It is traditionally the time of year at which Ferrari announces its plans for the following season and all the signs are that the Italian team has now got its ducks in a row. However, there may not be an announcement in Monza because of the uncertainty surrounding the future of Fernando Alonso.
Alonso won the Singapore GP last year but now an FIA World Council has been called for September 21 to rule on whether Renault F1 was involved in race-fixing. If the team is found guilty of the offence then the FIA must decide who needs to be punished and what that punishment should be. The question therefore is whether it is possible that Fernando Alonso won the race without knowing that it had been fixed. Alonso is an intelligent individual and thus he must have known that the team’s strategy made no sense at all unless there was a Safety Car between when he stopped on lap 12 and when the rest of the field stopped, which would have been within the next five to eight laps. This was a very small window of opportunity and the probability of a Safety Car at that point of the race was minimal. This being the case Alonso and his engineers would logically have argued against such a strategy as it offered little or no chance of success. If they accepted the strategy without question one must ask why.
However, suspicion proves nothing and so unless there is direct evidence that Fernando was involved in a conspiracy to fix the race, he should escape without punishment. He may struggle to get the F1 world to accept he was innocent – because not guilty and innocent are not at all the same thing – but he will not face a ban.
This being the case, he should be available to race for Ferrari next year.
Felipe Massa is expected to be in the other car, with Giancarlo Fisichella as the team’s third driver. There are reports in Italy that Kimi Raikkonen will be released by Ferrari, a deal having been struck that suits all parties.
Raikkonen signed a three-year deal with Ferrari in the summer of 2006. This was long before any hint of a recession and it is understood that the contract was for a salary in Euros equivalent to $50m per year. A good chunk of this would go to Raikkonen’s managers, but it was still a decent wage for the Finn. It seems that there was also a bonus clause which bumped the salary up if Kimi won the World Championship. He did that at his first attempt in 2007. The bonus, plus the slide in the value of the dollar, meant that for the last two seasons Kimi is reckoned to have been paid $85m per year.
It is clear that his performances have not really warranted such a vast reward. His only victory since Spain 2008 was last week in Belgium, while team-mate Felipe Massa won five times in the same period before being injured in Hungary.
The Raikkonen contract was due to end this year but a year ago Ferrari needed Kimi to agree to help Massa in his fight for the World Championship with Lewis Hamilton. The word is that Luca di Montezemolo proposed that Kimi sacrifice a clause in the contract that guaranteed him equality with his team-mate in exchange for an additional season (2010) with the team.
This was accepted.
In the last 12 months things have changed. Ferrari needs to look more closely at its spending. In addition Fernando Alonso seems a much better option, not only because he seems more motivated than Raikkonen but also because his presence at Ferrari guarantees a major new long term sponsorship deal with Banco Santander, which is reckoned to be worth $80m a year.
The recent weeks have thus seen negotiations to find a way to get Raikkonen to agree to give up his 2010 contract. The word is that Kimi will be paid $35m NOT to race for Ferrari, plus being paid bonuses for any results that he achieves with whichever team he moves to in 2010, plus a bonus if Alonso wins the title.
This bizarre arrangement makes sense for Ferrari as it is saving $50m on Kimi’s basic salary and the team can afford to pay Alonso a sensible salary and still make a substantial saving…