Brought to you by TJ13 contributor R Lucke
There we have it, the most important seat filled for coming season!
Or is it?
Obviously, if you have never heard of Ripplestiltskin, you may be right. There is no driver with that name. However, we are looking for a name, it keeps us sitting on the edge of our seats, and it will send a ripple through the field. Hence Ripplestiltskin. And, as in the fairytale (Rumplestiltskin, for the people who haven’t made the connection yet), will it cost our royal couple (Mercedes) their newborn (season 2017)? Or will they pull the proverbial rabbit out of their hat?
Wolff mentioned he doesn’t close doors yet, Lauda commented he would have wanted Wehrlein in a midfield team for 2 more seasons. Taking Lauda’s comments seriously, it would be quite surprising if Mercedes settled for Wehrlein. Naturally Wehrlein himself keeps reminding us that he is ready for it. (Well, wouldn’t you in his seatless place?)
Did Rosberg change the world and put the idea of quitting “on top” into the heads of our helmetted heroes? Does Mercedes have to think about this when thinking about Hamilton? This is a tough one, and strategically I wouldn’t know how to cope. Or would I even bother?
My last article was about driver choices and silly season. Let’s go and work out a couple of scenarios.
There are a couple of other interesting possibilities. Let’s kick it off with a “what if” around Alonso.
Alonso takes the second Mercedes seat, opening up a seat at McLaren. Reserve driver Matshushita and Turvey would likely profit from this. My money would be on Matshushita. His Japanese nationality would do well for Honda, and Ecclestone would be delighted.
Let’s be honest. Alonso has been withering away at McLaren. I still regard him as one of the best. He deserves another shot at the title, which he will not get at McLaren. Although Hamilton and Alonso have both said their old rivalry had been settled, I expect it to be still there. Alonso is no Rosberg. He will not go quietly into the night. It would be a battle of epic proportions.
Would it be good for McLaren: no. It would take the pressure of for one more season, allowing to work one more season in the shade. That wouldn’t bring a good sponsor though and it would wreak havoc on the sales of t-shirts and caps (laugh about it, but this still brings in millions) That they are still seen as a top team is only connected to the fact they have top drivers. Other than that, they haven’t shown much the last couple of years.
Van Doorne is definitely good, but for the moment doesn’t have the personality to pull this team back to the top 4. 2 rookies wouldn’t do the name of McLaren justice. The new CEO shouldn’t want to position McLaren as a rookie-team. They need a good name, and good names simply don’t want to go to McLaren the way it is today.
Force India depend heavily on their Mercedes drive. The signing of Ocon only proves that. Perez had stints at Sauber, McLaren and Force India. This season signing at Force India early since this was the best he could do. Perez is aggressive, maybe a little “too” for Mercedes. Hamilton would probably outclass him (but Hamilton outclasses 90% of the field, so there is no shame in that) It would be a “do or die” season for Perez, deemed too small a knight for McLaren, and I don’t expect Mercedes to go for a longer term contract. Perez would have to show what he is made of, or be placed among “the lesser gods” indefinitively.
But the man has gained experience, and is a speed-genius at moments: Perez would do just fine.
However, the perk for the Perez variant in Mercedes’ eyes, would be that it would free up the seat at Force India. Let’s face it: Mercedes did injustice to Wehrlein by favoring Ocon to go the Force India, over Wehrlein. Wehrlein could take the second Force India seat. Righting that wrong, Mercedes would be happy, and I would be happy too.
This is the one I like most. Hulkenberg deserved a good drive since he dominated A1 Grand Prix 10 years ago. He even tested for Williams when Rosberg was still driving there, ending up a mere 0.4 sec behind. The large difference being that Rosberg was Williams’ regular driver, and Hulkenberg only had 2 days to be fast. When Rosberg moved to Mercedes, Hulkenberg took the open seat scoring Williams’ first pole since 5 years, only to switch to Force India in 2011.
Hulkenberg IMHO would do a step better then Perez. Hamilton would still be on top, but would only do so but not slacking. These guys pressuring each other: would be fun to watch.
Hulkenberg being German will not harm his chances at Mercedes. Mercedes is too big to make that a main concern, but it will play a role. Hamilton being of dark complexion, Hulkenberg being blond: think of the photo-opps!
Complication: Renault has signed Hulkenberg, and will not let him go. I do think they would let him go, if offered a good alternative: this is where Sainz comes in. Renault was charmed by the likes of Sainz, and even made an attempt (albeit half-hearted) to get him into their team, and I would think Sainz would jump at the chance.
This is where the real problem begins: Red Bull will not let go of Sainz. Red Bull isn’t motivated by money or engines (too late by a year!!) There would have to be another gain the be made. The chance to promote Gasly? Don’t think Red Bull would be moved by that. There would be a need for some Ecclestonian gain.
