F1’s Silliest Season?

‘Multi 21, Seb. Multi 21’

After just two races in 2013, silly season kicked off after the Red Bull debacle at the Malaysian Grand Prix. Mark Webber was clearly unhappy after being passed by his team-mate Sebastian Vettel for the win, after the world champion had ignored orders to hold station behind his race leading team-mate. Reports instantly linked Kimi Raikkonen to the seat, with the Finn’s contract with Lotus due to run out at the end of the year.

Mark Webber announced in June of this year that he would be retiring at the end of the season to pursue a career in sportscars with Porsche. This announcement sent silly season into a frenzy and since then rumours have been rife about who will fill his vacated seat. Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso have both been linked to it, as has Kimi Raikkonen who has also been tipped to drive for Ferrari, Lotus and McLaren in 2014.

There is a saying, coined by Claud Cockburn, which is: “don’t believe anything until it has been officially denied”. This should definitely be remembered in Formula One.

This year silly season really centres around two vacancies: the one at Red Bull and a possible opening at Ferrari. Felipe Massa has once again found himself under pressure to turn his form around, if he wants to remain with the Scuderia for his ninth season with them. Team Principal Stefano Domenicali recently told the official Formula One website: “My favourite choice would be, of course, to keep Felipe because Felipe is a very good guy – very dedicated to the team – and when you look around there are not so many drivers out there that you swap and they immediately deliver.” He found himself in the same situation last season but was given a year-long contract extension for 2013. On the other side of the garage Alonso has a contract through to the end of 2016. The Spaniard is one driver that knows all too well, however, that contracts in Formula One are not always guarantees.

At the end of 2005, after Alonso had won his first world championship with Renault, he announced that he had signed a three year deal with McLaren from 2007. After a somewhat difficult season with McLaren, however, an amicable agreement was reached which saw Alonso leave his contract early, returning to Renault. Just a year later, Alonso found himself at the centre of another contract controversy.

Kimi Raikkonen was contracted with Ferrari until the end of 2010. This was the company line for most of the latter half of the season in 2009 (Q:”who will be driving for Ferrari next year?” A: “Kimi has a contract with us for 2010”). It was Alonso who ousted him. Ferrari subsequently paid Raikkonen to get him out of his contract and as a result Raikkonen sat two years on the sidelines, racing in WRC.

Last week, two Italian journalists on Twitter hinted that Raikkonen had signed a deal to return to Ferrari. With the next race being the Italian Grand Prix, many expected there to be an announcement from the Scuderia, however the team’s infamous Horse Whisperer moved to dispel that myth pointing out “from 1991, when the Maranello press office first began to put its official pronouncements down on paper, until now, only twice, in 2006 and 2008, has the team’s home grand prix provided the backdrop to an announcement regarding the drivers”. So the uncertainty could rumble on for a while yet.

Elsewhere it has been widely reported that Ricciardo has been for a seat sitting at Red Bull (where it was discovered his hips are too big for the 2014 car, but that’s another story) but again there has been no official confirmation from either party. So, if Ricciardo is confirmed at Red Bull that effectively leaves Raikkonen with two options: Ferrari and Lotus. He has been linked to McLaren but they are expected to keep both of their drivers on for next season.

This is always the case as the season enters its latter stages – who will drive where the following year? If a driver makes a compliment about another team, he’s going there. If a driver follows a team on Twitter, he’s going there (remember Jaime Alguersuari and Force India?). If a driver is spotted talking to a key member of another team, he’s going there. Drivers from years gone by are suddenly said to be making comebacks and anyone with a contract due to expire is a possibility for every team on the grid.

Chances are Ferrari will retain Massa and Alonso, Raikkonen will stay with Lotus and Ricciardo will make the move from Toro Rosso to Red Bull. At the end of the day, all this hooha could be for nothing and everything could remain very much as it is. That’s Formula One silly season for you!

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