There are four drivers with a chance of the second seat alongside Sebastian Vettel. Strangely, the most unlikely of the four seems to be the favorite. Kimi Raikkonen, for his monosyllabic nature, is making a lot of noise in what has been a rather early start to the silly season. With the sport’s largest regulations overhaul looming, it is important to get race seats confirmed early, so there isn’t any last minute scrambling.
I have said it before (in what has been this blog’s most read article which you can read here), and I stand by it, but I do not believe Kimi is a good fit for partnership alongside Sebastian Vettel. Red Bull epitomizes all that we know Kimi does not like, most importantly: Media responsibilities and politics. The former has been a hatred of his ever since he first made his debut in the sport, and the latter, while always an annoyance, became a nuisance while Kimi was at Ferrari.
If you want to get a lesson in team politics, just go back to the Malaysian Grand Prix. You all will not likely have forgotten what happened there, particularly in the days afterwards. The team’s handling of the situation was, at best, mediocre. They let Sebastian run away with complaints while Mark, far from guilty-free, was left to his own devices to focus ad best he could on the races ahead; races that seemed increasingly to be his last with the team.
Will Mark stay with the team for another season? It is possible. Mark is far from his peak at this point. 2009/2010 signaled the times where the Aussie was at his true best. Now, he is merely a solid supporting act to his teammate. As much as I don’t want to come to grips with the fact that Mark’s time is up, I, and everyone else, must. He is in contention for the seat next season, but will he want to be?
This leaves Kimi Raikkonen and the Toro Rosso duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne. The two youngsters have done a lot this season to make it aware their desire to partner Sebastian next season. 2013 has been a to-and-fro of advantage between the two, starting with Ricciardo’s great performance in China to Vergne’s breakthrough result in Canada last weekend, where he qualified a solid 6th in the wet and fought hard to stay there for the whole race. If these two are in the final running for the second seat next season, it will be a difficult decision, for sure.
One thing we must keep an eye out for, though, is consistency. As I feel either Ricciardo or Vergne are more suitable candidates for the second Red Bull seat, I will focus on them from now on. Both relatively new to the sport and, as a result, still show signs of rookie apprehension. Ricciardo himself has been his own biggest critic when it comes to his gutsiness in on-track battles. He conceded towards the end of last season that his race craft would be his most prominent area of improvement.
Has it worked? For the most part it seems that it has. The young Aussie has yet to really wow us like Vergne did in Canada, though his performance in China was commendable, yet despite his lack of standout performances, Ricciardo has, for the last few weeks, been considered the favorite of the two drivers. This could be down to his smooth driving style which is at a premium in the Pirelli era of Formula One. This quality will definitely be something Red Bull has taken notice of, though there is a danger that Pirelli might not even be in the sport next season, but that is a topic for another day.
So what has Vergne got going for him? His is very aggressive on track. He fights for positions and is perhaps a bit more daring than his Australian teammate.
This could come at a price at times, though, but Vergne has certainly improved his consistency since he made his F1 debut last season. He has also vastly improved his qualifying performances, something which plagued him last year when it was almost a given that he would be eliminated in Q1.
Both drivers have a lot going for them, both in terms of their own skill and how they can improve if given the opportunity to drive for Red Bull. Whether it will be enough to overhaul the advantage Kimi Raikkonen holds in the favorite category, will be answered soon enough.