A Formula 1 Expert's Guide To The Driver Merry-Go-Round

Mark Webber’s 'retirement' has triggered a series of potential changes in F1, and as we go into the summer break, what looked like a sure thing for Daniel Ricciardo has turned into a far more interesting fight for an Adrian Newey car.
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Mark Webber’s 'retirement' has triggered a series of potential changes in F1, and as we go into the summer break, what looked like a sure thing for Daniel Ricciardo has turned into a far more interesting fight for an Adrian Newey car.

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Formula One doesn’t have a transfer season, and given that there are only two places at each team, movements are infrequent. But when something does come unstuck (especially at the top end) everything goes into overdrive as people try to land that rare-as-rocking-horse-poo seat in a top team.

The only thing we know for sure is that with Mark Webber going to race sportscars for Porsche in 2014, Red Bull only has one driver for next year in triple-champ Sebastian Vettel. This opening is the fulcrum for the for-2014 driver movements and whatever happens, next year will be a very interesting one.

What is fascinating about a new Red Bull driver next season is that despite the fact that Vettel is clearly a massive talent, he’s never been tested in Formula One by someone in equal machinery, and the list of people he has seen off isn’t very impressive: Liuzzi, Bourdais and Mark Webber. In the same car Mark Webber, in turn, has beaten Anthony Davidson, Antonio Pizzonia and Christian Klien by the skin of his teeth and Nico Rosberg during the German’s first season in Formula One and David Coulthard during the Scot’s last. DC beat him the year before that, Vettel’s hammered him and before the final five races Heidfeld didn’t contest in 2005, Webber trailed him by six points and had one podium to Quick Nick’s three. Hardly a glittering CV, and he’s never really dominated a team mate. Kimi Raikkonen, who seems to be the main contender for the number 2 Red Bull seat has, apart from the 2008 wobble, never lost fair and square to a team mate and has usually destroyed them.

The Iceman’s only half his problem though, with the news from Hungary that Fernando Alonso’s manager was sniffing around Red Bull’s motorhome. It was looking as though the should-be-at-least-a-four-times-champion Spaniard would finish his career in Maranello, but Ferrari seems to be stuck in a bit of a rut at the moment and, with only a few more seasons left in the sport it’s understandable that he might want to look elsewhere to bag those extra few titles he certainly deserves.

Both Kimi and Alonso are more experienced, harder and faster than Vettel and should RBR take on either of these two ex-champions Sebastian could end up with a bloody nose.

In the unlikely event that Fernando does leave Italy for Milton Keynes, Ferrari could find itself with no continuity from 2013-2014. That brings the potential for an unprecedented double-young-driver pairing in the shape of Nico Hulkenberg and Jules Bianchi. The red team are in need of a shake up and the embarrassment of Fernando walking could be a (albeit bitter-tasting) tonic for The Scuderia.

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I honestly don’t think Ferrari actually has the bottle to bring in two drivers at the same time and an Alonso exit would more than likely serve as yet another stay of execution for Felipe Massa. That would pave the way for the 2015 Ferraris both having Germans aboard: Hulkenberg and  Vettel. With his apparent love of F1 history, The Finger will be aware that to be considered a true great you can’t tour around at the front in the fastest car for your whole career. He needs to take a risk soon and, if he can go to Ferrari and do what Alonso couldn’t, it would be the perfect way to give his already-record-laden career a stamp of unquestionable authority.

The shuffling at Lotus is a bit less interesting if Kimi does go, but there will be no shortage of drivers after that seat too. There seems to be very little in the way of vested sponsorship interest at that team and, unlike most of the other ‘privateers’ on the grid, Lotus seem keen to nab the best driver rather than the biggest cheque. They’re unlikely to bring someone up from GP2 to partner Romain ‘The Explosion’ Grosjean – I don’t think the world has enough carbon fibre to support a move like that. Should the RBR seat go to Kimi, a move for Daniel Ricciardo for a season or two until Vettel leaves RBR to replace Massa at Ferrari seems reasonable.

We probably won’t find out how this will play out until late this year but, in the meantime with rejuvenated Hamilton and Mercedes, we can at least look forward to a slightly more interesting second half of the season. Roll on Spa!