Toro Rosso. This is exactly why I keep saying that Red Bull Racing is Ferrari’s Junior Driver Program! They hired Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull Racing a couple of seasons ago.
Ferrari’s decision to wait on Kimi Raikkonen might just backfire. They’ve issued statements that Raikkonen needs to prove that he deserves a seat at Ferrari and that they aren’t in a hurry to decide their driver line-up for 2017. Has Ferrari’s patience cost them a shot at signing the sport’s best racing talent? I would think so.
Kimi Raikkonen 2.0 hasn’t been the same since he moved to Ferrari. The former World Champion has rarely matched his illustrious team-mate and I will use a phrase that’s been overused to describe the Finn – ‘a shadow of his former self’. Alain Prost’s suggestion to Ferrari to stick with Raikkonen for 2017 to maintain stability might hold some might, but it isn’t something I would subscribe to if I were Ferrari.
Ferrari need to be disruptive. They need to get out of their comfort zone and take a few risks. Just like Red Bull Racing did by promoting Max Verstappen. But now, the problem is that they most promising drivers are locked in for at least another year. This could just force Ferrari to re-sign Kimi Raikkonen for 2017; although Ferrari forces Kimi Raikkonen to resign would be better. (The difference a hyphen makes to a story!)
The alternate thought here too is that maybe Ferrari are keen on extending Raikkonen’s services and that’s possibly why Ricciardo and Sainz extended theirs with Red Bull Racing. Could Daniil Kvyat have an outside chance to the second Ferrari seat? If Vladimir Putin puts in a word to his good friend Bernie Ecclestone, why not?
If not Raikkonen, Ferrari could choose from a few drivers whose names have been doing the rounds for the past few seasons. Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez, Valtteri Bottas are the most obvious ones – however, none of them have won a race yet. This means that should Ferrari go ahead and hire either, they would’ve made an exception of hiring a non-Grand Prix winner. (The last time they made this exception was when they hired Felipe Massa from Sauber)
Haas-Ferrari driver Romain Grosjean and Ferrari’s reserve drivers Esteban Guttierez and Jean Eric Vergne are the other names that have cropped up while discussing this subject. But we’ve all seen how long Ferrari’s previous reserve drivers have gone without getting a race seat (Luca Badoer, remember?). At this moment, either of the Force India drivers seem like the best bet, although, it is Perez (and his PR team) that is making more noise of ‘possible interest from Ferrari’ than Ferrari themselves and this makes me believe that there’s more smoke than fire here. Also, would Perez being a former member of the Ferrari Driver Academy work against the Mexican’s favour? In which case again, Ferrari might be forced to retain Raikkonen.
As for Bottas, Massa’s references (telemetry and personal) might help Ferrari make a decision. While Bottas has been the quicker of the two, he hasn’t blown Massa away – something that most of us were expecting him to do so and this might just work against him. But then again, this is Ferrari, they’re used to picking the wrong driver every once in a while!
Could the outcome of the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix force Mercedes to re-consider their long-term interest in Nico Rosberg and let him go? In which case, would Ferrari be willing to hire him? He’s a pretty good no. 2 driver! If Mercedes were to follow Red Bull Racing’s lead, they’d demote Nico Rosberg for his suicidal racing and promote Pascal Wehrlein. But it is Red Bull that ‘Gives You Wings’ and not Mercedes (or Monster!).
And since re-unions are in-fashion in Formula 1, could Ferrari just call back Felipe Massa or Fernando Alonso? Never say never, said Ross Brawn!