The Inside Line #101: A question of common sense

TILI Logo PrintThey wouldn’t do it again, would they? Ferrari wouldn’t re-sign a driver who showed so little interest in driving for the most famous team in Formula One in 2009 that they came to a financial agreement to let him walk early, only to welcome him back on a multi-year deal in 2014, only for him to turn in the worst year by a Ferrari driver in three decades? The resurgence of Kimi Raikkonen – a resurgence that has been somewhat suspicious in a contract year – has been a story bubbling under the radar in 2015, lost in the headlines of more Mercedes dominance, Lewis Hamilton’s protracted contract negotiations with the Silver Arrows, and endless moaning by Red Bull now they aren’t winning [1]. But very soon, Ferrari need to make a call on whether they re-up with their most recent world champion, or move towards the future by snapping up the brightest young(er) thing currently driving elsewhere. Under the old Ferrari regime, Raikkonen would probably get to stay as long as he wants. But Maurizio Arrivabene [2] has a different view, one he made crystal-clear after Raikkonen finished second in Bahrain last month.

“I am really happy for Kimi … but that doesn’t mean I am going to sign tomorrow with Kimi,” Arrivabene said.

“If I’m going to say yes, I do not want the driver to fall asleep. This is a psychological approach.”

It’s also an entirely sensible one given who Ferrari might get to replace him, such as Valtteri Bottas. The Spanish Grand Prix a fortnight ago gave new oxygen to the ‘Bottas-to-Ferrari’ stories that have been bubbling around for a while, and while all interested parties were predictably saying little, it’s a move that would make a lot of sense. Unfortunately for Williams, Bottas is probably too good to stay there for the money he’ll be offered; the team has always had a policy of building a good car so it attracts the best drivers rather than throwing money at a driver just to secure their signature [3], and Bottas will probably make more money with Ferrari in one year than he would at Williams in three, meaning Williams won’t match. Fortunately for Ferrari, Bottas has ‘future world champion’ written all over him, and you could imagine that a Sebastian Vettel/Bottas partnership would soon prove itself to be the best in F1. Which means Ferrari have to bite the bullet and wave Kimi goodbye at the end of 2015. Even if it means he mails it in for the rest of the year after he’s told mid-season that his services are no longer required [4].

I’ve never quite got the fascination with Raikkonen (although I’ve never quite savaged him like Darren Heath does here, where he basically calls Raikkonen a fraud), despite being enthralled by arguably his most famous victory, in Japan in 2005, from trackside. Media centres full of (mostly) underpaid overworked cynical journos aren’t easily impressed, which made the thunderous applause from the world’s hacks as Raikkonen passed Giancarlo Fisichella for the lead at Suzuka on the final lap all the more memorable. It was a brilliant drive by a man who lacks nothing in talent compared to anyone over the past 20 years; that Raikkonen’s name is never mentioned in any discussions of Formula One’s ‘big three’ drivers of the modern era tells you that it’s not all about talent. That talent can only take you so far, and the natural end to that journey has to be Abu Dhabi this November. Ferrari, if it’s being sensible, can make no other choice. That said, when did common sense have anything to do with Formula One? [5]

Speaking of things non-sensical, the Monaco Grand Prix this weekend still makes me shake my head at the sheer absurdity of it all in this day and age. You’d never contemplate racing today’s cars on a circuit as crazily cramped as the streets of Monte Carlo anywhere else, but there’s a part of me that’s glad it still happens. Yes, the race will be a snorefest with virtually no overtaking, and in this modern age of tyre conservation and heavy fuel, the first stint of the race will be positively pedestrian. But how can you not like the run up the hill on lap one from Ste. Devote, the first blast through the tunnel with the cars nose-to-tail, the fixed camera on the outside of the entry to the Swimming Pool complex and the cars pitching and rolling as they belt the inside kerb, and so on and so forth? It never produces much of a race and I’m glad there aren’t 19 tracks like it, but Monaco is still one of the year’s highlights. Give me that over a Tilke-drome any day of the week.

We preview the sixth round of the season in Monaco on Episode 101 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week, a preview where Raikkonen gets as much airtime as Manor undoubtedly will on the FOM-controlled world TV feed. A dog-slow car with no sponsor logos tooling around a racetrack watched by Europe’s rich and famous who are positively dripping with money? Yep, sounds like F1 to me …

Check out ‘The Inside Line’ on Fox Sports 5 and ESPN in Australia this week, and elsewhere in the world if you live in one of these countries.

— —- —- — —–

[1] Mark Webber’s barely-concealed disdain for Helmut Marko, seen most recently on our TV screens in Barcelona last time out, still make me laugh. Never gets old.

[2] He’s a strong candidate to make my unofficial ‘Top 5 Most Interesting People in F1’ list that I need to write at some stage. A walking soundbite.

[3] Which I agree with.

[4] Which will 100 per cent happen.

[5] As discussed in our look at the 2016 calendar this week, Formula One will host a European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan next season, which is geographically ridiculous. That’s by the by; this, on the other hand, is a very interesting read for those of you not familiar with how to spell the name of the place, let alone what it’s like.

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