The silly season this year depends largely on what Mark Webber has planned beyond 2013, and whether Kimi Raikkonen will take his place at Red Bull.
The signs are there that the world champion constructors are taking the Raikkonen option very seriously, as team principal Christian Horner pointed out, “Kimi would have to be an option if he were to be available.”
Raikkonen is available as his deal with Lotus ends this season, and it is not certain that the Finn will renew with the Enstone based outfit. Meanwhile he is keeping quiet about the Red Bull option until further notice.
Horner also believes that the laid back environment in the world champion team would suit Raikkonen who drove with Red Bull backing during his stint as a rally driver.
“Our focus has always been based on what they’re doing in the car. Red Bull is a great environment for any driver – perhaps a bit more relaxed than some of the more corporate teams. Our focus is to get the best out of them as drivers and athletes and not bog them down with other clutter,” said Horner.
It is no secret that Sebastian Vettel and Raikkonen have a good relationship, although by all accounts it is not a relationship that extends outside the paddock into their private lives. Nevertheless the pair appear to be comfortable together during race weekends and whenever they share the podium.
When asked about the prospect of the man known as The Iceman joining the Bulls, Vettel retorted cheekily, “I think nobody could have a problem with Kimi as a team-mate, except for Sergio Pérez!”
The world champion was referring to the clash between Raikkonen and Perez at Monaco, after which the 2007 world champion said that the Mexican “should maybe be punched in the face”.
Webber’s Red Bull seat is one of the most coveted on the grid and a number of drivers have been linked to it, including Red Bull’s junior drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne who are plying their trade at Toro Rosso with the master plan being to progress to the A-team.
This plan has not always worked out as both Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari were unceremoniously axed two seasons ago and did not progress as planned although, Buemi is nowadays the Red Bull reserve. In fact the last promotion from Toro Rosso to Red Bull was Vettel himself who was drafted into the main team at the end of 2008.
Horner is aware that Webber’s seat is much sought after, “We’re in the fortunate position that there are an awful lot of people who would like to drive a Red Bull racing car. How much longer Mark wants to go on is a question only he can answer, but from our perspective we will only change [our drivers] for something better than we currently have.”
Asked about the possibility of Jenson Button being drafted into the squad, Horner replied, “I think Jenson is an asset to any team. Jenson’s a class act, as a team player, a human being, a driver – he’s done a great job in his career. But he’s not on our radar because he’s not available.”
In the end Webber’s plans – to stay on another season in F1 or move out – will kick start the process of musical chairs. Despite well documented clashes with both Vettel and the team’s outspoken driver-consultant Helmut Marko, the Australian has direct access to the team’s uber-boss Dieter Mateschitz and it will be them, together, who make the final decision.
Webber said recently, “I’ll continue to be in touch with [Mateschitz] on where my thinking is, where my energy levels are, and where my motivation is for still operating at this level.” (GP247)