|Image Credit: GEPA / Red Bull Content Pool|
A lot of talk has been going around about Ferrari’s second seat. Felipe Massa has been besides himself since he got knocked out by the spring in 2009. In fact, the same rumours circled the Brazilian last year too but he eventually managed to save his seat for 2013 managed. However, it looks highly unlikely that he’ll be racing in red uniform in 2014 too, if at all.
So, what are the option?
Contender 1: The Iceman
The biggest clamour has been about Kimi Raikkonen regaining a Ferrari drive. But the question is, would Fernando Alonso welcome Kimi with open arms? The last time Spaniard was paired with a certain championship-winning-potential British driver, Eurozone went in financial crisis. In 2007, Alonso went to the extent of saying that if not him, he’d rather see another driver take the championship than his teammate Hamilton. In the eventuality, Kimi took the title by one point. Given the fact that Alonso has enjoyed the no.1 driver status with the Italian team for four seasons now, the big question is: Will Alonso be to drive alongside an equally talented driver without any dispute?
Raikkonen’s contract with Lotus runs out at the end of 2013 season. While the Enstone based team would love to keep him with them, there are question marks about their technical and financial feasibility. Also, Kimi is hungry for a title and want a team that can deliver him a championship winning car.
Contender 2: The Incredible Hulk
Nico Hulkenberg is one of the most talented young drivers who’s been tipped by many as a future champion. Ever since he exploded on the F1 scene, he’s been praised by one and all. People have often said that with a top team, he has all the potential of being a champion. And what better way to display your caliber than in front of the big bosses at Ferrari’s HQ. The German qualified in P3 in a Sauber that has otherwise lacked pace for most part of the season. Nico managed to finished the Italian GP in P5 – ahead of the other cars on the grid barring the Ferraris and Red Bulls.
Why Kimi makes sense?
He’s one of the five Formula 1 champions on the grid right now, and probably the only one who’s got a floating seat for 2014. While he’s not used to “No. 2” tag, he’s shown that he CAN be a team player. This was at display at 2008 Brazilian GP when the Finn let Massa pass without any team orders being transmitted, since he knew that his Brazilian team mate had a better chance of winning the champion, which Massa lost by just one point under controversial circumstances.
It’s widely known in the F1 fraternity that Kimi is the last person to get into petty politics and create a divide within the team. Hence, if he were to partner Alonso, the Italian team enacting Mclaren 2007 or Red Bull 2013 is pretty unlikely.
Why Hulkenberg makes sense?
Hulkenberg will neither expect a superstar status at Ferrari, nor would he wouldn’t mind obeying the team orders and letting a certain Spaniard pass, if and when the need arise. He’d come to the team with complete understanding that he’s the “number 2” driver and hence, there are virtually nil chances of any off-track friction between him and the mighty Alonso.
He is the young talent that can be further nurtured to fit in the team for long term and can be Ferrari’s future champion, if not the immediate one; exactly the way Red Bull made a complete racer out of the young Vettel.
An unconfirmed report in a German magazine has stated that Ferrari has told Sauber that they’ll give them 2014 engines at a discounted rate if they can take Massa off their hands. Given the fact that Massa has been at Sauber before getting a seat at Ferrari, it might not be completely ridiculous to think that he might go back. A Massa-Hulkenberg swap might just happen!
With the 32 year Alonso getting impatient and with some factions of Ferrari board already fond of the Nico, it might make sense to actually give him the opportunity.
Why Massa makes sense?
Though he’s not been in the best of the form, Felipe Massa has grown comfortable being the team’s second driver. He’s the perfect team player and he seems to be having Alonso’s backing too. In a recent interview Alonso said that he’d be happy if Massa stayed.
Since Raikkonen is the front runner for the Ferrari seat and if we compare his and Massa’s performance at Ferrari, the Brazilian consistently outperformed his teammate during 2008 as well as 2009 before being hit on the head by an 800 gram spring and missing the rest of the season. Also, if Kimi were to get on board, it would be a task to sign those multi-million salary cheques for both – Alonso as well as Kimi – two of the most expensive drivers in F1. However, if there’s one team that can afford to pay both of these drivers, it’s Ferrari.
Why Kimi & Nico both make sense?
Because, “Mama Mia.” Alonso is the only driver on the grid who can punch above his weight and can extract 200% out of the car. For this very reason he’s been able to get close to Sebastian Vettel despite having a car that ‘s ideally only as fast as Lotus. But, since Alonso is not satisfied getting close to Vettel’s rear wing, he wants to win and Ferrari hasn’t been able to provide him a car that can make him. And during this Saturday’s qualifying, his frustration was evident over a controversial radio message where he was heard telling the pitwall in Italian, “You’re really idiots. Mama Mia, guys.” Though he maintains that he said “geni” (geniuses) and not scemi (idiots), there’s enough doubt to believe that he might have said “scemi”, since the slipstream effect in qualifying didn’t really worked as expected and he qualified P5 while his towing partner qualified a place ahead in P4.
Though Alonso has a contract with Ferrari till the end of 2016 but he’s showed in the past that if he’s unhappy with the team, a piece of paper won’t stop him from leaving. However, while he did leave McLaren after 2007 season, full 2 years ahead of his contract term; he probably won’t do the same this time. At that time, Renault wanted the Spaniard back for 2008 season and Alonso was always more fond of Favio Briatore than Ron Dennis. For 2014 though, there’s no Favio and there isn’t another team that can provide him a capable car. After last week’s announcement of Daniel Ricciardo replacing Mark Weeber, Red Bull doesn’t have any vacancy. And looking at the current situation, McLaren just won’t pass the muster. There’s no way either Ross Brawn, Lewis Hamilton or Fernando Alonso wants a repeat of 2007 and hence, Nico Rosberg doesn’t need to worry about his seat at the Mercedes. That only leaves Lotus as an (improbably) option. Being the ex-Renault outfit, one could argue that Alonso might go there and feel at home; but it’s highly unlikely that Alonso would leave Ferrari for Lotus.
Hence, the likelihood of Alonso-Raikkonen and Massa-Hulkenberg swap happening is as bright as F1 cars going all-LPG.
So what will it be?
In my opinion, we’ll be seeing Raikkonen in Ferrari colours once again. Let’s face it, everyone wants this to happen.
As for Massa, if he doesn’t retire from F1, he might head back to Sauber and Monisha Kaltenborn will gladly accept the family & friends discount on those 2014 Ferrari engines.
As we stand today, in my opinion, this could happen:
Raikkonen will join Alonso at Ferrari
Massa will go to Sauber and if the engine discount story is true, his salary will pay dividends.
Hulkenberg will take Kimi’s seat at Lotus.
Webber will punch Vettel after the Brazilian GP 2013.
Take it from me, Alonso – Raikkonen partnership might just turn out to be Ferrari’s Los Galacticos.
If you disagree or are simply angry with my transfer speculations, write to me in the comments below.