The announcement that Fernando Alonso will join Ferrari next season, as expected as it was, opens up a can of worms as far as the driver market is concerned…
The immediate speculation is around the destination of out-going Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen. With an estimated salary of $51 million per year, the Finn’s pay-off, which Ferrari only recently started pushing for to see him released a year early, is a big one. And it says an awful lot about how Maranello feels about his extra-curricular pursuits and laid-back approach to racing: fine when you’re winning races and championships, not so fine when you’re not.
Most have him down for a move back to his old team McLaren. All good for them, you have to say. On paper it looks like the deal out of hell with two of the biggest stars in the sport racing against each other – and the team knows all about that.
On the other hand, it will be a pretty pumped up Raikkonen that climbs into the silver cockpit; the two men that have replaced him at his respective teams, Hamilton and Alonso, will be firmly in his cross-hairs. From McLaren’s point of view a bit of competition across garage can only be good for the team. We saw Lewis Hamilton at his best when he was sparring with Fernando Alonso in 2007.
Having raced with the team from 2002 to 2006, there will be some familiar faces there to greet Raikkonen too, and unlike his Spanish predecessor, he is unlikely to go off on one over myths like driver favouritism.
The dominant interpretation of comments made by Mercedes-Benz boss Norbert Haug – that having two megastars at McLaren would not be a problem – is that the Raikkonen switch is a done deal.
That would leave Williams’ Nico Rosberg looking at other options. He is rumoured to line up alongside his close friend Hamilton next year and bring German clout to the Mercedes-Benz brand. A Raikkonen return could see the young German being poached by Brawn GP who will enjoy Mercedes-Benz engines next year.
But Haug’s comments should not exclude Rosberg – a Rosberg-Hamilton line-up would still make for one of the strongest pairings on the grid, while Raikkonen would easily fit in at Brawn. Either way, it seems likely that these two drivers will end up being powered by Merc grunt in 2010.
And what of Alonso’s vacated seat at Renault? Polish sensation Robert Kubica has been in the frame, but doubts over the French team’s future in the wake of crash-gate – allied to an investor being found for Kubica’s current team BMW Sauber – has poured cold water on the move. Heikki Kovalainen, if he is replaced at McLaren next year could find refuge in his old team.
With three new teams arriving on the grid there are opportunities too for the likes of Giancarlo Fisichella, Nick Heidfeld – and maybe even Nelson Piquet.