Jason Coulter analyses the decisions by Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel to move Formula One teams.
It’s a been a dramatic few weeks in Formula One. Jules Bianchi’s horrible crash at Suzuka reminded us that when all is said and done, the health and safety of the drivers must always come first. Our thoughts are with his friends and family at this difficult time and we wish him all the best in his recovery. The F1 family are praying for good news soon.
The news recently that Sebastian Vettel will be leaving Red Bull came as a massive shock last weekend. While F1 fans were waiting to hear news from Fernando Alonso and where he will be racing in 2015, current world champion Vettel made the first move. Despite any official announcement from any of the teams involved, it’s almost certain that Vettel will be driving for Ferrari and Alonso will be driving for McLaren next season. But who is making the right move? And where does this leave the other drivers?
For Vettel, he knows he is joining a team that will do anything to return to the front of the grid. The past few years have been dismal for Ferrari, and the team are currently on course to finish fourth in the constructors championship. A very poor showing for the biggest name in F1. Ferrari’s new chairman Sergio Marchionne stated that he will do everything in his power to return the championship to the Italian giants, and that will be good news for Vettel.
While 2015 should see some improvement with the car, there will be no excuses for Ferrari if they have not returned to winning ways by 2016. The move is good for Vettel for many reasons. It gives the Austrian the chance to prove himself at another team, banishing all those naysayers who believe he only holds four world titles because of his car rather than his driving ability. It should also give him a some fresh belief after what has been a season to forget at Red Bull. The emergence of Daniel Ricciardo seems to have unsettled Vettel, so it favours him to leave on good terms now.
Alonso on the other hand, takes a rather big step into the unknown. The McLaren car has been very inconsistent this season, with only flashes of speed shown. Despite both drivers finishing on the podium in the first race of the year, it has been their only highlight. Otherwise, the team have been happy just finish in the points. Next season they are relying on Honda providing them with a competitive engine, a gamble considering Honda have not been in the sport since 2008.
With the Mercedes engine so dominant at the moment, it’s vital that Honda start strongly. Alonso previously drove for McLaren in 2007, when he finished third in the championship – joint on points with team-mate Lewis Hamilton, and only one point behind champion Kimi Raikkonen. At the time, he had a turbulent relationship with team principal Ron Dennis, though they have since patched things up. McLaren should provide Alonso with a strong car for 2015, but the move benefits McLaren a lot more than it benefits Alonso.
These moves will really shake up the paddock for next season. Red Bull’s sister team Torro Rosso provided them with Daniel Ricciardo last season and now they will see Daniil Kvyat do the same in 2015, as the team continue to show unwavering faith in their young drivers programme. With Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and Williams settled on their drivers for next season, the other question is who will Alonso’s team-mate at McLaren be? The favourite is young Dane Kevin Magnussen who has shown some promise this year, despite being out-performed by the experienced Jensen Button. Although Button is the faster driver, McLaren may decide to stick with Magnussen as they build for the future. It’s a real shame for Button, as there are few competitive seats he could take next season.
There may be an opportunity at Lotus, though they are likely to stick with their current line-up. Cash-strapped Sauber have not announced their line-up for 2015, though it is highly unlikely they will make a move for Button. The Swiss outfit are likely to run two pay drivers next season with Esteban Gutierrez, Sergey Sirotkin and Giedo van der Garde vying for the two race seats. Despite being one of the fastest drivers on the grid, this may well be Button’s final season in F1.
All this raises more questions than it does answers, but sometimes that is what makes Formula One so unique. Each year is filled with talk about how the next season could be the best yet and next year will be no different. Of course, we still have the small matter of this year’s title to decide first. It’s going to be a very interesting few months on and off the grid.
Jason Coulter, Pundit Arena.