The pressure is on—not that it hasn’t been last year or for most of this season—regarding Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen’s tenuous position with the team for 2017. Raikkonen’s contract ends this season and Ferrari CEO Sergio Marchionne says that the future is in Kimi’s hands and if he wants to stay at Ferrari, he’ll need to start driving like the champion he is.
With lukewarm positions such as this, the rumor mill begins speculating and names get thrown about as potential replacements. Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, and Sergio Perez are a few of the more frequent suggestions.
The point here is that Ferrari are not in a position of struggling to find experienced, quick and really good drivers as any one of the aforementioned would be immediately on pace and capable. The question is, will they get the chance?
Ricciardo said he believes he’s on the short list to replace Kimi but Sergio Perez reckons he may be as well. Bottas has made a few slight changes to his management team and says he will become more involved in the negotiations of his future including talks with his current team Williams F1.
Some new stories wondered if Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg—who is at the end of his contract—might be an interesting option for Ferrari but while non-executive chairman, Niki Lauda, says they have “pretty much” agreed on a deal, Rosberg says there has been no progress.
Regardless, Rosberg says he wants to stay at Mercedes as it is his racing home and suggests the team is just as legendary as Ferrari in terms of motorsport history. All of this assumes that the potential Ferrari seat is the catalyst in the silly season rumors and it may very well be but certainly a Mercedes seat could just as easily be a catalyst if one is willing to suggest that the team may be interested in a less expensive teammate to a very expensive Lewis Hamilton who has two years left on his contract. Pascal Werhlein could be a consideration.
Ferrari’s potential seat—if history is anything to go by and it usually is—often times will find an experienced, very talented race driver. Ferrari have normally not had the veteran and rookie scenario preferring to have two best chances to score points and win titles. They’ve simply poached the best and rarely felt the need to develop a young driver in the second seat but new management could have a different opinion on that. Time will tell.
With two years left on Hamilton’s contract, presumably a two-year deal for Max Verstappen at Red Bull who suggested his move mid-season to the senior team also locked him in place for the future, two years left on Ricciardo’s Red Bull contract and presumably a two-year deal for Rosberg, the real barn-burner silly season could be in 2019 by which time Ferrari, and other teams, might have options on seriously talented drivers not to mention the up and coming young talent over the next two seasons.
Given that situation, it could make sense to secure the talents of Sergio Perez on a two-year deal. While many spoke of replacing one Finn with another in the form of Bottas, I’m not sure the shine is still on the Williams F1 driver enough to make a compelling case for the move. Perez and Hulkenberg have certainly punched above their weight in a challenging car but Bottas hasn’t mopped the floor with his teammate, Felipe Massa, who Ferrari parted company with so the team have a built-in litmus test in which to gauge the overall pace of Bottas. This could make Perez, Hulkenberg or even Romain Grosjean a more appealing acquisition.
Grosjean’s teammate, Esteban Gutierrez, is a Ferrari driver but if pressed, I think Sergio is the faster of the Mexicans and so is the Frenchman, Grosjean. If, and it’s a big IF, Ferrari did take a Haas F1 driver, this would leave a seat and American F1 fans would be clamoring for Alexander Rossi to fill the gap. The Hulkenberg potential for Ferrari may have a bit of the Bottas effect to it as the German hasn’t been the most consistent but in many cases it was issues beyond his control. Still, results are results and if it’s a numbers game, he may not be an option the team are keen to.
Ultimately Ferrari and Mercedes could stick with the evil they know and re-sign Raikkonen and Rosberg respectively. While Rosberg would demand a multi-year deal, Raikkonen may not be able to secure that but a potential one-year extension could be achievable giving Ferrari flexibility to take it a season at a time.