Friday, 20 September 2013 Sports
Having justified the arrival of Kimi Raikkonen as giving Ferrari the strongest driver lineup, the Scuderia won't be pleased with reports that McLaren want Fernando Alonso to rejoin them for next season!
To be honest, they have only themselves to blame. Some drivers - Kimi and Mark Webber are prime examples - just want to show up, get in a car and drive the four wheels off it. Others, like Alonso, need to be shown how vital they are to the team and get their daily ego massage. Fernando has a point - he has been a realistic contender for the last three titles, despite the best efforts of his team rather than because of them. If Ferrari give him a performing car, they mess up the strategy. If they nail the strategy, he seems saddled with no race pace. And every year, the situation seems that little bit worse.
After his off-the-cuff birthday request ("someone else's car") and very public dressing-down by Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemelo, we were treated to his description of the team as "idiots" during qualifying at Monza. Now the team have saddled him with a team mate who will not meekly sit by and support his title challenge. Kimi might disrupt Fernando's run at a title next year, but he will deliver constructor points and Ferrari, as a car manufacturer, regard winning that title as at least as important as a driver's title. No matter how much the team deny it, Alonso will see the imposition of his new teammate as a snub.
That said, it's hard to see what Fernando would gain in a move back to McLaren. The team will be in transition, tied to Mercedes for 2014 while awaiting their new engine deal with Honda. He will still have a former world champion as teammate, with McLaren set to retain Jenson Button and replace Sergio Perez after this season, one way or another. The question is whether the prospects for 2015 are better in Woking or Maranello...
But whether he stays or goes, the "Silly Season" is finally here!
So we're finished with Europe for another year, and now the battle really heats up. Vettel heads to Singapore with a 53 point lead over Alonso and only 175 more available. Hamilton is lurking a further 28 points back. Realistically, they need Vettel to make mistakes - and lots of them - to have any chance at the title.
Singapore will offer them some hope. Racing within concrete canyons through the city, there's no second chance if you get it wrong - even if it is a "genuine" accident. Like Monaco, the track is tailor made for Red Bull and Lotus. Lots of slow, sharp bends where they can make the most of their acceleration out of corners. Having said that, Mercedes have a stunning record in qualifying this year, and - as at Monaco, and Hungary - could well grab pole and just block everyone for 61 laps. Of the two Silver Arrows, back Hamilton for pole. Despite his excellent start to the season, Nico Rosberg is looking like a broken man and quite definitely the no.2 in that team.
Within the Red Bull garage, there should be fireworks. Mark Webber has traditionally been strong on the street circuits, and he may well see this as his best shot at a final F1 victory before retirement. Vettel will be hell-bent on opening out his championship lead, particularly with Alonso likely to struggle. The Ferrari hasn't looked comfortable all year on street circuits, and that's unlikely to change here.
It'll be interesting to watch Kimi Raikkonen. The Lotus should be strong, but the team have now lost their head of aerodynamics Dirk DeBeer to Ferrari, joining their former technical director James Allison and their no.1 driver. Announcing his departure, Kimi pulled no punches revealing that he has not been paid any of his salary or bonuses this year. So he's probably not the most motivated driver going out there.
After that, look out for the McLarens. The team have slowly been making progress over the last few races, and it'll be interesting to see how they deal with a slow track, after encouraging signs at Monza and Spa. As they court Alonso, it will be important to show their tactical preparation and awareness. And with Perez being pointed towards the exit, Hulkenberg and Di Resta will want to put in a good performance in front of a potential employer.
1) Hamilton (6/4jf) 2) Vettel (6/4jf) 3) Webber (11/1)
1) Hamilton (7/2) 2) Vettel (5/4f) 3) Grosjean (33/1)
Worth a punt?
That 33/1 on Grosjean to win is a tempting each way bet! The Renault is definitely capable of a top 6 finish; his seat may be safe with Kimi leaving, but he needs results to show he can lead the team next year; his teammate's not exactly motivated; the Ferrari's are likely to be "also rans" here. That leaves a three way fight between Grosjean, Webber and Rosberg for the bottom step of the podium.