- Jul 23, 2014
Speculation is ramping up that Valtteri Bottas will replace Kimi Raikkonen at Scuderia Ferrari next season - and with it, silly season has officially begun in Formula 1.
The report comes from Italian magazine Corriere dello Sport, who wrote on Friday that Ferrari are set to buy out the remaining eighteen months of Bottas' contract with Williams Martini Racing at a cost of €12,000,000, allowing Bottas to replace his fellow countryman Raikkonen alongside four-time F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel. This story has already been refuted by Bottas' manager Didier Coton.
Raikkonen, who returned to Ferrari in 2014 and has an option in his current two-year contract for the 2016 season, has been underwhelming in his second stint with Ferrari. The 2007 World Champion, who won the title over the McLaren Mercedes superteam of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in his first season with the Scuderia, has as of the most recent British Grand Prix scored only one podium finish in this year's Bahrain Grand Prix, his intra-team statistics in qualifying and race results against fellow World Champions Vettel and Alonso have been unfathomably poor, and he has scored just over half the World Championship points this year as his new teammate Vettel, a race winner in Malaysia already this season.
Coupled with a three-race streak of spinning or crashing out during a race that continued in Silverstone, even if Raikkonen scores a dominant victory in Hungary next weekend, it is unlikely that his 2016 option will be picked up before the deadline at the end of July. Turning 36 in October and neither willing to nor needing to finish out the string at a lower-ranked team, Raikkonen's F1 career may soon draw to a close.
His would-be replacement Bottas has been one of the highest-rated young drivers in the Formula 1 paddock since his racing debut in 2013. Despite missing the Australian Grand Prix due to a back injury sustained in qualifying, Bottas is fourth in the championship in his age 26 season, with a podium finish in Canada currently standing as one of only two podium finishes not scored by a Mercedes-Benz or a Ferrari driver.
Dating back to 2014, Bottas has seven podium finishes, and he has finished 24 of his last 27 races in the points with only one mechanical retirement in that timeframe. Bottas also boasts a 29-18 head-to-head qualifying record, though he is only three points up on Williams teammate Felipe Massa this season.
Again, it must be stressed that the deal is far from done, but it would set off a domino effect in the driver transfer market, leaving a very lucrative open seat at Williams Martini Racing that has a wealth of suitable candidates.
Though there are a large contingent of supporters who feel Nico Hulkenberg would be a more effective successor to Raikkonen at Ferrari than Bottas, the 27-year-old German has been linked to a possible return to Williams - where he raced in 2010 as a rookie. Since partnering with Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Porsche in June, Hulkenberg is on a three-race scoring streak with Force India, who just introduced a heavily revised version of their chassis in Silverstone that looks set to elevate both Hulkenberg and his teammate Sergio Perez back into contention for podium finishes. Currently, Hulkenberg is ninth in the championship, three points back of Daniil Kvyat for eighth.
A podium has still eluded Hulkenberg in five seasons as a racing driver, but he has a pole position to his name already (Brazil 2010),and boasts a whopping 47-19 head-to-head qualifying success rate since the start of the 2012 season. That said, extensive studies of his race data show trends of inconsistent performance that may be holding Hulkenberg back from a seat at Ferrari - this according to F1 commentator James Allen.
Another option that has been suggested is Felipe Nasr, the Brazilian rookie currently driving for Sauber F1 Team. Nasr spent 2014 as the third driver at Williams, coupled with a successful GP2 Series campaign in which he finished third in the championship with four wins. This year, despite a mid-season drop in performance from the Sauber C34, Nasr is still holding onto 11th in the championship, with more championship points than any other rookie - and a season-high fifth place in Australia that cemented Nasr's place as the catalyst of Sauber's turnaround in 2015.
Williams also has Alex Lynn, the reigning GP3 Series champion, as an option to replace a departing Bottas. The 21-year-old British driver is already a winner in his debut campaign in the GP2 Series for DAMS, though he is a very distant fifth in the series championship. Lynn left the Red Bull Junior Team in the off-season to align himself with Williams, for whom he currently serves as a test and reserve driver.
Along with the uncertain F1 future of former World Champion Jenson Button, as well as Romain Grosjean's future plans, and the arrival of Haas F1 Team next season, there are many questions that will need a resolution over the months to come. There seems to be real weight to Friday's speculations about Bottas, Raikkonen, and Ferrari - which must command the attention of the Formula 1 world over the weeks and months to come.
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