Breaking Down Where Red Bull Stand in 2014 F1 Driver Search
It's currently the most sought-after seat in Formula 1—a place alongside Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull Racing team.
Filling it, though, is not simple. History tells you that lining up two world champions in a team is rarely a recipe for internal success, and it sometimes compromises on-track efforts as well.
It was thought Red Bull had two options. The first was to promote from within, utilising the Red Bull young driver programme which has, thus far, flattered to deceive. The driver who would change that is Scuderia Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo.
Meanwhile, the second option would be to look elsewhere. Find the most capable driver on the grid, who is available and willing to join. That driver was thought to be Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen.
It appeared a straight shootout between Ricciardo and Raikkonen beckoned. But then, over the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend, a third possibility emerged.
So where does Red Bull stand? Certainly, it appears to be between these three. Let's evaluate that position.
Promotion from Within
Hell hath no fury like a Red Bull boss unimpressed. Just ask Jaime Alguersuari or Sebastien Buemi. Though these drivers wouldn't even have had their chance if it were not for the drinks company's young driver programme, it needs to start yielding results.
Vettel's the only driver who has been a success because of that support, and that means Ricciardo and stable-mate Jean-Eric Vergne need to make their F1 careers last. A large part of that will come down to landing a long-term seat in the senior team.
Christian Horner has confirmed that Red Bull are considering Ricciardo and Raikkonen for the seat, ruling out Vergne http://t.co/MuXak31k9W— F1® Racing on NBC (@F1onNBCSports) July 18, 2013
It's probably too early for Vergne—remember, he has six months less experience racing in F1 than Ricciardo. That's why the hype and speculation has built around the Australian, and that's why Red Bull chose to run him at Silverstone.
Red Bull has all the information it needs on their own drivers. Will that be enough? Probably not. Ricciardo has improved since the speculation mounted, and his qualifying performances have been achieving the maximum from the car.
The problem is that his car's performance can be flattered over one lap; doing it over more than an hour and a half is much more difficult.
Solid points finishes and outscoring Vergne will be key to Ricciardo landing the seat. Even then, it may not be enough.
Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost reckons Daniel Ricciardo's chances of landing the 2014 Red Bull seat are "pretty high" http://t.co/rsbX4RKrea— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) August 1, 2013
That's because there are grand prix winners available. Raikkonen has been linked with the team as a result of his contractual situation at Lotus; the (previous) lack of financial might the team had in comparison to Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren; and the squandered opportunities of victory this year and last.
Despite concerns to the contrary following a lacklustre title defence in 2008, the hunger still burns. That, and he wants to retain his pride. That's why he returned after a similarly lacklustre time in WRC, which was largely spent crashing cars or running toward the tail end of the main order.
He's a good fit for Red Bull, too. Always a popular guy, his "I don't care" attitude has apparently elevated him to cult hero status. He knows what he's doing.
That attitude also stands him in good stead for a partnership with Vettel—he's far less likely to get involved in inter-team politics or public slanging matches, which we've seen with Webber and also Alonso at McLaren with Lewis Hamilton.
That's not to say he will lie down and take. Raikkonen's demeanour belies the ruthless competitiveness which lies beneath. If Red Bull choose him, he should be a world championship contender—and that's a prospect even Raikkonen is highly interested in.
Alonso is more of a gamble. Not in terms of ability, as he remains arguably F1's greatest all-round driver, of the current crop. But as aforementioned, he has history when it comes to young, fast, golden boys.
It would be a risk. But the rewards could be magnificent. That decision will likely rest on whether there is any truth to the rumour that Alonso's contractual situation came up when his management met Red Bull boss Christian Horner in Hungary...and it will rest on any developing factions within the Ferrari camp.
Spoilt for Choice
Would they risk going for someone not really on the radar, like Vergne, or maybe a real outside shot like Romain Grosjean? Only Christian Horner and Co. can emphatically answer that question, but it would rely on an extreme set of circumstances outside Red Bull's control—like Alonso and Raikkonen signing new contracts and Ricciardo being signed by someone else.
Who Would You Sign As Vettel's Team-Mate?
Where do Red Bull stand? Horner would not be doing his job if he didn't sound out the possibility of signing the best available drivers. That's why Alonso is in the frame now. That's why Raikkonen's been in the running all along.
The ultimate decision will come down to whether Horner feels a short-term deal for Raikkonen would yield greater immediate results, especially given the upheaval regulations which mean an experienced hand to develop the car is a major asset.
It also depends on whether he—and Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost—will allow Ricciardo a third year at the junior team. Verge can certainly justify it; Ricciardo's six months at HRT in 2011 probably rule him out.
So here's the key question: Does Red Bull look within itself, trusting the education they've given the Australian and the judgement they made in supporting him?
Or does the team go for broke, sign a world champion for one, two or possibly three years and bid for success that, ultimately, is no more guaranteed than promoting one of their own whom they have invested in significantly?
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