This afternoon I sat down, along with various press colleagues, with Fernando Alonso, Robert Kubica and Nico Rosberg and all three gave very interesting insights into their thought processes at this important time in the driver market.
It’s quite possible that all three drivers will move teams for next year. Widespread rumour since last Christmas has Alonso going to Ferrari (either next year or 2011), Kubica has a choice of Williams, Renault and Toyota, Rosberg will probably either stay put or move to McLaren Mercedes.
This stage of the season is all about trying to unpick the lock, to figure out what the drivers are thinking about, what their considerations are and which way they are leaning. You speak to as many people on the inside as possible, you speak to the drivers, you form a picture. Today all three men were prepared to play the game, to talk about possibilities, to open the curtain a little onto their thought patterns and it was very interesting.
When you sit with the driver you look for tells; nervous hand gestures, eyes looking away, that kind of thing. Amusingly all three of these men are experienced poker players and neither Rosberg nor Alonso give much away with their eyes or their movements. Kubica is forever playing with the peak of his cap, or stroking his neck or shifting position in his chair. He’s comfortable in the company of the media, however and seems to enjoy playing the game.
He made it clear today that he is looking for stability in his next move, “With a long term collaboration and a stable group you can achieve a lot,” he said. And he definitely doesn’t want the risk of a repeat of what has happened with BMW, where a message lands from out of the blue that the main board has decided to quit F1.
With this in mind, I asked him whether his next team needed to be a manufacturer team and he said no, “My decision will not depend on whether the team is a manufacturer or not,” he said. “Other factors are more important.” Such as the outlook for the team and whether he feels he can move the team forward. But he said that it is hard to know what the future holds so it’s based on a feeling more than anything else.
Kubica is weighing up Renault, Toyota and Williams. Renault would probably pay the most and he has been well paid at BMW. But all drivers are going to have to face the fact that F1 teams are not spending like a sailor on shore leave any more.
Although both Renault and Toyota have signed the Concorde Agreement that does not mean that they will definitely still be around in 2011 or 2012, for example. There is no penalty for them leaving, but they would have obligations to extract themselves from. Both are important engine suppliers, however, so it would be a big deal if they pulled out on several levels.
My own feeling is that Kubica is high on Williams’ list and he would work well there. It’s really a question of whether he feels they are capable of giving him a car which can challenge for podiums and wins and then whether they can find a financial level to agree on. It helps that he will have a year’s contract from BMW as a pay-off.
Rosberg is going through the exact same considerations; he looks very confident at the moment, not surprising when you look at his results of the past six races. He’s really punched above his weight, putting strong weekends together and bagging lots of points mostly fourth and fifth places. He is fifth in the world championship, so ‘best of the rest’ behind the two Brawn and the two Red Bull drivers, which is a tremendous achievement. One or two respected pundits currently have him as their “Driver of the year” He’s having a strong year and he knows it.
Patrick Head said this week that Rosberg “may choose to go somewhere else,” but Rosberg was at pains to point out that this does not mean he is moving. He said that he will make his decision “in the next few weeks.”
“I’m not impatient but I would like to get a car where I can go for podiums and race wins and that is what I’m trying to find for next year. I’m just evaluating whether Williams can do it or maybe somewhere else.”
The main “somwhere else” under consideration is McLaren. Mercedes are very keen after all these years – 250 GPs in total with McLaren – to have a German driver and this year they are spoilt for choice. Glock, Heidfeld and Rosberg are all available and any one of them would do a great job. Rosberg would be the closest to Hamilton on raw pace and he’s shown that he can get results, unlike Heikki Kovalainen. McLaren need two cars scoring points, as they had in the Hakkinen/Coulthard days, especially if they are going to be up against Alonso & Raikkonen or Alonso and Massa in the Ferraris.
For Rosberg the risks of going up against Hamilton, who beat him consistently in karts and junior racing categories, is immense. But he said today that he had proved to himself that he has what it takes to mix it with the best in F1. Now he has to show everyone else. I’ve heard that his Dad, Keke, thinks he should stay where he is.
Alonso is the most experienced of the three at fending off questions about his next move. He managed to spring a complete surprise in 2005 when he announced that he had signed for McLaren for 2007. But this was an agreement swiftly followed by an announcement, whereas the marriage with Ferrari has had a very long courtship.
Today’s revelation was that what motivates him most is the idea of winning another world championship with a different team, ” Winning a world championship with a different (is) one of my motivations and my targets. It will put my self confidence even higher and it will be great for me as a driver. As it is in F1 at the moment it is difficult to know which team has more future.”
Asked how active he was being about finding something else he said, “Very active.”