F1 Silly Season: Let the games begin
3 June, 2010
Jun.03 (Phillip Horton) Okay, so we’re well into the European season of Formula One and it’s the traditional time of year when the silly season kicks off and subsequently runs for the next 52 weeks of the year.
Last year’s ‘Silly Season’ was probably the silliest one ever, with everyone linked with everywhere to the extent where Jacques Villeneuve (remember him?) was linked with a team who were made up of ex-cons and a very ambitious leader with a move villain sounding name. This year however, things look to be more stable as quite a few drivers have multi–year contracts (but then again, since when did contracts mean anything in Formula One, eh Kimi?)
The main talking point is inevitably going to be who fills the second seat at Ferrari alongside Fernando Alonso. At the moment, there appear to be three drivers vying for the seat: Felipe Massa, Robert Kubica and Mark Webber.
The Ferrari team love Massa and he is still their favourite. He has struggled with the tyres this year but is still in the championship hunt. But throughout the rest of the year, there is a possibility of being crushed, both literally and psychologically, by Fernando Alonso, whose impressive pace has put Massa into the shade and started the inevitable comparisons with Raikkonen.
So what about Kubica? Well, for the first time in years, he is almost free to race. He didn’t enjoy the stifled conditions at BMW and fell out with the team in 2008 after they stopped development on the F1.08 when the championship was in reach.
At Renault, he has the team moulded around him, submitting to his needs. He says he enjoys the atmosphere and the R30 is a much better package than many predicted. So why the need to go to Ferrari?
Kubica has been promised a better car in 2011 and if development is good this year, then he will be convinced by Renault’s ability as a team.
At Ferrari, he wouldn’t be the centre of attention and would almost certainly be number 2 to Alonso. Staying at Renault would be the most sensible option.
Moving to Ferrari and being beaten by Alonso would lower his stock. Staying at Renault and doing incredible things (such as in Australia and Monaco) raise his stock and exploit his raw talent. Kubica hardly ever makes a mistake.
The third candidate then is Mark Webber. He is driving the best he has done in his eight year career. Red Bull is only offering him one year extensions on his contract, an understandable approach when dealing with a driver in his thirties.
He is currently showing the world what only a few people saw for years and maybe a move to Ferrari would cap an impressive career. There are also outside contenders as well. Nick Heidfeld’s name was floating around – a solid number two who could deliver the team a Constructors title. However, my reckoning is that Ferrari will retain Massa – for 2011 anyway.
Red Bull will probably stick with Vettel (who is a long term target for Mercedes) and Webber after Christian Horner came out this week (not in that sense) and said that WRC refugee Kimi Raikkonen was never an option for Red Bull. So for Kimi, any return to F1 for 2011 looks unlikely.
However, will last weekend’s crash during the Turkish Grand Prix change the complexion of Mark’s relationship with Red Bull? The fallout from the crash has led to suggestions that Vettel is being favoured in the team and this could lead Webber to seek alternative options. However, my own view is that they are mature enough to deal with the issue and move on, even if the situation now seems tense.
McLaren are Mercedes are likely to stick with the same line-up, the only doubt is whether Schumacher will stay on or whether he would retire again and hand the seat to test driver Nick Heidfeld.
For Renault, it hinges on whether they can hang on to Kubica. If he stays, then the second seat is up for grabs. Petrov has shown flashes of speed combined with mistakes that have led to long hours for the mechanics.
With Renault looking for finish 4th or 5th in the constructors championship this year that will result in increased prize money.
Combine this with more sponsors and a better situation that faced them in 2009-10 and the need for a pay driver is less vital.
They have their own talent in the Gravity Company in the form of Jerome d’Ambrosio and Ho-Pin Tung. However, neither has been that impressive in junior formulae and it is unlikely that they would perform better than Petrov, who has been the best rookie this year.
One name mentioned was Timo Glock, who was offered a Renault contract for 2010 at the end of last year but only rejected them for the uncertainty of whether they would be around. Glock may also not be impressed with the VR-01. He would understand that they weren’t going to be race winners immediately, but they are still battling – and sometimes losing – to a team of rookies with a woeful car. He has a contract with Virgin for 2011 and will hope for a much better car.
Now we move to the midfield teams. Williams will probably retain their two drivers. Barrichello has not been too impressed with the FW32 but doesn’t really have any brighter options if he wants to further his career.
Hulkenberg has not been the driver many were expecting him to be, but he is showing signs of improvement and he has a strong future.
Force India has three drivers vying for two seats. Adrian Sutil has shown a new found maturity this year but still has moments of impetuosity that bring his doubters back to fruition. Liuzzi has been disappointing in qualifying but has also shown speed in the races.
The outsider is test driver Paul di Resta who has been fast in everything he has driven and is a previous F3 Euroseries champion. He may well oust one of them and it might be Sutil as rumours have suggested that he has been in talks with other teams about 2011.
Lotus has Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli for next year, even if Trulli has looked mundane this year. Virgin Racing will probably stay with their two drivers, possibly replacing di Grassi with Andy Soucek. But then again, with such a poor car, it is difficult to judge a driver’s performance and di Grassi put up a good fight against Alonso in Monaco.
Over at Sauber is probably where the majority of the uncertainty lies. Money talks. Pedro de la Rosa has not impressed the team or outsiders this year but if he can chalk up the money that the team desperately needs, then he will probably get the seat. But then there are GP2 drivers, Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez, the latter who has strong financial backing and has been impressive this year – currently leading the championship.
A more interesting story is the possibility of a tie up between Sauber and ART Grand Prix, one of the teams trying to get a spot on the grid for 2011. ART themselves would be able to bring in highly rated Jules Bianchi and if they were with Sauber, then the second seat would probably go to Kobayashi. If they were a lone team, then ART might pick a surprise.
So as you can see, the silly season shouldn’t be too silly, but don’t count out the occasional odd story linking Felipe Massa to ART or Adrian Sutil to McLaren!