Ok. This may seem a bit out there, but I’ve heard a couple of whispers tonight that Ferrari and Lewis are having a conversation.
This of course goes against how we believe Ferrari operates. They predominantly [not always] have had a number 1 and number 2 driver and clearly Lewis would never accept being a number 2 to Fernando. So would Ferrari change their historic approach and have (at the start of the season at least) 2 equal drivers?
On the con side of the debate, McLaren and Lewis are still making noises about staying together, but they are starting to sound like a couple whose relationship has run stale and are about to break up. Really, it’s not that hard to agree terms that have publicly been on the table for many weeks – and we were led to believe by Lewis this would all be dealt with and put to bed during the Summer break.
So the fact that McLaren and Lewis have not yet done the deal adds credence to the view that they are too far apart in negotiations to get over the line. I’ve pointed out in earlier articles how aggressive McLaren and Ron Dennis have been in staking out the ground that Lewis is going to have to take a pay cut. It’s feels like it’s become too personal.
Lewis response was to dismiss Dennis and suggest it was nothing to do with him, and that Martin Whitmarsh was his boss and the only person he would talk to in this matter. Whether you think this is just F1 drama and negotiating positioning or not, the negative consequence of such personal polarised views would surely carry over into the running of the team next year – whoever prevails.
What about Ferrari? Well, these are different times. The top 6 teams are separated by less than 0.5secs in qualifying regularly and clearly the days when Schumacher won the title by so many points that Ferrari with a number 2 who contributed far less, could still win the constructer’s title are gone. Massa has seriously underperformed this year, and even though Alonso is favourite to win the title – Ferrari are nowhere in the constructor’s championship and it is that title that pays the big money, and times are tough in F1
Then we return to the role of Lewis’ management company, XIX. They have a reputation for promoting sporting stars into global brands. A deal with McLaren for less than Lewis’ dad sorted out a few years ago doesn’t look good for them. Also, Lewis going to Mercedes – a team who at present have a car that is no better than 4th or 5th best is also not looking like a great result for their client.
So if Ferrari are going to replace Massa, of all the up and coming drivers this year, Perez has appeared to be the best bet and yet Luca de Montezelemo, the godfather, dismissed him this week as too inexperienced for their team – and he’s from their academy.
This means either Ferrari either stick with Massa, or they have another plan. Massa was slated in August by an Italian press pole as the 24th best driver in the field this year. This was a message from the Italian fans and Ferrari generally does not ignore the swell of opinion from the tifosi.
Ferrari can pay more than anyone for a driver, they have the prestige that any management company would be proud of delivering to their client, but they have to persuade 2 world champions they are better off as joint number 1’s than otherwise. Fernando is an absolute star in the team, but the Ferrari DNA is never to allow a driver to dictate to them.
This co-existence is not so hard to see if the team adopt rules like Red Bull did in 2010 – where the lead driver after the final pit stop would take the chequered flag. This maximises Ferrari’s team points and should still offer them a crack at the drivers’ title later in the season.
Never forget Ferrari want the constructors’ title more than the drivers’ title and signing Lewis is an infinitely better option than anything else open to them at present.
McLaren have been unfazed by the Mercedes stalking horse, but ironically this could be the one move that may irritate them into biting the bullet and backing down. The McLaren door may not be closed to Lewis… but it’s on the latch from the insde.
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