Off-track wranglings begin for F1 2014

Left to right: Raikkonen, Alonso, Domenicali, MassaWith much pride swallowed on both sides, Kimi Räkkönen is heading back to Ferrari for 2014 and 2015 meaning there will be two former world champions in red cars for the first time since 1955. Hard not to see it as one massive kick in the manparts for Fernando Alonso who, partnered with Felipe Massa, has not delivered a new Schumacher era as the team had hoped.

Alonso will see it differently of course, but with his tetchy old self from the McLaren era already re-emerging, it’s easy to imagine the next two years will not be all chocolates and roses at Maranello. Commentators are already saying this is Prost-Senna all over again (we’re not quite so certain). Ferrari has clearly decided it doesn’t care so long as the cars win races and titles.

When Felipe Massa tweeted last night that he would not be driving for Ferrari in 2014 it pressed the KERS button on the rumour mill over at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Though Kimi was odds-on, there was a huge groundswell of support for Nico Hulkenberg and Ferrari banking on the future (as Red Bull have done with Daniel Ricciardo) and not on the past. But the best story we heard was that Lotus had offered Romain Grosjean in exchange for keeping hold of Kimi. RoGros in a Ferrari; it might not have ended well, but it would have been jolly exciting.

Instead we have Kimi picking up — he and Ferrari will hope — somewhat further up the grid than when he left off, comprehensively beaten by Massa after a significant dip in form after his 2007 title for the team. He beat Alonso (and Hamilton’s) McLarens to the title that year, but it was Alonso Kimi had to make way for in 2010 as Ferrari paid him off in full, preferring Massa to partner Alonso even though there were fears Massa wouldn’t recover from the horrific injury he sustained taking a discarded spring in the head at the Hungarian Grand Prix. It was very touching Ferrari kept the faith, but a proper insult to Räkkönen. Like we said, a lot of pride has been swallowed to make this happen.

So who will go to Lotus? Will Hulkenberg get the drive, arguably the third or fourth best car on the grid? He deserves it, and more. And if Hulkenberg does go to Lotus will Massa step back in to Sauber, the unofficial Ferrari B-team from which he graduated in 2006? Only Michael Schumacher has started more often for Ferrari and — get this — only Schumacher, Niki Lauda and Alberto Ascari have won more races for the Scuderia. There is huge regard for Massa at Maranello.

Sauber however is flogging its drives for all its worth so might not be able to afford to drop Esteban Gutierrez and his Mexican money, or ignore the Russian money that’s insisting 18-year Sergey Sirotkin has got what it takes (including a super license) to race in F1 in 2014.

Lots of exciting stuff going on off-track, then. Which after Red Bull and Vettel’s performance on Sunday is a relief. Too many teams have been too slow in responding to Vettel-Newey, but Alonso- Räkkönen is a start.

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