JULY 19, 2006

What is going on with Ferrari's 2007 drivers?

There has been much speculation in Formula 1 in recent weeks about who will be driving for Ferrari next year - with our sources saying that both Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher have signed contracts to race for the team next year. But at the same time Felipe Massa is not behaving like a man who is looking for a drive next season and his confidence seems to suggest that it will ultimately be a question of either Schumacher or Raikkonen joining him.

We have heard suggestions that Ferrari is under pressure from F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone not to run Raikkonen and Schumacher as he is worried that this would be too strong a combination for all the other teams and that would do serious damage to the F1 show. Having said that, there is the argument that Jean Todt will no doubt be making that Raikkonen versus Schumacher would be the show if the two men had equal equipment.

There are also indications that both men would be happy to race against one another in Ferraris.

Throw into the melting pot the possibility that Michael Schumacher may be basing his decision about the future on whether or not he can win the World Championship this year - and thus retire on a high - and it is entirely possible that we might not get a decision until October. Obviously Michael does not want to reveal any plan to retire for fear of demotivating the people at Ferrari, who are working flat out for him. In this scenario Todt cannot let Raikkonen go for fear that the Finn would join Renault and Michael would retire, leaving Ferrari in a similar situation to that which Renault now finds itself. It is also worth noting that Flavio Briatore seems unwilling to sign his own contract with the Renault team until he knows who is going to drive.

There is no question that Renault was caught on the hop by Fernando Alonso's decision to go to McLaren and unless the team lands Raikkonen, it will not have a top-line star name in 2007. The decision to sign up Giancarlo Fisichella was odd timing in this respect as it might have been wiser to wait to see if Raikkonen would join the team and then put the promising young Heikki Kovalainen alongside him. The worst case scenario would be a year with Fisichella and the Finnish youngster during which he will presumably become a star. If the team did not win the World Championship the likelihood would be that Fisichella would end up as the scapegoat.

But Renault management seem to want more than that and team president Alain Dassas has been saying in recent days that it is no secret that "Raikkonen is our priority for the 2007 season". He added that there are ongoing discussions with Kimi about a deal.

Logically, if Raikkonen was free to sign for Renault it might be a good moment to do it but it seems that things are complicated by the fact that Renault needs to negotiate a release from Ferrari while presumably agreeing to let the Finn go back to Maranello whenever Michael retires.

If no-one knows when Michael is going to retire, that is not going to be an easy deal to agree.

It is also worth noting that there is no real reason why Jean Todt would want to lend out Ferrari's future driver to a team that might beat them next year.

And Mr. Todt is known to be very stubborn when it comes to getting his won way.

All things considered, this could go on for a while yet.