Felipe Massa has endured a torrid start to the 2008 Formula One season and already speculation is mounting that his future at Ferrari will be short lived. There are rumours linking him to a swap with Sebastien Vettel as early as next year, and whilst these suggestions are best ignored, Felipe might not be certain to stay at Ferrari when his present contract expires.
Quite interestingly, Kimi Raikkonen’s tenure at the Scuderia may be coming to an end also.
Ferrari could find themselves with two drivers to replace within a couple of years.
Raikkonen has made it clear that he does not want to grow old in Formula One, and now that he has won the World Championship there is not a lot tying him to the sport. Kimi likes being himself. He enjoys spending time with friends, partying, and participating in all manner of sports. Kimi may wish to indulge in more of these things at home in Finland now that he has achieved his career goal of claiming the world title. Raikkonen would surely be thrilled to race snowmobiles and take part in the occasional rally with his brother, so he can easily get his adrenalin fix away from the cutthroat world of Formula One.
If the Fin does leave the sport when his current Ferrari contract runs out, the red team will have to find another superstar to replace him in 2010.
The first and most obvious choice is Fernando Alonso. The double World Champion is easily one of the fastest drivers in Grand Prix racing and is highly rated by Ferrari. At the end of last year, Luca Di Montezemolo said “Alonso is a champion in all senses, an extraordinary pilot.”
Fernando has also made no secret of his Ferrari ambitions, having last week stated “I have an option to leave (Renault) so I can still be in the best possible car, and it is clear that Ferrari’s is one of the best.”
In fact, Alonso was offered Felipe Massa’s Ferrari Development contract back in 2001 before he chose to sign with Flavio Briatore instead. Jean Todt was furious at the snub and vowed never to deal with Alonso again, but that obstacle has now disappeared along with the diminutive Frenchman.
Ferrari may choose to look elsewhere for their next champion though, and Sebastian Vettel is one driver whose name has been linked to Maranello. The young German is very hot property in Formula One at the moment and is undoubtedly a star of the future. He will be even more attractive in a few years time when there is some experience to accompany his raw speed.
A rumour emerged during the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend that Vettel could find himself in red overalls as soon as next year. That suggestion is ludicrous because such a deal is unlikely to ever happen for a number of reasons.
To start with, Sebastien Vettel is largely untested.
He did very well to score a point on debut last year, but benefitted hugely in his first race from attrition. He was also a long way off Nick Heidfeld’s pace so although he put in a great performance it is important to keep it in perspective.
The same applies for the rest of his short career.
His reputation is largely based on the two memorable drives he produced at the end of last year in the Japanese and Chinese Grands Prix.
His performance in Shanghai was particularly special, but it was also remarkably lucky. His solitary pitstop coincided perfectly with a change in the weather, which meant Vettel could switch from wet to dry tyres at the same time he needed to collect fuel. That strategic roll of the dice had helped him into fourth more than his natural speed did. Sebastien’s teammate in that Grand Prix was Vitantonio Liuzzi whose excellent drive to sixth was just as noteworthy but was totally overshadowed.
Liuzzi compared very well alongside Sebastien Vettel last year so it is quite a shame the Italian seems to have been forgotten.
It is also worth remembering that Vettel is being flattered a little this year by his rookie stable-mate. If Sebastian Bourdais had more Formula One experience behind him, Vettel would not be looking so dominant within Toro Rosso.
Sebastien Vettel is a brilliant kid, but it is way too early to have him linked with a drive at Ferrari.
Another clear reason why a Massa/Vettel swap would be unrealistic is that both drivers currently have solid contracts. Red Bull are barely short of funding so will not be tempted to sell Vettel for a wad of Ferrari cash. Not only that, but Toro Rosso are up for sale and a contract with the German will have a big impact on their value.
The most likely move for Vettel is a switch to Red Bull where he will replace David Coulthard. The Scotsman may find himself in the BBC Commentary box next year giving the Sebastien a great opportunity to further his career.
Vettel might find himself at Ferrari one day, but it won’t be at Massa’s expense next year.
Besides, Felipe Massa had performed well over the last twelve months and Ferrari would be silly to let him go on the basis of a few silly mistakes. Even if Felipe continues to struggle this year he will be a very good number two for Kimi Raikkonen.
If Ferrari do find themselves searching for driving talent in 2010 there is one other man who could step in to fill the breach.
His name is Michael Schumacher.
The odds of Schumacher returning to Ferrari are incredibly slim but it would be very convenient for all concerned. He still tests occasionally for the team so may not find it that difficult to slip back into a full time racing role.
The hunger still burns deep within the seven times champion and this is evident in the various racing activities he has enjoyed since retirement. Whether it is a winter test session at Barcelona, a motorbike race, or a charity kart event, Michael still loves driving and is continually proving that he has lost none of his speed or ambition.
In fact his efforts this weekend were quite amazing. In his first ever professional motorbike race he qualified third and finished fourth against a field of proficient riders who were all on the same machinery. His ride was even more extraordinary when you consider that he dropped down to fourteenth after the start and had to fight his way back through the field.
That was in addition to an amateur bike race last week where he finished third after starting from the back of the grid.
The guy is a freak! There are very few people in the world oozing as much raw talent as Michael Schumacher.
He clearly loves racing but motorcycling is not the future for him. Schumacher is very conscious about his safety and was noticeably shaken up by the big accidents that occurred during his time in F1, including his own crash at Silverstone. He once said he would not like to drive a rally car, or an Indy car, because he considered both forms of motorsport too dangerous. Well, I’ve got news for you Michael. Motorcycling is in a totally different league!
Schumacher said yesterday “I don’t have any ambitions to step into any kind of racing series” and that is certainly true. However he may be feeling different in 2010 when he realises he can’t do much on a bike without hurting himself. If a vacant seat at Ferrari is available and he still has the passion, it would be a perfect match for all concerned, albeit an unlikely one.
Ferrari originally wanted Schumacher and Alonso together in the team six years ago. It would be quite ironic if that were to happen in 2010 under new management.
It would also be extremely farfetched, but it doesn’t hurt to dream.
Who knows? Ferrari’s future may lie in their past.