Daniel Ricciardo or Kimi Raikkonen? This is the choice the Red Bull management team is mulling over this Summer Break, when looking at who should partners Sebastian Vettel next season.
On the face of it, filling a seat in the most consistently competitive car of the last three years is a nice problem to have.
And while both candidates have much to recommend them, both carry a risk, albeit in different ways.
With Ricciardo the risk is obvious – he’s less experienced and although clearly quick, his consistency at a high level has yet to be proven. According to Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, “Daniel is at the beginning of his career, but he has the speed, and the rest you won’t know until you put him in that situation,
but we’ve a reasonable amount of information to make a decision.”
With Raikkonen the risk is more subtle and it’s one which will be playing on the mind of Raikkonen himself. What happens if and when he gets too close to Vettel?
Red Bull has been a well oiled winning machine since 2009; the only time things have got difficult was when Mark Webber got too close to Vettel, as in the incidents of 2010 in Turkey and then at Silverstone with the front wing swap, then more recently in Malaysia.
Raikkonen will want assurances that he would be given an equal opportunity to win before he would commit to any deal.
“Both drivers get the same opportunity,” said Horner.
“It’s down to what they do on the track that determines who is the lead driver or not, and the lead driver at any given time is the one who has the most points.”
This has indeed been the modus operandi of the team during the Webber/Vettel years, but it’s not been without it’s rough spots. When things got tight in 2010 Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz said that he would rather lose the championship than impose team orders.
But fans have developed the impression from some of the things that have happened that there is a conspiracy against, Webber. Some of Helmut Marko’s utterances have not eased this concern.
Raikkonen would present a bigger challenge from the outset and his enormous popularity with fans would increase the risk.
Even if he is possibly a shade slower in qualifying pace, he would be right there on a consistent basis in races, creating the need to make strategy preference calls and many internal headaches.
His challenge would give Vettel a fresh motivation, especially if he wins a fourth title this year. But he would present a greater management challenge too.
Either way, Horner has said that Vettel – who has already said publicly after the Hungarian GP that he would prefer Raikkonen as his team mate next year – will not have a say in the choice of his team mate for next season.
“He hasn’t voiced a preference (internally) either way. He knows Kimi, he knows Daniel,” said Horner
“Both are very quick drivers and would represent a challenge for him, but he has not looked to influence the team in any way as to which way we should be looking.
“We obviously want the two fastest and strongest drivers we can put in the car for next year, and both Daniel and Kimi would represent extremely good options.”
Mercedes looks very strong for the next few years and its well matched and potent driver pairing will give Red Bull food for thought. It is an intriguing dilemma and it will be fascinating to see which way they go.