A vast number of mainstream websites – not to mention the usual blogosphere – are running rampant with reports linking almost half a dozen drivers up and down the grid with a seat at Ferrari in 2013.
Clearly, not all of this can be possible. So let’s try and sift through the rumours and identify the facts…
Massa’s contract dilemma
Clearly, the F1 ‘Silly Season’ is well and truly upon us. What is known is that Felipe Massa has a contract to drive for Ferrari that finishes at the end of this year. He hasn’t had a podium finish since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix, and drove woefully for much of the 2011 season, prompting fervent speculation that he could be fired before this season is out.
However, a few set-up tweaks have seen a vastly improved Brazilian in recent rounds at Monaco and Canada, where he made the final phase of qualifying on both occasions. He remains confident of a good showing this weekend at Valencia, and will need to demonstrate continued good form if he wants to have any hope of remaining with the team for 2013 and beyond.
The case for (and against) Sergio Pérez
Sauber’s impressive driver Sergio Pérez is well-known to be on Ferrari’s books as a member of its Driver Academy, and it’s widely believed that he will be slotted into Italian the team as and when (and if) they feel he is ready.
The Mexican has been widely praised for a series of mature performances – claiming a near-win at Malaysia (pictured) and following this up with an impressive rise through the field from 15th on the grid to a second podium finish at Canada – and has some of the best tyre management skills on the grid.
Whether or not he remains part of Ferrari’s long-term plans will ultimately come down to the form he shows over the remainder of the season. If he can land a few more giant-killing results, then he will be an extremely hard prospect to ignore.
What of Mark Webber?
Mark Webber is another driver who has been repeatedly linked with a swansong year at Ferrari, and the rumour mill surrounding his 2013 plans has been going since the beginning of the season.
Despite the rumours linking him to a seat at Ferrari, Webber recently nailed his colours to the mast of his long-term employer, Red Bull Racing, with him he has been driving on a season-by-season contract since 2007.
“The  situation depends on the results I get this year,” he told AUTOSPORT in a recent interview.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m driving very well, and I see no difference with last year’s situation. Obviously there’s plenty of people who would like to come to Red Bull, but the question we have to ask ourselves is: does the team really want to change? Let’s see what happens. I can only control what I do and so far I think I have done that very well.
“At the moment I don’t have a contract for next year, just like at this time last year and just like the year before that. My agreements are only valid from one season to the next one, and at each expiry we have never really gone on the market, in the sense that in the end we have always renewed with Red Bull.”
“There’s been nothing up to now,” he added. “I have no offers from Ferrari. I know people were talking a lot about that, at least until Felipe had a good weekend in Monte Carlo. But if it was all true, then Ferrari would need to field eight cars next year!”
Is Ferrari tempting Vettel?
Similarly, there have been a lot rumours kicking about that Sebastian Vettel could also be on the move to Ferrari, which have been given plenty of air time within the Ferrari camp itself. Overnight, Ferrari Team Principal Stefano Domenicali suggested that the German “could co-exist” with Alonso in the same team, which fuelled yet more gossip that Vettel will be on the move to Maranello.
The cynics would suggest that all of this discussion is simply a ploy by Ferrari to unsettle the Red Bull camp, and it seems to be working. Red Bull Racing’s team principal Christian Horner has been rather vocal of late in stressing how happy the team is with the performance of both its drivers, which would appear to be a bit of a “Back off!” gesture from the Milton Keynes squad.
But the fact remains that Vettel is locked into a pretty watertight contract with Red Bull Racing until, many believe, at least the end of 2015. The team has first option on his services provided he continues to finish in the top-three of the championship standings.
Equally, why would Vettel want to jump ship from a proven, stable and race-winning environment into a team that would not be able to guarantee him the chance to win as many races as he has managed to win with Red Bull?
Of course, he could have signed some sort of letter of intent with Ferrari, but that would no doubt have to have a range of conditions being met in order to satisfy a change of teams. It’s more likely that Vettel is working behind-the-scenes with Red Bull on how to extend their relationship further into the future.
And what of Lewis Hamilton?
The long shot in all of this is Lewis Hamilton, who is also out of contract at the end of his current season – his sixth – with the McLaren F1 team.
To-date, the relationship has yielded him the 2008 World Championship title and a brace of wins, along with a hefty bank balance and a whole bunch of other perks.
But recent years have seen McLaren drop the ball somewhat – particularly in pit stop and race strategy – and there’s little doubt that Hamilton would be enjoying a bigger lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings were it not for a sequence of poor pit stops in the earlier races this year.
So far, Hamilton has given every hint that he would like to remain with McLaren, with whom he’s been contracted since his teenage years.
But the one stumbling block to continuing this marriage could be money. Hamilton commands a substantial dollar value, and recent whispers in the paddock are that the Woking team might not be prepared to offer the sort of salary increase that Hamilton feels he perhaps is worth.
McLaren chairman Ron Dennis suggested during the Canadian Grand Prix weekend that the economic situation will determine how much it can offer the Englishman, and Hamilton himself has predicted a tough series of contract talks with the team as he tries to extend his tenure there.
“Ron is a very tough negotiator,” Hamilton said yesterday. “He was very tough when they negotiated the contract that they have now and I expect him to be the same when we go back in.
“But I don’t see there being many problems, to be honest.”
Ferrari, of course, is well known to pay handsomely for its drivers…
But Alonso will get the final word…
Who the team ultimately decides to take on (or in Massa’s case, keep) will need to final sign-off from Fernando Alonso, who is locked in with the team until the end of the 2016 season.
“Every time is the same with Ferrari: whatever team-mate comes in the future will be welcome,” he told reporters at Valencia on Thursday.
“He will be part of the team and part of Ferrari. Whatever team-mate comes in the future it will not be a problem and we will try to work as we are doing now with Felipe.”
Let’s not forget how badly the wheels came off the wagon when he was paired with Hamilton at McLaren in 2007 (pictured).
Sure, the pair are much chummier now – they’re practically BFFs, if you believe certain sections of the press – but that’s not to say that he wouldn’t react in the same way again in the future, despite being a little older and wiser…
Who can say exactly what will happen?