Whether they like it or not, Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa are the central players in Formula 1’s traditional ‘silly season’, with their respective team managers from Lotus and Ferrari claiming that they both intend to keep their drivers for the 2014 season.
Räikkönen has been at the centre of a host of stories suggesting he will move away from Lotus, with whom he has been racing since he made his Formula 1 comeback in 2012.
It was understood that the Finn had been in competition with Daniel Ricciardo to take over the soon-to-retire Mark Webber’s seat at Red Bull Racing, but a host of conflicting stories have emerged.
Räikkönen’s camp claims that negotiations with the Milton Keynes squad were unsuccessful, while Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner has – as recently as last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix – suggested that the 2007 World Champion should not be ruled out of the team’s plans.
An added factor is the financial state of Lotus, which could affect the team’s ability to re-sign its star driver should his financial demands become too steep for the team. Provided the team can gets its bank balance sorted and secure a long-term engine deal under the new turbo regulations, team principal Eric Boullier believes that Räikkönen will remain on board.
“I am [confident],” he told Sky Sports. “He loves the team, he likes to be here, and he likes the environment we have created for him.
“But you need to be rational: we have to sort out the strength of the team financially and there is a technical [engine] challenge we face for next year. It is still up in the air, but as soon as we know we can deliver what he wants then we will obviously sit down.”
That hasn’t stopped figures from rival outfits – Horner from Red Bull Racing and McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh – trying to destabilise Lotus’ overtures, with Whitmarsh joining the fray by offering his own two cents on Räikkönen’s future plans.
“Obviously Kimi is determined to go somewhere else and I sense that he will not succeed in that goal, so let’s see how he gets on there,” he told Formula1.com.
The Woking team boss also admitted that his outfit had held talks with Räikkönen last year, prior to the Finn re-signing with Lotus for the 2013 season.
“I probably shouldn’t be, but I’m completely open – last year we had talks with him, but for various reasons it didn’t happen,” he added.
“This year we’ve had no talks – yet. Kimi has always been great and I am a big fan of him. We are not talking to Kimi at the moment, so let’s see what happens in the drivers’ market.”
Whitmarsh had recently indicated his desire to keep his current line-up of Jenson Button and Sergio Pérez, so his comments could be interpreted in many ways…
Another more incredulous story that emerged over the weekend at Spa-Francorchamps was that Räikkönen would take over the seat of his former Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa, with the Brazilian enduring yet another dreadful run of form after a strong start to his season.
Massa remains the other cork in the driver market bottle, and the Brazilian will have to deliver strong results in the back half of the season if he is to be retained beyond the end of this season, according to team principal Stefano Domenicali.
Aside from the rather far-fetched Räikkönen-Ferrari rumours, no less than three other drivers – Nico Hülkenberg, Paul di Resta and Jules Bianchi – have been linked as possible replacements for the underperforming Brazilian, whose form has been wildly inconsistent since his return from a career-threatening eye injury almost four years ago.
Nonetheless, Domenicali believes that Massa deserves the opportunity to prove his worth, and stressed that the team’s ideal line-up – as its heads into vastly different technical regulations next year – would be an unchanged one.
“Everybody wants to drive for Ferrari,” he told the Formula1.com website.
“We have to wait and see. My favourite choice would be, of course, to keep Felipe because Felipe is a very good guy – very dedicated to the team – and when you look around there are not so many drivers out there that you swap and they immediately deliver.
“But, of course, we need good results from Felipe, so that’s why we will not rush as we have to make the right decision for the team. As soon as we have made up our minds we will announce it officially to silence the rumours once and for all.”