F1 Silly Season: Let the games begin

Formula 1 teams

Formula 1 teams

Jun.03 (Phillip Horton) Okay, so we’re well into the European season of Formula One and it’s the traditional time of year when the silly season kicks off and subsequently runs for the next 52 weeks of the year.

Jacques Villeneuve

Jacques Villeneuve was a player in the most recent F1 Silly Season

Last year’s ‘Silly Season’ was probably the silliest one ever, with everyone linked with everywhere to the extent where Jacques Villeneuve (remember him?) was linked with a team who were made up of ex-cons and a very ambitious leader with a move villain sounding name. This year however, things look to be more stable as quite a few drivers have multi–year contracts (but then again, since when did contracts mean anything in Formula One, eh Kimi?)

The main talking point is inevitably going to be who fills the second seat at Ferrari alongside Fernando Alonso. At the moment, there appear to be three drivers vying for the seat: Felipe Massa, Robert Kubica and Mark Webber.

Felipe Massa is well liked at Ferrari

Felipe Massa is well liked at Ferrari

The Ferrari team love Massa and he is still their favourite. He has struggled with the tyres this year but is still in the championship hunt. But throughout the rest of the year, there is a possibility of being crushed, both literally and psychologically, by Fernando Alonso, whose impressive pace has put Massa into the shade and started the inevitable comparisons with Raikkonen.

So what about Kubica? Well, for the first time in years, he is almost free to race. He didn’t enjoy the stifled conditions at BMW and fell out with the team in 2008 after they stopped development on the F1.08 when the championship was in reach.

Robert Kubica (POL) Renault in parc ferme. Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Qualifying Day, Monaco Grand Prix, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Saturday 15 May 2010.

Robert Kubica has become a star with Renault is a short space of time

At Renault, he has the team moulded around him, submitting to his needs. He says he enjoys the atmosphere and the R30 is a much better package than many predicted. So why the need to go to Ferrari?

Kubica has been promised a better car in 2011 and if development is good this year, then he will be convinced by Renault’s ability as a team.
At Ferrari, he wouldn’t be the centre of attention and would almost certainly be number 2 to Alonso. Staying at Renault would be the most sensible option.

Moving to Ferrari and being beaten by Alonso would lower his stock. Staying at Renault and doing incredible things (such as in Australia and Monaco) raise his stock and exploit his raw talent. Kubica hardly ever makes a mistake.

The third candidate then is Mark Webber. He is driving the best he has done in his eight year career. Red Bull is only offering him one year extensions on his contract, an understandable approach when dealing with a driver in his thirties.

MONTE CARLO, MONACO - MAY 16:  Mark Webber of Australia and Red Bull Racing celebrates after winning the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at the Monte Carlo Circuit on May 16, 2010 in Monte Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Mark Webber

Mark Webber has been mega this year

He is currently showing the world what only a few people saw for years and maybe a move to Ferrari would cap an impressive career. There are also outside contenders as well. Nick Heidfeld’s name was floating around – a solid number two who could deliver the team a Constructors title. However, my reckoning is that Ferrari will retain Massa – for 2011 anyway.

Red Bull will probably stick with Vettel (who is a long term target for Mercedes) and Webber after Christian Horner came out this week (not in that sense) and said that WRC refugee Kimi Raikkonen was never an option for Red Bull. So for Kimi, any return to F1 for 2011 looks unlikely.

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN), Citroen. World Rally Championship, Rd3, Jordan Rally, Dead Sea, Amman, Jordan. Shakedown, 31 March 2010.

Big question is if Kimi Raikkonen will want to return to F1 for 2011?

However, will last weekend’s crash during the Turkish Grand Prix change the complexion of Mark’s relationship with Red Bull? The fallout from the crash has led to suggestions that Vettel is being favoured in the team and this could lead Webber to seek alternative options. However, my own view is that they are mature enough to deal with the issue and move on, even if the situation now seems tense.

McLaren are Mercedes are likely to stick with the same line-up, the only doubt is whether Schumacher will stay on or whether he would retire again and hand the seat to test driver Nick Heidfeld.

For Renault, it hinges on whether they can hang on to Kubica. If he stays, then the second seat is up for grabs. Petrov has shown flashes of speed combined with mistakes that have led to long hours for the mechanics.

Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Renault R30. Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday 2 April 2010.

Vitaly Petrov is emerging as the best rookie 0f 2010

With Renault looking for finish 4th or 5th in the constructors championship this year that will result in increased prize money.

Combine this with more sponsors and a better situation that faced them in 2009-10 and the need for a pay driver is less vital.

They have their own talent in the Gravity Company in the form of Jerome d’Ambrosio and Ho-Pin Tung. However, neither has been that impressive in junior formulae and it is unlikely that they would perform better than Petrov, who has been the best rookie this year.

Timo Glock (GER) Virgin Racing. Formula One Testing, Day One, Jerez, Spain, Wednesday 10 February 2010.

Timo Glock marking time at Virgin Racing?

One name mentioned was Timo Glock, who was offered a Renault contract for 2010 at the end of last year but only rejected them for the uncertainty of whether they would be around. Glock may also not be impressed with the VR-01. He would understand that they weren’t going to be race winners immediately, but they are still battling – and sometimes losing – to a team of rookies with a woeful car. He has a contract with Virgin for 2011 and will hope for a much better car.

