The big news ahead of qualifying was that Vettel’s best friend forever, Mark Webber, has decided to call it a day. It sounds like this decision was actually made a long time ago (pre-Malaysia when Vettel decided obeying direct orders was optional and Horner showed himself to be a weak team leader).
This will open up a vacancy at a team which has won the last six titles (three each for the Drivers’ and Constructors’). However, it’s also a team that has a clear number one, even if it pretends otherwise, which might make it significantly less attractive than would otherwise be the case. In addition, the rules change massively in 2014. I still expect Red Bull to be up there, maybe even to retain dominance, but the rule change is an opportunity for other teams to gain ground and surpass Red Bull.
Kimi Raikkonen is the name lots of people are talking about… but I’m not so sure. From Vettel’s perspective (and I expect him to have some input if not an outright veto as Alonso would have for a Massa replacement) having an incredibly fast driver who doesn’t really care about anything except winning is not the number two driver team mate he’s been used to. From Raikkonen’s perspective jumping ship from a team where he’s de facto number one to another where the leaving driver suffered the Multi-21 nonsense and the incumbent driver ignored direct orders and suffered no punishment at all is not that tempting.
Raikkonen’s already winning races and fighting for the title. If he moved to Red Bull he couldn’t be sure that he’d be given equal footing (it seems unlikely, frankly) with Vettel, and I think the German’s ruthless enough to try and ensure he doesn’t face a serious challenge.
So, who else is there?
Vergne and Ricciardo have also been mentioned, which is natural as they’re both part of the effective (supposed) feeder team Toro Rosso. However, whilst they’re both driving fairly well I’m not sure either’s set the world on fire just yet.
Personally, I’d go for Hulkenberg, Bianchi or possibly Di Resta (although the Scot does like blaming his team, and even if that’s sometimes legitimate Red Bull will be keen to avoid airing its dirty laundry in public anymore). Both Hulkenberg and Bianchi are very fast, impressive drivers, and both would be keen enough to leave their current teams for Red Bull to agree to (for a couple of years at least) a number two driver status. With Vettel possibly replacing Alonso at Ferrari then, and Button likely to have left McLaren around the same time that would give them time to acclimatise to a top team, get more experience and be in the perfect position to either assume the top job at Red Bull or move to McLaren (or Ferrari if Alonso leaves and Vettel stays put).
Annoyingly, after I wrote the above (which I left in because I often write these articles in chunks and it’s an interesting topic) Horner said there was a three man shortlist of Raikkonen, Vergne and Ricciardo, with the Finn top of the list: http://www.espn.co.uk/redbull/motorsport/story/112949.html
And after that Eddie Jordan, on Inside F1 on Friday, suggested it could be Hulkenberg.
Medium and hard tyres are to be used at Silverstone, incidentally.
Gary Anderson reckoned, during P1, that a one stop would be possible for the likes of Lotus, and that most others would make just two.
P1 was almost entirely washed out, with competitive laps only coming near the end of the session. Given qualifying and the race are expected to be entirely dry this session should be of no value whatsoever, but for the sake of completeness here’s the top 10: Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Maldonado, Hamilton, Gutierrez, Bottas, Vergne, Van Der Garde, Chilton, Bianchi.
P2 was drier, with cars going out right away on the intermediates. Hulkenberg complained that with DRS he couldn’t pass a Marussia, which isn’t great. Rosberg was fastest, followed by Webber, Vettel, Di Resta, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Vergne, Sutil, Grosjean and Alonso.
Hamilton was complaining about feeling very uncomfortable in the Mercedes, but some work was done during P3 and after that he appeared very competitive.
Rosberg was fastest in P3, narrowly ahead of Hamilton. Vettel was third, then came Webber, Grosjean, Ricciardo, Alonso, Raikkonen, Sutil, Di Resta.
It looks like being a Silver Arrows versus Red Bull fight for pole, with the Mercedes more likely to get it. Hard to call between Hamilton and Rosberg, although personally I think the German’s got the edge, just.
Qualifying will be dry, according to the forecasts, which is handy.
The odds for the bets I was most interested in (Rosberg pole and Webber top 3) were pretty poor, so I went for something a bit unusual. On Ladbrokes, I backed the qualifying winning margin to be 0.001-0.15s at 2.2. This has been the case every time from 2010-2012, and I expect the qualifying battle to be very close this year. (No hedge, of course).
Let’s hope qualifying’s exciting and profitable.