Race Blog
Spain 2016

Who ya' gonna choose?

“Come on then”, the BBC F1 journalist pointedly probes, “who would you replace Raikkonen with?”

“Sainz, Grosjean, Bottas, who?”

Barcelona airport, about to board the flight to London, and some good-natured F1 banter is in full flow. All of us enthusiastic after an afternoon of hybrid-powered high drama.

The veteran Finn is surely in his last season at Ferrari and very likely the sport, so, thinking on my interrogator’s question, I answer thus: “No, I wouldn’t have Sainz, and for Bottas read Barrichello, a capable number two; I’m a big Stoffel fan, so I’d employ Vandoorne.”

Who would you choose? It’s tricky. The Scuderia are in a right royal mess right now.

Pressure. My god, Ferrari 2016-style looks a horrible place to be. From the mechanics to the management, everyone looks likely to crack. Scowling faces, and an aggressive and confrontation-seeking mien fills the scarlet-coloured air. I stay well away…

The usually cool and calm Sebastian Vettel now appears, most F1 Sunday afternoons, in his very own ranting reality show. How dare any other driver get too close to, or try to pass, the four-time world champion’s car.

When Sergio Marchionne, the fantastically gifted CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and therefore the Capo di tutti capi of Ferrari is present, don’t expect to see anything other than a darker mood. This Italian-Canadian business superstar takes no prisoners. Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene may look like a classic Bond villain but, when compared with the kind-faced Marchionne, he’s a pussycat.

Pre-season talk – which I always thought wide of the mark – enthusiastically heralded Ferrari’s imminent threat to Mercedes’ eminence. How’s that working out?

The Silver Arrows crew, keen not to garner negative publicity by being too dominant, eagerly and repeatedly talk up their Italian rivals’ abilities. It doesn’t really wash though, does it? We can all expect way more Stuttgart discourse on Red Bull’s Ferrari-eclipsing forte from now on…

In this fickle and impatient world we live in, no one wants to wait for anything and nowhere is the fuse faster burning than in Formula 1. Race five and the 2017 driver market is well under way.

Max Verstappen’s meteoric rise from a dismissed-by-many teenager to a hailed-by-everybody race winner has focused team bosses’ minds up and down the glitzy stroll that is the F1 paddock. Red Bull just keep on bangin’ ’em out. Promising young driver after promising young driver, their talent-spotting and talent-nurturing ability puts all other teams in a very dark shade.

The result is that those young racers who have shown pace, aptitude and the potential for success are coveted with a craving desire by those eager to employ their services.

This year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will almost certainly brandish the final chequered flag fall for a raft of F1 drivers. Raikkonen, Massa, Hulkenberg, Palmer and Button are all looking likely to lose their current drives, and I wouldn’t be putting much cash on Daniil Kvyat enjoying Red Bull money for much longer…

Of all those listed, McLaren’s 2009 world champion Jenson Button is the most intriguing. A good racer no doubt, JB retains his on-track abilities, but off-track the Englishman has a major trump card.

Sponsors love him!

If you wanted a sportsman to represent your blue-chip global mega brand, wouldn’t you think favourably of Jenson? And there’s the rub: McLaren need a major sponsor. Stoffel Vandoorne is undoubtedly the best of the drivers waiting to climb into a 2017 F1 race seat, but when it comes to fronting an advertising campaign he cuts no mustard.

Choosing the potential of Stoffel over the prowess of Button could have major financial consequences for the Honda-powered team, but if they fail to sign him soon the Belgian will be gone.

Ferrari, Mercedes and particularly Renault are well aware of the situation with Vandoorne’s likely availability. It is to be hoped that the managerless driver keeps his eye on the prize and doesn’t miss his chance…

So, dear reader, over to you. You’re the new Ferrari team principal and you’ve got a 2017 F1 race seat to fill…

Who ya’ gonna choose?


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