MB sets the scene
"The general consensus in this paddock is that Red Bull will put Daniel Ricciardo in the seat," Martin Brundle tells Sky Sports News ahead of this weekend's Belgian GP
Last Updated: 22/08/13 3:18pm
Kimi Raikkonen might not have made it to Spa on Thursday but Martin Brundle was on hand to discuss the main talking points ahead of the Belgian GPwith Sky Sports News.
What more do we know about the identity of Sebastian Vettel's 2014 team-mate and what should we read into Kimi Raikkonen's absence from Spa on Thursday?
MB: "Kimi's decided not to turn up today because he's 'ill' - he doesn't fancy the media onslaught demanding to know what he's going to do. There's talk that he's exploring the opportunity of joining Ferrari; will he stay at Lotus? His management are saying that he's no longer in discussions with Red Bull.
"The general consensus in this paddock is that Red Bull will put Daniel Ricciardo in the seat that Mark Webber is stepping out of. It may well be announced this weekend - that's the vibe, that's the feeling that's going on here. We wondered if there was a lot of bluffing but it does seem as though Ricciardo is heading that way. He's a very popular driver, a very fast driver, so that will go down well, although many, like myself, fancied the chance of seeing Vettel and Raikkonen in the same team.
"We'll have to wait and see to be sure, but that's the way it's heading."
Is there a difference of opinion within Red Bull? Christian Horner seems to prefer Kimi Raikkonen while owner Dietrich Mateschitz would prefer to promote from within i.e. Ricciardo.
MB: "If you ask these people, they're going to tell you what they feel they ought to say to the media or be on message, so I'll tell how I believe it's playing out: Dietrich Mateschitz, the boss of Red Bull, and Helmut Marko, who looks after their young driver programme, along with Sebastian Vettel. He would have talked to his friend Michael Schumacher, who'll tell him, 'Don't have Raikkonen in there. Two bulls in one field won't work. Go for a younger guy who's less experienced and who you can control'.
"So I think those three, the German-speaking element, if you like, would fancy Ricciardo in the car - to prove the Red Bull young driver system once again. I think Christian Horner, Adrian Newey in particular - because he's all about performance - and pushed along by Bernie Ecclestone, the circus-master of Formula 1, would really fancy seeing Raikkonen in the car. That's how I see it playing out."
You've been a driver manager before; how are these deals done? In football, the powers that be from each club might meet in a hotel for example. But in Formula 1, their global office is every single race track. Will the deal be done either here or in Monza?
MB: "Sometimes it's on a deserted, blustery airfield where you meet in the middle, sometimes in the paddock, often at the factories or even at a driver's home if you want it to be kept under cover and away from the media's eye. Sooner or later, somebody gets to hear about it, or a glass of wine too many gets drunk and people start talking.
"It's quite complex but, at the end of the day, a lot of it's about personal relationships. There are 22 slots available and ten drivers who really get paid a lot of money - the supreme pros who are at the top of their game. So it's a small world and there's a lot of talk that goes on, of mischief being played. Because even if you don't want to take a driver on in a team, it really helps to say you're interested because you know it destabilises the other team. A lot of that goes on and you have to try and filter that out and work out what's really going to happen."
Let's talk a little bit about Lewis Hamilton. He won last time out in Hungary. How do you assess his title chances now? Spa is a different track to the Hungaroring.
MB: "The Hungaroring is one of the slowest and Spa and Monza next are two of the fastest that we go to. This is a wonderful race track and the drivers do love it, not least Lewis Hamilton. It's a circuit where you need your car to be working well; we know that Red Bull and Mercedes have very strong cars and I'm expecting it to play out between those two this weekend.
"There is talk of rain at the weekend - inevitably here is Spa - but Lewis has got to gain just over five points per race to take the title from Vettel. So in reality he needs Vettel to have a series of problems to bring himself back into play and then he can start putting pressure on.
"Mathematically, Vettel's got a sensible advantage at the moment but with 25 points for a victory, that can turn around in one afternoon."
And then there's Ferrari. Coming into the break, they didn't get too much from their car updates. Is it a case of 'now or never' for Fernando Alonso, with Red Bull tending to be strong on the Asian tracks later in the season?
MB: "Pirelli have changed the tyres to make them more robust - we saw the disaster going on at Silverstone. It hasn't appeared to help Ferrari too much; let's hope through this break they've begun to understand why. The sidewall of the tyres can affect the aerodynamics on an F1 car quite dramatically - they out in the airstream at 200 mph - they've got to get on top of that.
"We're very much now into the second half of the season so, as you say, it is now or never. You fear that Ferrari have really lost their chance this year unless they can produce something pretty magical here in Spa."
Finally, for anyone not familiar with F1, can you sell Spa to them. It really is a very special place, isn't it...
MB: "Sitting with your backside a quarter of an inch off the ground doing 195mph approaching a 90-degree corner and you're not going to lift the throttle. You believe the car's going to stick. The thrill of you and your machine challenging the race track and often the elements here, the contour changes through the valleys - it is one of the world's great sporting challenges. I miss it and the drivers that get the chance to do it absolutely love it."