Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Further thoughts on the British Grand Prix

Kimi's in
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. And this applies to the weird world of F1 as much as it does anything. Matters tend not to be dwelt upon; no sooner does something happen than all look ahead to what the implications will be. And so it was with Mark Webber's Silverstone announcement that he's off to sportscars next year, before you knew it focus shifted to who would plug the Aussie Grit-shaped hole at Red Bull (though for various reasons for a while almost no one had expected him to still be there next year anyway). And sure enough the Bulls' boss Christian Horner quickly stated that there are three candidates: the two Toro Rosso pilots - Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne - and Kimi Raikkonen.

Kimi Raikkonen - in a
perhaps not inappropriate hat
Credit: Matthias v.d. Elbe / CC
But perhaps the fun speculating about it all will be short-lived, as the momentum behind Kimi to fill the Red Bull vacancy already looks unstoppable. Conspicuously, no one is denying anything, and moreover the key players are making noises which indicate considerable movement down the Kimi to Red Bull path. Lotus's Eric Boullier admitted in the team principals' press conference at Silverstone that 'Red Bull is chasing Kimi'. And Horner in the same room didn't make effort to downplay it in response, commenting that 'Kimi Raikkonen is a driver you would be foolish to ignore', before going onto make noises that he wants to 'pick the best candidate for that role' and elsewhere that 'we want the fastest line-up that we can'. All roads lead to Kimi you'd have thought, being by far the most qualified available candidate in the here and now, and even the Ice Man himself has admitted to there being talks with the Milton Keynes team. Indeed, paddock gossip had Kimi to Red Bull as a done deal already.

And it's one of those moves that no matter how far you dig it's hard to discover any show-stoppers: the temptations of a Red Bull to Kimi are obvious, given that the car has been the sport's gold standard for a number of years. From Red Bull's perspective the temptations of Kimi are obvious too: the Finn has established himself as one of the very best and most reliable F1 drivers in the contemporary age, and surely in a Red Bull he'd be good both for wins and for consistent points in chasing the constructors' title. Kimi you feel further fits the Red Bull brand perfectly; indeed he was sponsored by the company in his rallying sojourn. Of course, a potential impediment would be what Luca Montezemolo called 'two roosters in the same hen house' resultant from pairing Kimi with Sebastian Vettel, but among the top drivers surely Kimi represents the lowest risk of all on this front, given his firmly apolitical and equanimous attitude. Further, while some have claimed that Vettel could veto the move, you'd imagine that had Seb not given it all his blessing it would never have been allowed to get this far (and, given the lingering existence of Seb-doubters, just perhaps Seb's keen to prove himself alongside him?). As for the Toro Rosso two, harsh though it sounds (but hey F1 is a harsh business) it's hard to argue that either pilot has made a consistent case for the step up - not yet anyway. And in any case Red Bull clearly feels no obligation to promote from within. To borrow Sherlock Holmes's maxim: eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

But another reason why I think that this makes sense is to do with Red Bull itself. Without being pejorative, Red Bull is not in F1 as its raison d'etre as Ferrari or McLaren is, it is there as part of the drinks company's PR. And even with winning all of the time (or maybe even because of it) it may sense something of a law of diminishing returns from its F1 involvement. What better way to spice it all up than signing the popular Kimi, and in so doing creating a driver pairing that will get plenty of attention?

And as if to further underline that it's the wide acceptance that Kimi will end up at Red Bull next year, the conundrum of who is to fill his Lotus slot is already being wrestled with. There may even be two Enstone seats up for grabs, as Romain Grosjean continues to struggle to perform consistently. Anyone from the midfield teams downwards would fancy a Lotus switch: Paul Di Resta's been mentioned already; if Nico Hulkennberg doesn't get his Ferrari gig then you'd imagine he'd be of interest too. Though if Grosjean is indeed out on his ear one of the drivers' ability to bring money may become a consideration.


  1. There's no doubt that Kimi Raikkonen would want the move - it's a no brainer for him.

    Christian Horner certainly appears keen - the only possible stumbling block is simply whether or not the likes of Dietrich Mateschitz, Helmut Marko etc would essentially go against their "philosophy" of bringing through young drivers.

    Toro Rosso exists primarily for moments like this - Webber's retirement: an opportunity to "change the guard" - so if they pass up this opportunity now, then what's all the investment for? If Raikkonen does go (and let's assume a two year deal for arguments sake)then it's also a fair assumption that Ricciardo and JEV will be on the scrapheap sooner rather than later and the next batch can be brought in for the post-Kimi era.

    The general consensus seems to be that Ricciardo and JEV have not yet shown the world class potential to justify that #2 seat - but let's not forget - according to Giorgio Ascanelli, Sebastian Vettel only started showing that consistent world class potential from Valencia 2008 onwards - late in the mid-season - and with this in mind I'd like to see the current two TR drivers given the time to show their skills before a decision is made.

    As for Lotus, I imagine that them and their budget aren't in any rush to commit to any Kimi-sized expenses for 2014, they'll probably be more than happy to delay this decision. That of course doesn't mean to say that they won't be talking a Paul di Resta, or a Heikki Kovalainen until then.

    I can see this dragging on for several months yet...

    1. Hi Geoff. Thanks very much for commenting.

      Thing is with the Toro Rosso drivers, Red Bull is only going to promote drivers from its young drivers' programme if they think they're good enough, which is exactly how it should be. And *of course* the team will have high standards, Red Bull wants to win constructors' championships, and given the team is a front runner it is a high pressure and demanding environment. And Red Bull's no different from other top teams in this regard. McLaren has had a young drivers' programme for decades (I can remember when Allan McNish was part of it) but as with Red Bull only one driver from it ever has made it to the big team. Same with Ferrari: very rarely do young drivers from their stable make it to a race seat there (I suppose Massa was a Ferrari young driver, sort of - though he pre-dated the young drivers' programme).

      And you mention comparing Vettel's Toro Rosso record to those of the current pair, well at the same stage as where Ricciardo and Vergne are now, roughly a year and a bit in, Vettel had won a Grand Prix. Not only that, he'd impressed consistently, and had achieved two fourth place finishes, three fifth places and two sixth places. Which compares to the best result for Ricciardo or Vergne which is a single sixth place for Vergne (at Canada). Further, Vettel had challenged for a win at Fuji *five races* into his Toro Rosso career (which admittedly didn't end well), and had shown on several occasions he could go wheel-to-wheel with the likes of Alonso and Hamilton.

      OK, a lot of the time he had a more competitive car than Ricciardo/Vergne have now, but you can see why there was then much more of an evidence base to promote him than there is now with either Toro Rosso driver.

      Let's not forget either that Red Bull has access to much more data on its drivers than we do. I recall that when Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari were dropped a couple of years ago there was some outrage, but I heard subsequently that the team's telemetry data showed that the two drivers weren’t pushing the car to its limit, hence why the team decided to ditch them.