MARCH 1, 2006
The Silly Season
Talks are already well-advanced about who drives where in 2007 with the announcement of Fernando Alonso's move to McLaren having thrown the cat amongst the pigeons. There are bound to be effects resulting from that decision in the next few weeks as drivers discover the potential of their 2006 cars and decide whether they want to move on next year or stay with their current teams. There is speculation about all the major teams, apart from Honda Racing F1 which has Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello tied to long-term contracts.
Ferrari has been in the spotlight for a while as speculation ebbs and flows about the future of Michael Schumacher. The German is now 37 but the recent rumours suggesting that Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and Paolo Martinelli have all signed new Ferrari contracts would suggest that Michael is probably going to stay on for another two years. This means that either Kimi Raikkonen is going to be his team mate in 2007 (which would be an impressive but very expensive team) or the Finn will decide to stay at McLaren.
There are other possibilities for Raikkonen - such as Renault - but the question is really one of guessing the long-term commitment of the French company and as the top management at Renault is giving no public guarantees, it is not an easy decision to make. Toyota too might be worth considering as the Japanese firm seems intent on investing until it become a winner and the one thing missing from the package at the moment is a really top-line driver. That would involve a big leap of faith from Raikkonen and he may well consider winning a World Championship a more important goal than helping a new team get to a dominant position in a few years from now.
McLaren is also under scrutiny as Raikkonen is probably on the move and Juan Pablo Montoya is also a man with itchy feet. There is much talk of where Montoya could end up and it is logical to suggest Red Bull, Toyota and Renault as possible options for the Colombian. McLaren is not going to be short of drivers, however, as the team has Gary Paffett and, perhaps more interestingly, Lewis Hamilton lined up waiting for a chance.
Over at Renault the search is on for a replacement for Fernando Alonso but with the team unable (apparently) to give any long-term guarantees, it is probably more likely that Heikki Kovalainen will be promoted to replace the Spaniard. He is a cheap option and has shown lots of potential. And the fact that he is managed by Flavio Briatore will do him no harm at all. Hiring Kovalainen is a logical step in Briatore's management of his assets.
Toyota has Ralf Schumacher under contract for a while longer while Jarno Trulli's contract is up this year. Much will depend on how the two men perform.
Over at Red Bull Racing David Coulthard (soon to be 35) has a contract up for renewal this year. It seems logical for the team to keep the Scottish driver for a while longer as the chances of another top star joining up is limited as the team is still only using customer engines. To get a really top name would need manufacturer backing. The other Red Bull drive will probably depend on performance. At Williams it is a similar story because the team is between manufacturers at the moment. A deal with Toyota is rumoured to be in the pipeline which would be quite tempting for a driver with an eye to a good future package. Mark Webber's contract comes up for renewal at the end of the year and it will be interesting to see what happens with that relationship, as it has not always been easy.
BMW Sauber will also be watched closely this year as Jacques Villeneuve (soon to be 35) needs to convince everyone that he is a man with a future. Beating Nick Heidfeld would be a good start otherwise BMW may decide that it is better value for money to move Robert Kubica up a notch.
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