ICE­MAN COOL IN RED-HOT DRIVER MAR­KET

F1 Racing (UK) - - INSIDER -

Two big ques­tions hang over the re­main­der of the driver mar­ket as For­mula 1 pre­pares for the clos­ing long­haul leg of the 2018 cham­pi­onship: will Fer­rari keep Kimi Räikkö­nen and, since Mclaren an­nounced just af­ter the Ital­ian Grand Prix that they have opted to part­ner Car­los Sainz with their pro­tégé Lando Nor­ris, how do Mercedes solve the prob­lem that is Este­ban Ocon?

Three months ago, Fer­rari had de­cided to re­place Räikkö­nen with Charles Le­clerc, af­ter the Mone­gasque’s stun­ning de­but with Sauber this year. Then came the death of pres­i­dent Ser­gio Mar­chionne, and with it un­cer­tainty over much more at Fer­rari than just the driver line-up.

Mar­chionne’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ties at Fiat and Fer­rari were split be­tween three dif­fer­ent peo­ple and the new chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Fer­rari, Louis Carey Camil­leri, at­tended the Ital­ian Grand Prix and stated that the team had “not taken a de­ci­sion yet” on Räikkö­nen’s fu­ture.

“When we take that de­ci­sion, and there is no time frame, you will be the se­cond to know,” he said.

Mar­chionne’s death has changed the bal­ance of power at Fer­rari dra­mat­i­cally. When he was alive, no-one had any doubt that he was in charge, and his re­struc­ture of the team, aimed at pro­mot­ing cre­ativ­ity, has led di­rectly to its rise in com­pet­i­tive­ness.

And it was he who had de­cided to jet­ti­son Räikkö­nen and pro­mote Le­clerc. So, do the new bosses stick with a plan hatched by their dy­namic, suc­cess­ful pre­de­ces­sor? Or do in­ter­nal pol­i­tics change things?

Team boss Mau­r­izio Ar­riv­abene was fre­quently be­lit­tled by Mar­chionne in meet­ings with other teams but now has a big­ger role in the big de­ci­sions. And Se­bas­tian Vet­tel has made lit­tle se­cret of his de­sire to stick with Räikkö­nen. Against that, the Finn has not ex­actly ex­celled con­sis­tently through his time at Fer­rari and Ital­ian me­dia sense a strong de­sire from out­side – fans, pub­lic, tele­vi­sion – for the in­tro­duc­tion of an ex­cit­ing young tal­ent. The feel­ing is that Le­clerc re­mains the favourite, but it could eas­ily go ei­ther way.

The fu­ture of an­other ta­lented man­u­fac­turer pro­tégé, Este­ban Ocon, ap­pears to be in limbo af­ter Mclaren de­cided to part com­pany with Stoffel Vandoorne at the end of the sea­son and re­place him with a prod­uct of their own young driver pro­gramme, Lando Nor­ris. Given his Mercedes af­fil­i­a­tions, Ocon might seem like a less smooth fit than a driver who has been un­der Mclaren’s wing for some time, but his F1 cre­den­tials are more es­tab­lished than Nor­ris, who will be 19 when he makes his de­but. Nor­ris has en­joyed a stel­lar tra­jec­tory through the ju­nior for­mu­lae but he has been in­con­sis­tent in For­mula 2, where (at the time of writ­ing) he has not won a race since April.

Vandoorne, very much a prod­uct of the pre­vi­ous regime at Mclaren, is un­der­stood to have been out of favour with re­cently in­stalled team boss Zak Brown for some time.

The takeover of Force In­dia by a con­sor­tium led by Cana­dian busi­ness­man Lawrence Stroll has cre­ated a com­pli­cated dy­namic over some of the re­main­ing seats. Stroll wants son Lance to switch soon – and cer­tainly for 2019. But that means one of the cur­rent Force In­dia driv­ers will be dropped.

Stroll is re­luc­tant to move this year for two rea­sons: he does not fancy the idea of step­ping into a car late in the sea­son and try­ing to look good; and he does not want to leave his friend Ocon with­out a drive. But that might be what hap­pens in 2019.

The sit­u­a­tion is even mak­ing Mercedes ques­tion their ju­nior pro­gramme. Team boss Toto Wolff said in Italy: “It has come to a point now where we need to de­cide what we want to do. If the driv­ers are stig­ma­tised as Mercedes driv­ers, it seems to be not the best sell­ing propo­si­tion.

“I still feel that the best tal­ent needs to be sup­ported and de­vel­oped and I hope we find a so­lu­tion for these guys. If we can’t, I would ques­tion the ju­nior pro­gramme.” Wolff, for all his con­tacts, won’t find it easy to solve this one.

“NOR­RIS HAS EN­JOYED A STEL­LAR TRA­JEC­TORY THROUGH THE JU­NIOR FOR­MU­LAE BUT HAS BEEN IN­CON­SIS­TENT IN FOR­MULA 2

De­spite se­cur­ing pole and fin­ish­ing se­cond in Italy, Räikkö­nen could still find him­self re­placed by Le­clerc (above) for 2019

Lando Nor­ris will re­place Stoffel Vandoorne at Mclaren next sea­son

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