Ciao Maurizio. Firstly, I hope your heart rate has come back to normal after that incident with Felipe Massa in the pits in Austria a couple of weeks ago. Must have been quite a shock to be wandering across to the garage from the pit wall to see a former Ferrari driver bearing down on you. Wasn’t far being off the ultimate payback for Hockenheim 2010, was it? Before your time, I know.
Speaking of things in the past, did you hear about the pasting another (unofficial) number two driver gave his old team last week? Mark Webber was pretty punchy when describing Red Bull’s management and how it failed to show any, um, testicular fortitude when it came to managing his relationship with your new driver, Sebastian Vettel. His views weren’t anything we didn’t already know, but he has a book to sell, you see. I know, it was a bit strange to see this all coming out three years after he’d won his last Grands Prix and two years since he announced his retirement, but those Australian publishing deadlines must be a bitch.
All that talk about Australia made me think of the man who stepped into Webber’s shoes at Red Bull, Daniel Ricciardo, and then of Kimi Raikkonen. You know Kimi, he’s the one trailing your other driver by a mile in the championship, making needless mistakes, leaving you vulnerable to Williams in the constructors’ race despite one Williams driver missing a Grand Prix through injury and the team having a race where they didn’t even score a point in Monaco. I did wonder if you’d forgotten about him in Austria, as you seemed to mention everyone else that works for Ferrari in your post-race comments other than Kimi. A coincidental oversight, I’m sure.
It’s all gone a bit wrong for Kimi, hasn’t it? What about Canada, where he finished five seconds ahead of his teammate after starting at the other end (as in the good end) of the field? Or that first-lap crash in Austria where he lit up the rear wheels like someone who has done nine races, not 219, slid off and clouted Fernando Alonso? It all looks a bit amateurish, even more so when he blames the equipment, the tyres, the way the team communicates with him and so on rather than occasionally putting his hand up. Can’t be good for morale in the team, can it?
Look, Kimi has had a really good career and has won a title, loads of Grands Prix, made heaps of cash, has been topping up his super for the past two years. There were a couple of wins in the Lotus years, sure, but it’s almost a decade since he won the title and he’s 36 in October. At some point you need to look towards the future. Seb says he wants him to stay, but if you’re Seb, of course you would. Sure, they might get along, but it’s easy to be matey with someone when you’re beating the daylights out of them every weekend and they appear outwardly not to care less.
Nico Hulkenberg wouldn’t be a bad option, and in hindsight your team probably should have signed him in late 2013 to replace Felipe as was rumoured rather than re-sign Kimi again. Again, before your time, I know. Valtteri Bottas represents the future too, but he’s not exactly blowing Felipe away this year, is he? It seems the best Kimi replacement is a driver who has actually won races, who by any measure is a star and is already a known quantity. Why not reunite the 2014 Red Bull pairing and grab Daniel, his contract at Milton Keynes be damned? After all, with all of the money you’d save from not paying Kimi, you could always hand over some folding stuff for Ricciardo’s services. Or perhaps give Red Bull a discount on some Ferrari engines if you can take their leading driver? Sounds like they could use a new engine partner, and they must be desperate to get that Max Verstappen chap into the senior team.
OK, I know it didn’t go all that well or to expectations when Ricciardo and Vettel were teammates a year ago. They didn’t despise one another despite the massive gulf in their results driving the same car – it’s hard for anyone to despise Ricciardo, isn’t it? Seb was a bit off last year, perhaps exhausted from four straight world title runs, perhaps distracted by the terrible accident that befell Michael Schumacher, perhaps with his eye off the ball a touch after becoming a father. All completely understandable factors if they were factors. We know he’s been back to his best this year, and surely he’d love a chance to correct that one anomaly in his career by having another crack at the one driver to beat him in a head-to-head inter-team fight. He wouldn’t be scared of that challenge, surely not.
As for Ricciardo, think of the benefits for your team. One, he’d try, or at least give the impression that he’s trying, unlike Vettel’s current teammate. The team would almost certainly move forward with Ricciardo’s technical feedback, an underrated part of the package that gets lost behind the soundbites, that Honey Badger thing and his grinning. He’s only just turned 26, meaning time is on his side and you have a succession plan. As I touched on, he’d be cheaper than Kimi. And can you imagine how the tifosi would embrace ‘Ree-chee-ardo’ as one of their own as he breaks out his Australian-accented Italian on the team radio? Il Canguro! Il Canguro!
What’s to lose, other than another season or two of a driver who represents links to Ferrari’s successful past, even if that success seems an eternity ago now? I read with some amusement last week that you said, somewhat disingenuously, that Ricciardo hasn’t been in touch as “perhaps he does not have my number”; you know where he works, so perhaps pay him a (or another?) visit on the quiet. It’s a small gesture that could have a big payoff. And means you could have two of the best five drivers in the sport locked down for the next three years at least. Sounds good to me.
Yours in pit lane safety,