2014 F1 season
With Daniel Ricciardo’s move to Red Bull finally official, the first domino has toppled in the 2014 driver market.
The question now is how long a chain reaction is it going to set off, and who else will be occupying a new seat come the start of the 2014 F1 season.
No Red Bull for Raikkonen
Kimi Raikkonen is known to have been in the running for a Red Bull seat. He was associated with Red Bull during his brief spell in the World Rally Championship, so why did they pass up the chance form a stellar line-up of two world champions?
Chief technical officer Adrian Newey said: “We could have taken an experienced driver, somebody guaranteed to deliver to a relatively known level, or equally we could take on a much younger driver in the hope that they’ll develop to a very high level.”
“We looked at the latter option and concluded that of the younger drivers, Daniel is the most promising.”
Anyone who’s listened to Ricciardo’s lengthy, painstaking debriefs on the Toro Rosso team radio during practice sessions will know his technical feedback is of a high standard. Red Bull have had many chances to evaluate Ricciardo since his first test for the team in 2009 and this key strength of his likely to be one Newey values highly, especially with a major change in the technical rules coming into force next year.
And Newey, who previously worked with Raikkonen at McLaren, is well-placed to know testing is not an activity the 2007 world champion relishes.
No doubt other factors will have figured: Ricciardo will have been cheaper to hire and easier to sign to a long-term contract. As Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost admitted, his hiring “vindicates” the company’s investment in a driver development programme which is far greater in scope than anything their rivals undertake.
And then there is the question of Vettel’s say in the matter. Christian Horner has previously said Vettel would not dictate his choice of team mate. However reports in the German press claimed Vettel indicated a preference for Ricciardo.
Where now for Raikkonen?
In the view of at least one rival team principal, Raikkonen is looking for a way out of Lotus.
The team lack the resources of their bigger rivals – their budget is estimated to be little more than half that of Ferrari – and although they have made excellent use of what they have, they will have to keep doing so to persuade Raikkonen to stay.
“Kimi wants to be assured that we have everything in place to tackle the significant changes we will see in the sport next year,” said team principal Eric Boullier. “We’re working hard to assure him that Lotus F1 Team is where he should be and piece by piece we are getting all our ducks in a row.”
With Red Bull and Mercedes’ driver line-ups complete for next year, Raikkonen’s only remaining options outside of Lotus which might represent a step forward for him would mean a return to a former team: McLaren or Ferrari.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh admitted in a recent interview he’s a “fan” of Raikkonen and had talks with the driver last year about returning to the fold. But this may just have been him sending a message to Jenson Button following his driver’s public remarks about his 2014 contract not being signed yet.
And whether there might be a space for him at Ferrari depends on whether they’ve finally run out of patience with Raikkonen’s former team mate Felipe Massa.
Massa’s future at Ferrari
Last year was his worst yet alongside Fernando Alonso, scoring a miserable 43.8% of his team mate’s points tally, which he has barely improved on so far this year.
So far Ferrari have been willing to indulge his preference for having a strict number two team mate and there has been no sign yet that is about to change. Bringing back Raikkonen – the driver Alonso replaced – would be an astonishing volte-face on more than one count.
But perhaps the time has come for Ferrari to find a Ricciardo of their own – an up-and-coming driver who has F1 experience and can handle the pressures of driving for the world’s most famous racing team.
Nico Hulkenberg might fit the bill as Massa could be traded back to Sauber, the Ferrari-powered team he joined them from in 2006. Though Hulkenberg may be considered a bit too good to be a number two to Alonso, the team indicated last year they need a driver of sufficient experience.
Sergio Perez, in his second F1 season at the time, was considered not experienced enough. Hulkenberg, in this third season, might, while Ferrari development driver Jules Bianchi has only made 11 starts for Marussia.
Ferrari have said they won’t make an announcement about their future drivers at this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix. Much of the rest of the driver market is likely to begin moving once their decision is known – with one exception:
The significance of Ricciardo’s move is that it is the first time Red Bull have promoted from within since Sebastian Vettel moved up from Toro Rosso at the end of 2008. The vacancy created at Toro Rosso will inevitably be taken by the next young hopeful on their Driver Development Programme.
Formula Renault 3.5 racer Antonio Felix da Costa has to be the favourite for the seat.
After a hugely impressive 2012, which involved splitting his efforts between that series and GP3, luck has deserted him so far this year. But Da Costa remains the leading light of the programme and has previously tested for Red bull. It would be a surprise if he were passed over for the next driver in line.
That would by Carlos Sainz Jnr, son of the two-times World Rally Champion of the same name, who impressed when he tested for Red Bull at Silverstone. He is likely to get a Toro Rosso seat eventually, though the indication from Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko is that Jean-Eric Vergne will be driving an STR9 next year.
Tost said Toro Rosso will not hurry the decision on who succeed Ricciardo: “We will now look at all our options and make a decision at a later date, as there is no immediate need to rush.”
Over to you
How do you expect the rest of the driver market for 2014 to unfold? Have your say in the comments.
See the current list of 2014 F1 drivers and teams
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Images © Red Bull/Getty, GP3/LAT, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo