Why Red Bull and Raikkonen must not mix

Michael Lamonato Columnist

By Michael Lamonato, Michael Lamonato is a Roar Expert

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14 Have your say

    There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the driver market in Formula One this week.

    Mark Webber’s imminent exit has triggered something of a black hole, pacified by only the non-combative PR speak being used by all parties, yet is just one successful contract negotiation away from obliterating the paddock.

    I’m not sure that metaphor stacks up, but you get the point.

    Webber’s seat is the plum drive for 2014. Red Bull has cash. It has experience. It has Adrian Newey.

    It has all the ingredients to continue leading the sport. This is why former World Champion Kimi Räikkönen is the hot favourite to parachute in and attempt to reap the rewards.

    It does make sense – on the surface, at least. Räikkönen’s highly marketable, and his no-nonsense attitude to F1 politics appears – again, on the surface – to line up with the values Red Bull Racing says exists at it’s core. Not to mention Räikkönen’s a proven winner, and Christian Horner’s team is in a position to be picky.

    But that’s just on the surface.

    There are two compelling reasons why Red Bull shouldn’t – no, mustn’t – sign the Finn. And the first is that all that surface stuff is misleading.

    It’s been a long time since Red Bull practiced what it preached. It might have been the cool kid once, but it’s since grown up and taken out a mortgage – and the evidence for such a metamorphosis is everywhere.

    It’s evident by the way they have struggled to manage the divisions between their drivers, the flagrant use of team orders despite previously being against them, and their ruthless wielding of political power to their own advantage.

    Don’t get me wrong, all of this is the mark of a great F1 team – but it’s not compatible with that original RBR image.

    Kimi’s contract with Lotus has secured him a personal freedom unprecedented by any other moment in his career. Lotus principal Eric Boullier knows that the team environment is important to Räikkönen’s performance.

    So, Boullier has provided him with a working schedule considerably lighter than that of any other driver for another top team.

    Conversely, Red Bull maximises the use of their drivers, and their schedules are heavy with promotion. Räikkönen will have to adjust to a lifestyle considerably different to that which he currently enjoys.

    And let’s not forget it’s that sort of environment that turned him off F1 completely while working with Ferrari.

    Red Bull mustn’t be stupid enough to assume it can tame Räikkönen with a sizeable retainer.

    But there’s another reason: hiring Räikkönen would destroy the credibility of the Red Bull Junior Team.

    Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne are the two latest drivers on the near incomprehensible list of F1 hopefuls to pass through the development programme, and their ascension to the top of the Red Bull tree would give the Junior Team a shred of much-needed credibility.

    It has, to date, moved just one driver out of Toro Rosso and into a top car – Sebastian Vettel – while no fewer than eleven other drivers have fallen by the wayside before and since his promotion.

    And without their Red Bull life support, all of them found their F1 career hopes dashed as quickly as it took Helmut Marko to shred their contracts.

    Up to this point, the programme has been able to defend it’s merciless turfing of young talent by claiming it has no other place to put them in. The seats at Red Bull haven’t been spilt in a while. It’s harsh, but it’s the risk you take when you choose the Red Bull route.

    But, thanks to Mark Webber, that excuse is void. To deny one of the two talented Scuderia Toro Rosso drivers now would be to devalue the risk taken by the countless forgotten apprentices of the programme. It would mean the possibility of promotion never really existed, and would mark the Junior Team and STR ownership as a colossal waste of money.

    The value of the entire Red Bull feeder operation hinges on this decision.

    Should Horner decide in favour of Räikkönen, not only could it prove disastrous for the Finn and the delicate harmony within the team, but whatever good may have been in the programme must be reassessed as flagrant and meaningless trashing of careers.

    It owes that seat to every one of those young drivers as much as it does to Ricciardo and Vergne.

    So the decision is this: build a stable future for the Red Bull Racing brand, or capitalise on a short-term gain and consign every driver bar one to pass through its doors to the F1 scrapheap for nothing.

    And what a senseless waste that would be.

    Michael Lamonato
    Michael Lamonato

    Michael is one-third of F1 podcast Box of Neutrals, as heard weekly on ABC Grandstand Digital nationwide. Though he's been part of the F1's travelling press room since 2012, people seem more interested in the time he was sick in a kart ? but don't ask about that, follow him on Twitter instead @MichaelLamonato.

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    The Crowd Says (14)

    • July 14th 2013 @ 10:51am
      Seano said | July 14th 2013 @ 10:51am | ! Report

      All true, but I still hope Kimi goes to red bull and smashes vettle!

      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

    • Roar Guru

      July 14th 2013 @ 1:38pm
      Mat Coch said | July 14th 2013 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

      Well said, and exactly my thoughts on the topic too.

      However, there is also the argument that Kimi could go there for a year (he has Red Bull ties through his rally days) before JEV or Dan are ready.

      In the STR boys favour is the fact the next driver in line, Felix Da Costa, is also probably 12 months away from being ready for Formula One.

      One could excuse Red Bull opting for a former world champion for a year while it waits for its youngsters to blossom – and one gets the feeling both JEV and Dan probably need another 12 months.

      • Roar Pro

        July 14th 2013 @ 3:06pm
        Jsteel said | July 14th 2013 @ 3:06pm | ! Report

        Do you think Kimi would be up to only move for a year though? Not really worth getting used to a new car just for a season

        • Columnist

          July 15th 2013 @ 11:35am
          Michael Lamonato said | July 15th 2013 @ 11:35am | ! Report

          I would agree. I’m not sure Red Bull would be up for it either. You want to hold on to your World Champions.

      • July 14th 2013 @ 3:43pm
        Yawhoa said | July 14th 2013 @ 3:43pm | ! Report

        Yes great article. I would think that Dan Ricciardo has surly “blossomed” and would be the best option for Mark Webbers # No 2 ride going into 2014. You cannot have 2 dominate drivers in the same team, and this is another genuine reason why Christian Horner will be able to avoid getting his nose out of joint – as the young impressionable Dan Ricciardo will tow the line to the team politics.

        • July 15th 2013 @ 2:49am
          Frankie Hughes said | July 15th 2013 @ 2:49am | ! Report

          DR won’t get the points needed to win the WCC.

          Hence why Kimi and Vettel is the only viable option.

          • Columnist

            July 15th 2013 @ 11:39am
            Michael Lamonato said | July 15th 2013 @ 11:39am | ! Report

            Kimi would be a certainty, but I wouldn’t underestimate Ricciardo or Vergne. They’ve both put in some pretty impressive performances this season in a car that isn’t all that great.

        • Columnist

          July 15th 2013 @ 11:38am
          Michael Lamonato said | July 15th 2013 @ 11:38am | ! Report

          That’s definitely true. A rookie driver would be a safe bet, since they’d default to number two status and Red Bull can stop pretending they don’t have a number one driver.

          Daniel Ricciardo has been doing pretty well so far – but if they are going to choose one of the STR boys, I wouldn’t be surprised if they waited until much later in the season. Alguersuari/Buemi was never really clear cut, and these two seem even closer.

      • Columnist

        July 15th 2013 @ 11:34am
        Michael Lamonato said | July 15th 2013 @ 11:34am | ! Report

        That would be an interesting possibility, but I don’t think Red Bull would be interested in a one year contract deal. Webber excepted, of course – whose one year rolling deal had a lot to do with security, since he was at the end of his career – Red Bull attributes its strength over the past few years to its consistency.

        Also, Kimi would then need an exit plan – but then there’s not really another team that he’d want to go to. He’s been to McLaren and Ferrari. Mercedes is tied up with Hamilton and Rosberg. Would he go back to Lotus? Maybe, but then why leave in the first place?

        not that you can discount anything in the driver market – stranger things have happened. Just look at a photo of Alonso in McLaren overalls, it’s bizarre.

        • Roar Guru

          July 15th 2013 @ 4:54pm
          Mat Coch said | July 15th 2013 @ 4:54pm | ! Report

          I’d put money on Raikkonen retiring.

    • Editor

      July 15th 2013 @ 3:33pm
      Tristan Rayner said | July 15th 2013 @ 3:33pm | ! Report

      Nicely written. I’d have to say, there’ll be hell to pay if it’s not Ricciardo, who had bashed Vergne in recent times and is surely the better option. He’s the ideal Red Bull brand man as well – and possibly the friendliest guy in the paddock.

      (He’s Australian too… that makes him +1 in my biased book)

      • Roar Guru

        July 15th 2013 @ 4:52pm
        Mat Coch said | July 15th 2013 @ 4:52pm | ! Report

        Unless you get him talking about the football, and point out your team just thumped his…

      • Columnist

        July 17th 2013 @ 9:56pm
        Michael Lamonato said | July 17th 2013 @ 9:56pm | ! Report

        I think we can at least say Red Bull is thinking the same thing now it’s given him a shot in the RB9 for the young driver test.

        He’s going to be directly compared to Vettel this week. Last time that (sort of) happened was at Abu Dhabi in 2010, when he took to the wheel of the Red Bull and set a time 1.3 seconds faster than Vettel’s pole time. Sure, track conditions were much more favourable, but still…

        If he does well at this test, some contract papers will surely start rustling.

        • July 18th 2013 @ 11:32am
          Blanken said | July 18th 2013 @ 11:32am | ! Report

          I think the Red Bull stance is that they will have someone signed by the end of August. I would love it to be Dan but in the interest of comparing just Dan to JEV, I could only see it benefiting the team to wait longer.

          What makes me think that Red Bull have Dan as their prime candidate over both JEV and Kimi?
          – Note the fact that no running time has been given to JEV at this weeks Silverstone test as well as the fact that Da Costa is being given significant running time. This leads me to believe that they are evaluating Da Costa to step up to the junior team, obviously inferring that there will be a spare slot there next year with Dan moving on to the big team.

          It just a pity that Dan won’t be driving at todays test on the same day as Vettel or Webber to compare times. The track conditions can obviously vary significantly day to day in regards to temperature/tyre performance & ‘rubbering’ in.

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