Now we move to the midfield teams. Williams will probably retain their two drivers. Barrichello has not been too impressed with the FW32 but doesn’t really have any brighter options if he wants to further his career.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Williams. Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday 2 April 2010.

Nico Hulkenberg has yet to live up to the hype

Hulkenberg has not been the driver many were expecting him to be, but he is showing signs of improvement and he has a strong future.

Force India has three drivers vying for two seats. Adrian Sutil has shown a new found maturity this year but still has moments of impetuosity that bring his doubters back to fruition. Liuzzi has been disappointing in qualifying but has also shown speed in the races.

The outsider is test driver Paul di Resta who has been fast in everything he has driven and is a previous F3 Euroseries champion. He may well oust one of them and it might be Sutil as rumours have suggested that he has been in talks with other teams about 2011.

(L to R): Jarno Trulli (ITA) Lotus and Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Lotus. Lotus T127 Launch, Royal Horticultural Halls, London, 12 February 2010.

Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli

Lotus has Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli for next year, even if Trulli has looked mundane this year. Virgin Racing will probably stay with their two drivers, possibly replacing di Grassi with Andy Soucek. But then again, with such a poor car, it is difficult to judge a driver’s performance and di Grassi put up a good fight against Alonso in Monaco.

Over at Sauber is probably where the majority of the uncertainty lies. Money talks. Pedro de la Rosa has not impressed the team or outsiders this year but if he can chalk up the money that the team desperately needs, then he will probably get the seat. But then there are GP2 drivers, Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez, the latter who has strong financial backing and has been impressive this year – currently leading the championship.

Jules Bianchi (FRA) Ferrari F60  Formula One Young Driver Testing, 1-3 December 2009, Jerez Circuit, Spain.

Jules Bianchi is highly rated

A more interesting story is the possibility of a tie up between Sauber and ART Grand Prix, one of the teams trying to get a spot on the grid for 2011. ART themselves would be able to bring in highly rated Jules Bianchi and if they were with Sauber, then the second seat would probably go to Kobayashi. If they were a lone team, then ART might pick a surprise.

So as you can see, the silly season shouldn’t be too silly, but don’t count out the occasional odd story linking Felipe Massa to ART or Adrian Sutil to McLaren!

  • Pit Rat

    sorry mate, your theories are full of holes, not that silly season theories are not full of holes anyway…

    1- Kubica will never go to Ferrari or any team that has Alonso in it, they are friends, and he know him very well, and the nice guy that he is, he will stay away from such a situation.

    2-Massa is an understated character, he’s not crushed, and will not be crushed even if Alonso takes the title…. in 2007 the same was said when Kimi came knocking, Kimi took that title in questionable circumstances that year, but was nowhere the next and massa lost it in supreme style, and such is the case in F1, sometimes, it’s just not your year, even if you got the car , the team and everything else on your side…

    3-Pedro De la Rosa is being written off too early i think, the guy is a developer, and Sauber needs them. i doubt he will be discarded, Sauber have a new aerodynamics guy rebuilding the team structure, and he would want a veteran on his side.

    4-Petrov is the king of rookies, he is shutting everyone up. you have to remember that we the press and pundits always expect a lot from a newcomer, while the teams know the reality of the situation. you cannot expect all rookies to do what Hamilton did 2007, and not even close. Petrov is doing well with the car he has considering that he is not your traditional F2/F3/GP2 graduate.

    5-Kimi Raikkonen will never get into a team where he knows he will be treated as a #2. he is a world champion regardless, and the way RBR are behaving, or misbehaving by preferring Vettel so obviously, Kimi wouldn’t want to go there…Rallying has always been his calling, he landed in F1 by accident. i see him challenging Loeb in the long run.

    in any case, it’s too early for silly season, and what a silly name it has the process of driver swaps

  • P.H

    Thanks for the comment, but I’ll answer your points:

    1. Kubica has ALWAYS been linked with Ferrari. Through 2008 this was the case and the rumours were that he would end up at Ferrari at some point. He has lived in Italy for a while and is said to enjoy the Italian lifestyle.

    2. Yes, but I think that Massa will maybe think if that he can’t beat Alonso throughout the year and continue to struggle next year then he might consider moving and Ferrari might consider replacing him. Hence I said that I think he will stay – and deserves to stay – at Ferrari for ’11

    3. De La Rosa has been around before and was unimpressive then. He is a long time tester but not really a racer. Yes, Sauber need a developer, but as I said, with virtually no sponsors – money talks. If a GP2 guy like Perez or Maldonado is offering $10m then Sauber may well snap up the offer

    4. Petrov is doing a good job, granted, but that doesn’t mean that Renault won’t look elsewhere. In comparison to Kubica, Petrov isn’t great, but I agree, everyone now thinks that the rookie is going to be like Hamilton was, which isn’t going to happen/

    5. Kimi will do whatever he wants to do, he’s like that. Personally, I don’t think Kimi will return with Vettel such a favourite at the team

    Hope that helps, and of course a silly season is rumours based on rumours!