So Red Bull are sticking with the strategy of partnering their high-maintenance Number One with a laid back Australian in the number two car. Last night — when the whole F1 world was at the Rush premiere — they formally announced what we already knew, that in 2014 Daniel Ricciardo will get behind the wheel of what will probably again be the best car on the grid. Well done Daniel, you seem like a thoroughly decent fella.
It’s taken a while — and a whole bunch of driver fails — for Red Bull’s Driver Academy to throw up a successor to Sebastian Vettel. That might suggest there was possibly some internal pressure to promote Ricciardo. After success in F3 and Formula Renault he was astonishing at his first Young Driver test but in the Toro Rosso he’s been, erm… okay? Some fine qualifying runs but no red letter races and his points finishing has been less impressive than team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne. I’ve always maintained racing’s real superstars let you know very early on just what they’ve got and I am not sure Ricciardo has. Not in F1 anyhow. Then again maybe that’s another downside of the current state of F1. Messrs Horner and Newey do seem to know what they’re doing after all.
Vettel is said to be very happy that Ricciardo has the drive, which would tend to suggest he was less happy at the prospect of Raikkonen, who was even less likely to kowtow than Webber. So where does Kimi go now? It’s either Ferrari or stay at Lotus. Lotus are of course telling anyone who will listen than Kimi just needs to be reassured that next year’s Lotus will deliver wins. But there’s more to it than that. I’m pretty certain even Kimi has been surprised how competitive his comeback has been, considering he was decidedly average in his last seasons at Ferrari before the gap year shenanigans. If indeed negotiations are ongoing with Ferrari, I suspect it has more to do with establishing guaranteed parity with Alonso.
Either way, it’s impossible to imagine Felipe Massa in a single-seater Ferrari next year, even if he was to be heroic at Monza this weekend. So if Kimi stays at Lotus, who will race alongside Alonso? Nico Hulkenberg has to be in the frame. Indeed many suggest he absolutely is, hence the slightly odd switch to Sauber from Force India on a one year contract. Hulkenberg has of course shown us the right stuff in both his rookie year at Williams and his one and only year in the Force India.
Finally, there is of course a seat at Toro Rosso. And though the team has said Jean Eric Vergne will stay, knowing how ruthlessly it’s treated its drivers there may be two seats. After all, if Vergne is not good enough to make the A-Team, then why should he be allowed to block the seat from someone who might make the grade? Red Bull player Antonio Felix da Costa is the obvious choice, but Felipe Nasr and Carlos Sainz Jnr will all be on the phone this morning.