We are now into the European portion of the 2018 Formula One season and with multiple contracts expiring this year, silly season is now in full swing. One of the key figures is Daniel Ricciardo and where he goes (or if he stays) will have a bearing on the rest of the big team line-ups. Many think he is lining up a seat at Ferrari, but let’s just think about this for a moment. Sebastian Vettel is the undisputed #1 at the Scuderia, and his contract is rumored to give him a say on his teammate, so why would he allow the man who beat him in a fair fight at Red Bull to come into “his” team? So where might the Australian turn if Red Bull can’t convince him to stay? After calling Max Verstappen the second coming, it’s a bit of a tough sell – but there again they’ve made billions selling a drink that tastes like rotting gym socks…
So the alternative is Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton isn’t scared of any teammate (“paging Fernando Alonso..”) but still hasn’t signed a contract, so maybe they will hedge their bets and pursue Ricciardo, leaving Valtteri Bottas out in the cold. Or would he be? The Finn would make a perfect replacement for a Finn – at Ferrari. Kimi Raikkonen is clearly not the better of Vettel (and Sebastian likes it that way) but he isn’t doing enough to help Ferrari win the Constructors’ Championship, where the money comes from – and with Liberty Media wanting to strip away the Bernie Ecclestone-era bonuses that becomes all the important. So why not install “Finn 2.0” at the Scuderia? He’s fast, he’s quiet, he’s relatively cheap and he’s a team player. He also doesn’t have accusations of drunken sexually impropriety being leveled at him – another compelling reason for him to be put out to pasture.
So that gives us:
Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton / Daniel Ricciardo
Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel / Valtteri Bottas
Red Bull-Honda: Max Verstappen / Pierre Gasly (?) – that’s one for next time!
Once again, Scuderia Toro Rosso have made a bold (or maybe foolhardy) move among its ranks and thrown away several years of investment. The news that Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne will drive for the team in 2012 was not a complete surprise. As has happened before, Red Bull has too many drivers and not enough cars – the Toro Rosso team was created to solve just such a problem back in 2006.
Red Bull are notoriously fickle when it comes to young drivers – produce or you are gone. Just look at the list of cast offs they have so far:
…and now Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersauri.
This time, however, we see the first signs of the “Vettel Effect” taking place. When young Sebastian Vettel arrived and decimated CART star Sebastien Bourdais in 2008, he set a standard almost impossible to equal. The driver/car/regulation/weather/luck combination aligned at the perfect moment and the young German took advantage of it.
Buemi and Alguersauri were 21 and 19 respectively when they made their debut in 2009 and they did not have the same perfect alignment of circumstances. For two years Toro Rosso looked like the Minardi of old, tooling around at the back scrapping for a point or two but they kept at it and in 2011 both drivers put in solid, mature performances at every race. What did that earn them? A pink slip and a “Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out” from Franz Tost.
Sadly, neither will get a drive of any significance in 2012. The Red Bull machine will keep on gobbling up and spitting out, searching for “The Next Vettel” but perhaps they need to start think that the likes of Vettel are the exception and not the rule. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater was never a good idea.