AUGUST 3, 2012
Who should partner Alonso at Ferrari?
Ferrari has a problem. Although Fernando Alonso leads the drivers' world championship by 40 points, the team is 57 points off the pace in the constructors' championship. Last year, Felipe Massa scored just 45% of Alonso's total; this year, so far, he stands at 15%. It all adds up to a new driver for 2013. But who?
Undeniably, Mark Webber would have been a very good solution. He wouldn't have been far from Alonso and is committed and professional. Furthermore, with rumours about Vettel in 2014 refusing to go away, contractually Webber has also shown himself prepared to do things a year at a time.
When push came to shove though, Webber wasn't prepared to forsake a potentially superior car to go and play second fiddle to a driver he probably rates even more highly than his current team mate. Prancing horse power wasn't quite strong enough.
It's a tricky one for Ferrari. They need a driver who they know will perform better than Massa but one who will not be too much of a nuisance to Alonso in the way that a Lewis Hamilton would.
The story that emerged in Hungary is that they had talked to Raikkonen -- and that makes sense.
Yes, they were together at Ferrari for two and a half years before Massa's Hungaroring accident, and Raikkonen was never conclusively quicker. But is the Felipe driving today's Ferrari the same man?
Look at the blank scores against Massa's name in the first 11 races of 2012 and there are six of them. Raikkonen, by contrast, has only failed to score once -- in China.
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo and Raikkonen are said to have parted on bad terms even if Kimi made it plain in Hungary that he had no bad feelings directed at Maranello.
To an extent though, taking Raikkonen back after paying him a vast sum to depart a year early, would amount to loss of face for Ferrari. If they are big enough to swallow that and consider the bigger picture, Raikkonen would be a sound move. It could depend on if and when Montezemolo departs to further his political aspirations.
Whether Ferrari makes as much sense for Raikkonen is debatable. Playing the subservient role to a team mate is unlikely to sit well with the 2007 world champion, who is already sitting in a very competitive car.
Sitting in the wings, of course, is Robert Kubica, still recovering from his rally accident at the beginning of 2011. The question there is whether the Pole will ever recover the forearm strength / wrist articulation necessary to drive a Formula 1 car competitively.
A relatively proven quantity currently without a seat is Adrian Sutil, who would be a less complex solution than tring to buy-out Force India's Nico Hulkenberg, who few doubt would do a solid job.
Another driver out of contract at the end of the year who would be uncomplicated and who has declared himself ready to compete at the sharp end, is Caterham's Heikki Kovalainen. But Kovalainen's strike rate against Lewis Hamilton across two seasons at McLaren in 2008/9 was only 6% better than Massa's against Alonso in 2011. He might, therefore, be considered a risk.
Sergio Perez's eye-catching start to the season brought him firmly into the Ferrari equation but there are those who will tell you that the Sauber is a very tidy car and that Perez and Kamui Kobayashi should be achieving more consistent results with it.
And of course, there's always a driver nobody's mentioning -- Michael Schumacher. There may be some baggage on both sides left over from '06. Would he be more competitive than Massa? You'd imagine so. Could / would Ferrari pay him at the same time as Alonso? Probably not. Just a thought...
One way and another, Ferrari is in a bit of a conundrum.