Ecclestone would want an American, and I don’t see anyone fitting that bill on the horizon. Rossi, I might hear you say: he got himself into Indycar and is happy without all of the F1 politics. No, or Michael Andretti should decide to return: I always found him to be better than he was allowed to show. He just got the short end of the stick..
2 World Champions in the same top car? Who wouldn’t love to see that? Vettel is completely frustrated at Ferrari, moving the wrong way (from wins in 2015 to none in 2016) Also the fact that Raikonnen seems to be closing the gap will not sit very well.
Vettel would want the Mercedes seat. Mercedes would be silly if they would not research the possibility. Hamilton vs Vettel: an awesome duo. The outcome would largely depend on the character of the car.
An open seat at Ferrari. They would have the same problem Mercedes has today. Even more then Mercedes, they depend on big names. The last couple of years Ferrari hasn’t experimented with drivers at all. They even held on to Raikonnen when he was underperforming. (this BTW paid off in 2016).
Ferrari strike me as uninspired. This isn’t at all helped by the fact that Marchionne replaced di Montezemolo as CEO. Marchionne is a business person. A very good one, pulling of deals the world did not expect. Unique and one of a kind. Di Montezemolo however, represents the Ferrari passion. Not that di Montezemolo could not have been replaced, but Marchionne simply isn’t the best choice to fire up racing hearts.
Uninspired people take uninspired choices, but that could be in our advantage. Their pool of test drivers consists of 4: Antonio Fuoco, Antonio Giovinazzi, Charles Leclerc and Jean-Eric Vergne. Of these 3 naturally only Vergne has F1 experience. Leclerc is 2016 F3 champion. Giovinazzi is 2016 GP2 runner-up, and Fuoco came in 3rd at the 2016 F3 championship.
Ferrari would do the world a favor by getting an Italian in the field, which leave Fuoco and Giovinazzi. Giovinazzi only just lost to Gasly in the last couple of races. Excellent potential. Under Raikonnen’s umbrella he could grow: we might have a diamond in thr rough.
Could we see Vettel at Mercedes, Ricciardo moving to Ferrari? Not impossible either, but the longer the string of top drivers who would need to move, the less likely it will become.
Ricciardo gave Vettel a run for his money in the 2014 Red Bull. That, and several race wins prove his potential. Hamilton vs Ricciardo: in terms of qualifying these guys should be close. Hamilton’s cunning and racing speed would get him on top during the races, but it wouldn’t be automatic. It would surely be entertaining to watch this twosome.
Behind them we would see Sainz promoting to the Red Bull, where rivalry v2.0 with Verstappen will start. Good or bad, you decide. IMHO this would be good for neither Verstappen nor Sainz.
Gasly would take the open Torro Rosso seat. Could Red Bull be moved to give up Ricciardo? I have the uncanny feeling they would rather give up Ricciardo than Sainz. Ricciardo already gave Red Bull some wonderful moments. Ricciardo can stand on his own 2 feet. I feel Red Bull would grant Ricciardo a leave.
The most obvious choice. And Mercedes would credit it’s word by honoring driver contracts as they said they would. Hamilton would light up Wehrlein as a pinball machine.
The most unexciting for me, as it would leave the rest of the field intact.
Some people think highly of Bottas. I don’t see it.
Might I be wrong: everything is possible. Bottas taking the Mercedes seat would open up a seat at Williams. Williams is Mercedes powered, so there should be a way of doing this. Then surely Wehrlein will take the second Williams seat, next to Stroll. Will Wehrlein handle himself against the crude aggressiveness of Stroll? I doubt it.
Bottas vs Hamilton: I would bet my boots on Hamilton. On every front. I would see a reliable back-shield to Hamilton. What Barrichello proved to be for Schumacher. This is surely necessary with changing regulations, and Red Bull catching up.
Mercedes’ wet dream? Nope, Verstappen is not an impulsive guy off track. He counts his blessing at Red Bull. And, of course, Red Bull would never let him go. I simply don’t see this one happening.
Now this would be exciting! A MotoGP champion in a top F1 car? Would it make sense: no, absolutely not. It would be too great of a risk for Mercedes, having no trackrecord in a relevant 4-wheeler class.
We can dream about it though. Lorenzo has tested a 2014 Mercedes, and did unbelievably well. He is a professional and will catch on rapidly. Jorge is 5 time World Champion in different MotoGP classes. We haven’t seen anybody succesful on 2 as well as on 4 wheels since John Surtees in the beginning of the 60-ies.
The learning curve would be incredible, and I would expect Lorenzo to be of no use of the team in the first half of the season, coming closer in the second half. Mercedes need Hamilton’s back covered at all time, so although I would cheer on every audacious decision on the part of Mercedes, it is unlikely we will see this.
And there you have it. Which one would be your favorite? Wouldn’t it be grand if we could influence this game?
Mercedes will not wait a long time before making their decision. They need stability and rest in the team. Plus it might block other deals which need to be closed. I estimate we will know before the new year.