Ferrari knows that it needs more points than it is scoring at the moment from its second car. Last year Felipe Massa scored only 45% of Fernando Alonso’s points tally. This season so far, described as make or break for Massa by both team boss Stefano Domenicali and Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo, Massa has 4% of Alonso’s points.
And so rumours have begun to swirl again about the possibility of Ferrari hiring Mark Webber to partner Alonso on a short term contract.
The story originated in Spain’s El Confidential, which claimed that the deal was already done and it has been fanned by the Australian media.
Webber, 35, addressed the rumours in a media briefing last night in Mugello. He said that he had not signed anything, but stopped short of denying that there was anything going on.
“Sergio was flavour of the month last week for the Ferrari drive; now it’s me,” Webber said. “I’m focusing 100 per cent on this season and doing the best job for myself and Red Bull Racing. I’m not putting any energy into anything else. We have a whole season ahead before you start thinking about our future. One day there is talk that Jenson (Button) will go to Ferrari, then Sergio, now me.
“I have not signed anything. Just think about my team. We have made a good start to the season, we’ve done only four races and the road is still very, very long before you start talking about the future.”
I’ve written about this before, several times. There has been contact in the past between the two and Webber has been on Ferrari’s radar for a number of reasons; he gets on well with Fernando Alonso and is liked by Stefano Domenicali and others, he’s uncomplicated and he’s fast. He also has a lot of experience and solid engineering understanding, both of which Ferrari prize.
Many people assume that Sergio Perez is the natural choice for the Ferrari team, as he has been groomed by them in much the same way that Felipe Massa was. His berth at Sauber is part of that time-honoured process, and Perez is also a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy. However the Mexican still has a lot to prove. He is only 22 and has only one year’s worth of experience and it is not Ferrari’s way to sign drivers without quite a lot more experience than that. Massa was a bit of an exception, coming to them at 25 after three seasons with Sauber from 2002 to 2005. He also had a stint as Ferrari test driver in the days when that meant covering a serious mileage.
For Perez to be ready for Ferrari will take at least another year if not two. So it is logical, if Ferrari is thinking of dropping Massa, that it should look for a solution for the next two years and Webber is the obvious choice. He is on a rolling one year contract, keeping his options open on both sides.
There are two obvious question marks; he is a very competitive individual, so the thought of moving from Red Bull to Ferrari, if it is not a competitive car, would require some reflection. But as a keen student of the sport’s history, he may feel that with one or two years of his career left, a stint at Ferrari would add a prestigious cap to his career.
There is also the question of “not bad for a number two driver” – Webber’s famous line from the British Grand Prix of 2010 where he was disadvantaged by the team when they gave his front wing to team mate Vettel. This side of Webber is not compatible with the “Fernando is faster than you” school of management at Ferrari, to quote engineer Rob Smedley’s line when asking Felipe Massa to move aside for his team mate in Germany in 2010. Alonso is clearly the point man at Ferrari and Webber would have to find a way of fitting in with that.
Leaving aside those philosophical issues, let’s examine the practicalities. Webber’s position at Red Bull is underpinned by the support of two key people in the team; Adrian Newey and the owner Dietrich Mateschitz. Newey knows him as a reference point and trusts his instincts, while Mateschitz has always supported Webber and has a strong personal relationship with the driver. Webber does his deals direct with the boss.
Others within Red Bull are more keen to see new drivers come into the team, primarily Helmut Marko, who is responsible for the young driver development programme. For this programme to maintain its legitimacy and credibility it needs to produce another top quality driver from Toro Rosso, ready to drive a Red Bull. By abruptly dropping Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi last Christmas they left themselves in a position where they have two inexperienced drivers in the Toro Rosso team, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne. It would be asking a lot of either of them to step up to Red Bull alongside Vettel next year.
Vettel himself took that path but he had done 26 races, many of them in a competitive 2008 Toro Rosso by the time he moved up. Ricciardo has done 15 GPs to date, mostly at the back of the field and will have done 31 by the time this season ends, whereas Vergne is in his first season of F1 and has twice failed to get out of Q1. It would be a gamble to go with either man to sit alongside Vettel, who is a two times world champion at the top of his game in a team built around him.
Webber is on a rolling one year contract and common sense would suggest that Red Bull would be thinking of promoting one of the Toro Rosso drivers in 2014 rather than 2013. But a move by Webber towards Ferrari might force the issue.
Don’t miss the latest JA on F1 podcast out this week, all about how to get the most out of an F1 driver. It’s free to download just click HERE