The Silly Season Domino Effect

You did it as a kid, right? You would spend hours upon hours standing up those little rectangular pieces of wood just hoping and praying that the tiniest breath of wind or even the squeak of a mouse wouldn’t somehow befall your Herculean effort. If all went well in the end, you would have a wonderfully elaborate and strangely beautiful line of rectangles that, on your command, would fall in just the right fashion. Your personal satisfaction as the master of all things dominoes enough to make the hours of work all worthwhile.

Formula One’s silly season is a lot like the scenario described above. Team managers, sponsors, principals, agents and the drivers themselves all work together to carefully place their dominoes (the drivers) in a position as advantageous as possible for themselves. If any surprise comes up, the whole scheme is ruined, sending any preconceived notion of a plan into chaos. If all goes to plan, however, the chain reaction from one driver move is controlled chaos with drivers moving every which way in a precise manner. Everyone has a place, even if that means losing your place.

We are on the brink of tipping that first domino. Within a month we will, and should, know who is replacing Mark Webber at Red Bull. If it is Kimi, then there is a vacant seat at Lotus. Names like Hulkenberg, di Resta, Ricciardo and Valsecchi have all been thrown into the pot of possible replacements for the Finn. Then even more scenarios raise their complicated heads. Who would replace Hulkenberg? A certain Russian is already lined up, but doubts over his readiness for the step up to the big leagues remain. Then there is Petrov who for the last year has been working his way back into the F1 scene. With the help of Mercedes he is getting cozy with some big names, but is it for F1, or is the DTM where he will make racing return?

What if di Resta took the seat? An empty place at Force India seems the ideal place for Jules Bianchi, right? He was their test driver last season, he got a year of experience at Marussia this season so surely Force India is the place to go. But Ferrari beckons. Felipe Massa’s poor form this season suggests the Brazilian’s time is limited at the Scuderia. Then again, it has been limited since 2010, yet he remains at the team four years later. We won’t know for sure whether Ferrari feels Jules is ready for Ferrari. Remember, they turned down a certain Mexican last season for his lack of experience. Experience, I might point out, that is double what Jules has right now. If Jules were to go to either Ferrari or Force India, then an empty seat at Marussia awaits the highest bidder. I won’t knock them for having two pay drivers next season. It will be a hard year for them, and they need all the help they can get. One hopes they can find the right balance between talent and money.

If Valsecchi gets the call from test to race driver, then the ramifications are not nearly as fundamental. The Italian doesn’t lead a whole lot of dominos, if you know what I mean.

If Ricciardo gets the seat, then the line of succession is plainly laid out thanks to Red Bull. Antonio Felix da Costa is primed and ready for an F1 debut in Toro Rosso and should, if junior reputations are to be believed, give Jean-Eric Vergne a serious run for his money. This scene will likely play out in the same manner if Ricciardo is to get the Red Bull seat. A fairly painless transition is on the books if Red Bull plan on promoting from within.

This is the hot topic of the year. Driver changes are always important every year, but the drastic changes taking place on the technical front pose a lot of logistical and monetary challenges that can at least be assuaged by a good choice in drivers.

Now for the really weird stuff. Let us toy with the notion that Fernando could possibly replace Mark Webber at Red Bull. Let us allow our minds to wander aimlessly in the realm of impossibility. Go on, its fun when you get used to it!

Besides this scenario being outside even the most leftwing realms of impossibility, a potential Fernando/Sebastian pairing does offer up a lot of opportunities for the rest of the field.

If Felipe was left to lead the team, I would see either Hulkenberg, Bianchi or di Resta as possible partners, with Hulkenberg the most tantalizing option. If one of those three went to Ferrari, their domino effects I laid out above would play out with, hopefully, as little drama as possible. But, if Ferrari were to do the unthinkable and completely revamp their driver lineup with two new drivers, then the dominos would not only fall, they would plummet, crash and burn into a fiery heap of excitement. I’m getting worked up just thinking about it.

Hulkenberg would have to be the first choice to lead the team. I find it difficult to imagine Ferrari would be able to pull a big name driver on such short notice. Perhaps Vettel would get worried at his pairing with Fernando and they would do the old switch-a-roo on us all. Seeing Sebastian in red just doesn’t sit with me very well for some reason.

With Hulkenberg holding down the fort, Jules Bianchi would be a risky, but wise, choice as the second driver. For his lack of experience Jules makes up for it in raw talent. Talent, I think, Sergio Perez might not quite have. Ferrari knew this, I think, and allowed the Mexican to go to Mclaren for that reason. A Hulkenberg/Bianchi pairing at Ferrari would be the most exciting lineup in years. They are both very young and would be able to grow each year while having a shot at the championship at the same time. You couldn’t ask for more.

These three lines of dominoes all promise phenomenally thrilling season in 2014. For the rest of the field, they can only hope they’re standing somewhere in those lines. It would be hard to make an impression otherwise.

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