In recent months the F1 driver market has appeared to be dominated, or rather held back by, Fernando Alonso and his decision to either leave Ferrari or stay there. This is the normal way of things in the F1 jungle. Fernando is, to quote The Sherman Brothers, “king of the swingers, the jungle VIP”. He’s reached the top and he’s had to stop at Ferrari and he is now wondering where to go, given that the team has performed few miracles in five years and time waits for no man. Fernando’s career is slipping away, day by day, week by week. The signs of progress in the red corner are not exactly tangible. There is a plan to put in place the structure to allow Ferrari to win again, but it’s a three- to five-year project and probably needs a younger man to drive it forwards. So, if you are Ferrari and you are faced with the best driver in F1 not wanting to be part of the team, your best course of action today would be to look for a proven winner who is much younger than Fernando. Until you get him, you are going to hold on to Alonso as the fallback plan, a bizarre thought given FA’s ability. So it seems that the dominos will not start falling until this replacement decides what to do and extracts himself from his commitments. Money solves all problems in F1 (which is how Lotus will soon announce a Mercedes engine deal) and so we must wait to see if Ferrari’s Alonso replacement is willing to fight his way out of his current contract. The question you are all asking is who? The answer is Sebastian Vettel. He’s a four-time World Champion at the age of 27. He’s six years younger than Alonso and even if he’s having a poor year, he’s still a class act. Some say that his star is waning because of Dan Ricciardo, while others talk of Sebastian being tired, not liking his car and needing a change. On a different level, he also knows that as long as he stays at Red Bull there will always be accusations that the car was the star, so he needs to move on and show he can do it in more than one team, à la Fernando, à la the all-time greats.
The current Red Bull has not been a winner with him at the wheel and has not apparently been given a nickname (like Sweaty Betty) as his previous cars were. There is no affection, I guess.
The Red Bull folk will tell you that he’s under contract until… Blah, blah, blah. We all know that contracts are negotiable in the F1 world unless there is a necessary reason for it not to happen, so we need not waste time with this. The question is what does he want? If the answer is a new challenge then Red Horse rather than Red Bull is the logical choice. It is certainly a challenge and the team is the most famous chapter in the F1 jungle book. Every driver wants to be in the red. It’s what great drivers do… Red Bull may not want that to happen because they know his value, but at the same time when a driver reaches a certain level, it is he who is reported upon, not the car he drives. Red Bull is not in F1 to sell Sebastian Vettels, it is there to sell fizzy pop and there are some who would argue that the gawky Russky Daniil Kvyat would be a better marketing bet than the reclusive Vettel, and the perfect new partner for Toothy Dan from ‘stralia.
I think it is clear to say that Fernando does not have a get-out clause at Ferrari, as is widely believed, and they will hold on to him if they need to, but if they get Vettel, then they can let Alonso hop off to his new challenge down Woking way, a move that would set the markets moving. It may be that Vettel decides not to move, and that Alonso too will stay where he is, in which case McLaren will probably be unchanged, leaving the likes of Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg with no place to go. So the line-up at the front of F1 in 2015 will be very similar to this year – and the sort out will come in 12 months from now.
We will see.