It might have been the final race week for the 2019 season, but the past seven days kept the F1 news wire humming along in mid-season form.
Lewis to Ferrari: Well, this kind of exploded this week, didn’t it? Sure, there was always speculation Lewis Hamilton could one-day be a Ferrari driver, but then he was spotted having meetings with John Elkann and Piero Ferrari, and now it’s being talked-about like an actual possibility.
To that end, it’s interesting that Mattia Binotto would announce he is “happy” Hamilton is an option for 2021, when he could’ve just as easily said he planned on retaining his current drivers, and while Sebastian Vettel’s remark is an obvious joke, it still shows he’s feeling the rumbles.
The thing for me is, I don’t see how this version of Ferrari, with all its incompetence, would be that appealing to Hamilton, at least right now. Sitting on six world titles, I would think his priority is on at least matching, if not beating Michael Schumacher’s seven, and if Mercedes remains the best place to do that (title next year or not), he wouldn’t leave until he does so.
Of course, I’m not in his head, and it’s hard to deny the historical appeal of the Scuderia. Where football has Real Madrid, or basketball has the LA Lakers, F1 has Ferrari. Maybe the prestige that comes with it (not to mention the money) is worth jumping ship, regardless of whether they have their act together or not. Indeed, it’s worth bearing in mind that Hamilton’s hero Ayrton Senna had supposedly planned to end his career at Ferrari, and they were going through an even rougher patch back then – such is the allure of wearing red.
Vettel and Leclerc ‘Free to Race’ to start 2020: In more immediate – and concrete – Ferrari news, this proclamation from Mattia Binotto comes as something of a surprise, at least to me.
Even if Binotto doesn’t want to proclaim an outright number-one driver, it seems unwise to start a new campaign under the same rules of engagement that gave us outcomes like Interlagos. Yes, I know they “cleared the air” afterwards, but we’ve seen what happens when two highly competitive F1 drivers come together on a racetrack too many times to expect them to just play nice, and that goes doubly so for Vettel, who isn’t suddenly going to change his nature after thirteen years in the sport. If you’re not at least implementing a “faster driver gets priority” system, you’re going to have more incidents, and that’s as bad for the Scuderia’s title hopes as it is sure to be entertaining for the rest of us.
Latifi to Race for Williams: It may have seemed like a foregone conclusion with Robert Kubica already ousted and Nico Hulkenberg ruled out, but now it’s official: Nicholas Latifi will drive alongside George Russell at Williams in 2020.
Say what you will about Latifi – a driver who, through his first three-and-a-bit seasons of GP2/F2 was a relative afterthought before bursting into title contention this year – but the money he brings with him is clearly the deciding factor here, just as it was with Sergey Sirotkin and Kubica himself. Such is the state of Williams these days.
Whether they can experience a revival, I don’t know. It won’t be until 2022 that they’ll be racing alongside cars produced under the budget cap, and before then it just seems like they don’t have the firepower to keep up. Clearly the brief revival of 2014-15 was more engine-related than anything, and without another such advantage falling into their laps these next two seasons, I think it’s just as likely they go the way of a team like Brabham than have a return to prominence.