The world is still awaiting news from Ferrari on its driver plans for next year – with all the signs still firmly pointing to Kimi Raikkonen being announced this week as Fernando Alonso’s teammate.
If the Alonso/Raikkonen lineup is confirmed, it will be fascinating to see how Ferrari manages the driver dynamic, given that the arrival of Alonso and Santander led to Raikkonen being squeezed out at the end of 2009.
However, clearly the team has weighed up the pros and cons of re-employing the Finn. The benefits of having two experienced frontrunners, especially during what will be a complicated season for everyone in 2014, are obvious.
What is known is that Felipe Massa is meeting Luca di Montezemolo in Maranello on Wednesday, when presumably the Brazilian will be told that his career with the team has finally come to an end.
Nico Hulkenberg had long been the preferred choice – no surprise given that he has effectively been in a holding pattern at Sauber this year. A contract was apparently ready to be signed, but after the Hungarian GP the team switched its focus to Raikkonen.
During August, Red Bull in turn lost interest in Kimi, leaving Ferrari as his only realistic alternative to Lotus.
Last summer, Ferrari was already in contact with Raikkonen about replacing Massa for 2013, and given that Lotus was behind with payments, he could have walked away from his contract for this season.
At the time he preferred to stay in an environment where he felt comfortable, and not surprisingly he was also reluctant to return to a team where his previous tenure had ended so unhappily.
However, the ongoing financial squeeze at the Enstone team has caused him to think again, and one presumes that the departure to Maranello of one of its biggest assets, James Allison, has also played a part.
It’s believed that Raikkonen has been offered a one-year deal, with an option for a second. One of the questions is how even Ferrari could afford to employ two past World Champions, but Massa is not exactly cheap, and is believed to be on an $8M salary. In addition, as soon as Red Bull lost interest in Raikkonen, his bargaining position became weaker.
On the plus side, Raikkonen brings with him his huge fan base and obvious benefits for Ferrari’s current and future sponsors. Even Ferrari has to work to get media coverage these days, and TV numbers are everything to sponsors.
However, his well-known reluctance to participate in PR events – a trait he shares with Alonso – may mean that Ferrari’s test and reserve drivers will be even busier with sponsor duties next season.
Massa, meanwhile, could replace Kimi at Lotus, possibly with a little encouragement from team sponsor Richard Mille, a company closely linked to his manager, Nicolas Todt. Hulkenberg is also in the frame at Lotus.