When fact is finally separated from fiction for the 2014 driver market
The silly season might be predicting mass change in the driver line-up, but will it be a case of much ado about nothing?
By Pete Gill. Last Updated: 02/09/13 3:38pm
Martin Whitmarsh's surprise admission that McLaren held talks with Kimi Raikkonen last year and may yet do so for 2014 is just the latest curveball in a silly season which continues to lurch from one dramatic scenario to the next.
From the prospect of a swap deal involving Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso to Michael Schumacher confirming that he' won't be unretiring for a second time, this year's rumour mill has heard it all. But could it be that Jenson Button has it right? When all is said and done, and the music finally stops, this year's silly season may well be much ado about almost nothing.
"I am definitely not going to Red Bull. I will be here," the McLaren driver predicted at Spa. "I feel that Ricciardo will go to Red Bull, Kimi Raikkonen will stay at Lotus and Felipe Massa will stay at Ferrari for another year."
Boo, hiss...and oh, hang on a moment, but Jenson may be on to something. McLaren won't be changing line-up - and certainly not dropping Jenson. Whitmarsh might have added the teasing of caveat of "yet" when confirming McLaren hadn't held talks this season with Raikkonen, but few in the paddock believe they will drop Sergio Perez either. The Mexican has had his faults during his first season at Woking, but not as many as the MP4-28. And in any case, he's worth a fortune off the track to the team as well.
Ricciardo to Red Bull? Few in the paddock now believe otherwise. Christian Horner continues to drop tantalising hints - "we're surprised by the options we have" - apparently hinting towards Fernando Alonso's availability, but nobody of note is buying into a notion which sounds suspiciously like a ploy to destabilise Ferrari. Raikkonen to stay at Lotus?
Well, if the second Red Bull seat is taken, and McLaren are unchanged, what other option does he have? Only Ferrari, and they would have to swallow a huge amount of pride - and cash - if they were to rehire the Finn just four years are paying him off with a £20m golden handshake. Whitmarsh no doubt had this exact dilemma in mind when he added: "Obviously Kimi is determined to go somewhere else and I sense that he will not succeed in that goal, so let's see how he gets on there."
Which just leaves the rather subdued matter of Felipe Massa's future. Button's view will be slightly distorted by friendship and familiarity - Jenson and Felipe have been colleagues for over a decade, after all - but it's easily arguable that too much has been made of the Brazilian's struggles and too little of the flaws debasing the candidates to replace him.
Jules Bianchi? If Perez was "too inexperienced" for Ferrari a year ago then the Frenchman can be definitively discounted. Paul di Resta? He's picked a bad time to stop scoring points. And Nico Hulkenberg? Well, let's ask another question: what has he ever actually done? There's no disputing his talent, but it's hardly as if he has built up an irresistible case for promotion.
Which leaves F1's driver market locked down to a future married to the status quo. It's not exactly exciting and it will hardly have fans' pulses racing. But when the music stops and fact is finally separated from fiction, it may actually prove to be the real thing.