Silly Season’s always provide a healthy amount of guesswork, speculation and second guessing. That’s the nature of the season and why they call it ‘Silly’. Some Silly Season’s are sillier than others and that’s mainly due to key personnel leaving key teams. Schumacher’s exit from Formula One left a top seat in a top team and caused a lot of speculation. Lewis Hamilton’s departure from McLaren left tongues wagging and speculation raging. When Mika Hakkinen left F1, the guesswork was fierce.
Deciding who should go where in the mid-field or lower is one thing but no driver market really impacts F1 like a top team and top driver parting ways. That is the scenario we have at Red Bull this year as Mark Webber announced his imminent departure from the sport to race in the World Endurance Challenge series for Porsche. Webber said he knew for some time he was leaving and many fans had already assumed that was going to be the case after the team order controversy surrounding the Malaysian Grand Prix and “Multi 21”.
Apparently everyone except team boss Christian Horner and teammate Sebastian Vettel knew Mark was heading into the sunset. Vettel told the press:
“We found out this morning but I don’t know whether people that should be aware knew before or not. I don’t count myself as one of those people,” Vettel said.
“I think everybody tries to handle things the way he thinks is correct.”
Horner didn’t have much warning either:
“I had a call from Mark this morning at about nine o’clock,” he said. “I spoke with him and he said he’s reached this decision. In many respects Le Mans has always had a great appeal to Mark, it’s where he came from before he came into F1, and he’s made no secret of the fact that he’d like to go back there.
“He’s obviously decided that the timing is right for him to make that step in his career, and all we can do is wish him the best of luck for the future and thank him for what he’s done for the team in the last seven seasons.”
“He’s obviously decided to take things into his own hands. The guys at the factory are a bit more disappointed that they read it on the internet rather than heard something direct but that’s the way things are sometimes.
“Mark has decided early on, which I think is a positive thing for him and the team, he’s counted himself out as far as next year’s concerned. He’s committed himself to sportscar racing, and the challenges that go with that.”
Apparently the only folks that were somewhat surprised were red Bull or at least that’s their public statement. Speculation for the last month or two has been centered on who would best replace Webber at a top team like Red Bull. The team’s junior operation, Toro Rosso, orchestrated the rise of Sebastian Vettel and currently hosts Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne but many suggest that neither of those drivers will see the Webber seat.
Instead, Red Bull has been linked to a possible contract with Lotus F1 driver and world champion Kimi Raikkonen. Kimi’s contract ends in 2013 and the Finnish driver says he’s keeping the options open while Red Bull team boss Christian Horner sys Kimi is on a very short list of three drivers:
“We want the fastest line-up that we can and Kimi’s obviously an attractive option,” Horner told Martin Brundle of Sky Sports F1.
“The youngsters [Ricciardo and Vergne] are attractive as well. We want to take our time and evaluate the options available to us, but the reality is that it’s probably between those three.”
For Raikkonen’s part, he admitted that he has had talks with Red Bull but hasn’t made a decision. He concedes that you always want to be at the team with the best car and Red Bull has had that for the last two years. Some F1 fans are questioning the thought of Raikkonen at Red Bull as the Fin is known for not liking the sponsorship duties that big teams often demand from their drivers. His stint at McLaren was painful for Raikkonen as his public appearances and sponsorship schedule all but scuttled that relationship. Lotus allows Raikkonen much freedom and little demands on his time. Red Bull will be, it is suggested, more demanding and that may not be a comfortable situation for Raikkonen.
Paul Di resta is another name being thrown about as a possible replacement but Horner says they are looking at all option with Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Vergne as they main protagonists. What do you think? Is Raikkonen a good fit for the team? He’s had Red Bull sponsorship in the past and is familiar with the team and owners. Should the Toro Rosso duo get the seat out of principle or performance or should the team look at other possible candidates?
If Red Bull are spending money on Toro Rosso as a driver development program, then why would they bring Kimi in rather than utilize their driver ecosystem? Why have a junior team at all if open seats (a very rare occasion) at Red Bull are being filled with other top drivers?