Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Further thoughts on the Italian Grand Prix

Ice flee?
So the phoney war is over. The first shots in the 'who drives where in 2014' battle have been fired. Daniel Ricciardo last week was been confirmed for the Red Bull gig. And, if the word of the street at Monza and since is to be believed, we're about to have a major scud land, with Kimi Raikkonen's red return to Ferrari apparently to be finalised imminently.

Kimi Raikkonen - waving goodbye to Lotus?
Photo: Octane Photography
Like a lot of people, I met the initial rumours of Kimi's return to Maranello with general incredulity. After all, it comes just four years on from the Scuderia paying him rather handsomely not to drive for them. His disdain for PR and other legwork - which Lotus it seemed were uniquely able to tolerate - is well known. And he hardly seemed to fit with the Alonso-Santander plan for supremacy either.

More broadly, the move seemed against history. Ferrari has only signed four world champions to join its driving staff ever; it apparently hasn't had two world champions on the books since 1953. But by now, and with incumbent Felipe Massa today confirming that he is indeed looking for alternative employment for 2014, the momentum behind the Kimi transfer seems unstoppable.

What perhaps we can infer from it all at least on some level is that the much hinted at struggles of Lotus to pay Kimi are a bit more acute than we thought, which with Ricciardo getting the Red Bull seat probably reduced Kimi's realistic paths in F1 2014 to one. But still, the more I think about it the more I think the move makes sense for Ferrari too, and for broadly the same reasons as I thought Kimi to Red Bull made sense. We know that the Finn offers both speed and an ability to brings the thing home for points just about every time - good for the constructors' championship in other words. And while many thought that burning his boats with Luca Montezemolo in 2009 would preclude a return, well the grapevine has it that the President is prepared to let bygones be bygones.

Fernando Alonso - bothered by Kimi's arrival?
Photo: Octane Photography
Some have sought to make sense of it by suggesting that it could be that he's being brought in to replace Alonso, rather than partner him, with Alonso going the other way for his third spell down Enstone way. I struggle with this suggestion though (particularly leaving for Lotus specifically, as it's a team that's had its own problems off track recently, as well as that Alonso's last spell there had an uneasy marriage of convenience air about it). Given Alonso's status as one of the few good things about Ferrari in recent times his departure only seems feasible if his Ferrari relationship has really broken down. And while it's shown some strain latterly there's little to suggest that things have become irreparable: not from the pronouncements from Montezemolo or from anyone else in the team in Monza, nor indeed from the fact that Ferrari was still applying team orders to Alonso's benefit in the Italian race. And with a load of technical changes coming in for next year is it wise to have a team led by Raikkonen, someone who's rarely shown enthusiasm for the technical side of the job? Not really.

Of course, a potential impediment would be what Montezemolo has himself in the past called 'two roosters in the same hen house' resultant from pairing Kimi with Alonso, but among the top drivers surely Kimi represents the lowest risk of all on this front, given his firmly apolitical and equanimous attitude.

And for all of the claims that Alonso's nose will be put of joint by this move, is it possible we overstate his fussiness over who he shares a team with? After all this is a man who gave his blessing to being paired with the rapid Robert Kubica, as well as, reportedly, to being paired with Sebastian Vettel. Ferrari's also approached Mark Webber and Jenson Button in Alonso's time. I believe that the only driver Alonso makes a point of vetoing is Lewis Hamilton, and frankly I don't blame him for that one!

Further, while I don't think it'll be easy by any stretch I think Alonso would come out on top in this match up. The race pace of the two seems fairly similar, but I think the main discriminator would be in the opening laps of a race, wherein Alonso's aggression is much greater. You'd imagine that after a lap or two he'll usually be two or three places ahead of the Finn. And in equal cars reversing that deficit to Alonso wouldn't be at all easy.


  1. Actually, the last time the Scuderia had two world champions was 1990 with Prost and Mansell! Kimi and Alonso should fuel each other to the top against RedBull, with the Senna - Prost wars still fresh in our memories, these tow pairings should produce a world champion, unless Ferrari fails to produce the right V-6 engine package!

    1. I was only including cases where the drivers were world champions at the point that they paired up at Ferrari, and wasn't including cases where one of them become world champion in the future. In the Prost-Mansell case, they were team mates at Ferrari in 1990, and Mansell didn't win his world championship until 1992.

      Though even including these there aren't too many instances of Ferrari having two champions at the same time. I think the previous time to 1990 was 1958, when Mike Hawthorn and Phil Hill were team mates briefly.

  2. That's true, and 2014 will be a very interesting year at Scuderia-Ferrari, should team orders ever come into play, to whoever is leading each other in the points at each race and after the mid way point of the season. It's going to be very exciting to watch!

    1. I suspect the Ferrari team order situation with Fernando and Kimi won't actually be too different to now, i.e. that if it's towards the end of the season and/or one driver doesn't have a realistic hope of the title then a team order will come into play if needed. And, contrary to many people's claims in the past couple of days, we've seen that Kimi *does* accept team orders. He virtually stopped on the track in China 2008 to let Massa pass him! It seems with discussions on Kimi stereotypes overtake facts sometimes.