Fernando Alonso took his third win of the season at the German Grand Prix last Sunday. Of his contemporaries, only one has managed to win more than one race. To make this feat all the more impressive, Alonso started the season in a Ferrari not even capable of making it into the top ten in qualifying, yet here he is at the halfway point of the year with a 34 point lead in the drivers’ championship. However, Ferrari are currently languishing 53 points behind Red Bull in the parallel constructors’ championship. This would appear to be because of Alonso’s team-mate, Felipe Massa. After having spent seven seasons at the Scuderia and with his contract up for renewal at the close of this season, Massa’s Ferrari days must surely be numbered. But who would replace him next year if he was to leave?
First of all, it is certainly not a given that Felipe Massa will leave the team. Many in the paddock believe that current world champion Sebastian Vettel has signed a contract with the Italian team for 2014, so if this scenario rings true then Alonso’s team-mate for 2013 will be nothing more than a seat warmer for Vettel. To this end, is there really any point in upsetting the swing of things in the second car? Massa could eke out his contract for one more year and then retire after 2013, to have his seat taken by Vettel after that. It must be remembered that in his prime Massa is a quick driver - after all, this is the man who made Lewis Hamilton fight for his world championship all the way until the last lap of the last race of the year. Remember also his efforts in the 2009 Ferrari, a flawed machine, which he managed to wrestle onto the podium at the round immediately preceding his horrific accident in Hungary. If not for that, then it is not out of the question that he could have won a race in the second half of that year. The downside of Massa staying is that if he carries on the form he has currently found himself in, then the team will not be taking the constructors’ title anytime soon.
One name that does keep cropping up in discussions of this nature is Sergio Perez. The Mexican, who is currently at Sauber, has already taken two podiums this year. In Malaysia earlier this year he pushed Alonso all the way and narrowly missed out on the win himself. Likewise, his podium appearance in Canada showed his maturity - he fought through the field by looking after his tyres while other drivers began to struggle on their worn Pirellis. Another advantage for Perez is that he is already a high-profile member of the Ferrari family. He has tested past machines for the team and drives with a Ferrari engine in the back of his Sauber. Looking at that evidence alone, surely it is only a short time until he is called up to drive alongside Alonso. The question is; will he want to play second fiddle to the Spaniard? He is a talented driver in his own right, and given the right car may even be championship material, but it has become clear that Alonso’s team-mate is not allowed to fight for titles. They are Alonso’s alone. Peter Sauber would also not be willing to give up his young Mexican prodigy.
Adrian Sutil is an outside bet, but possible all the same. After spending many happy - and sometimes fruitful - years at Force India the German showed his immense speed. Following his being pushed out of the Silverstone-based outfit for this season he has been left looking for a drive, and he would settle for any involvement at Ferrari. Unlike some other teams, even Ferrari’s large team of reserve drivers get to drive the cars, albeit at demonstration events, and that would keep Sutil happy for a while. Whether Ferrari are actually keen on the driver is another matter; he was infamously given a suspended prison sentence after a scuffle in a Shanghai nightclub in 2011, and has always been known to crash his car just a little too often. That said, these problems could be ironed out by the Maranello team’s wealth of experience in doing just that. Ironically, they did the very same with Massa when he was understudy to Michael Schumacher in 2006.
Another candidate is Robert Kubica, although that depends on his fitness. The Pole was involved in a tragic rallying accident in the 2011 pre-season and has not driven a Formula One car since after the raft of injuries he suffered to several areas of his body. Whilst he has regained the ability to walk and has even driven racing cars since his accident, it remains to be seen if he is the same Kubica who wowed the F1 paddock during his short career. Despite the fact that his single win came for BMW at Montreal in 2008, he was most impressive in 2010 when he drove for Renault (now Lotus). That year’s car was not capable of wins, but on the few occasions that it was fast enough for the podium, Kubica wrung every last tenth out of it and rarely made mistakes. Such a show of professionalism is obviously attractive to a team such as Ferrari, and with the team having shown interest in him in the past, and with him now being out of any form of contract at Lotus, Kubica is a very strong contender for the seat if he is fit enough.
Last on the list of five is Lewis Hamilton. The Briton’s long contract with McLaren is up at the end of this season and it is 50/50 as to whether it will be renewed or not. There are doubts on the side of both parties, what with Hamilton having lost some of the edge he showed in his very early years in the sport, and McLaren never having the fastest car for any long and meaningful amount of time. Add to that the team’s numerous strategy and pit blunders, it is clear that Stevenage-born Hamilton may well want out if they cannot give him a car to win races and championships with. However, what makes a move to Ferrari unlikely is the fact that he would be teaming up with Alonso once again, like he did for his rookie year in 2007. The falling-out between the two drivers was monumental, and whilst the rift seems to have healed in recent years, a team built around Alonso must surely look unappealing for Hamilton. Alonso has even gone so far as saying in the past that he would welcome Hamilton as a team-mate, yet also revealing that he has a say on who he drives alongside. It is unlikely Alonso would relish the thought of teaming up with Hamilton again, after he proved such a challenge in 2007. It is much more likely that Hamilton will stay at McLaren and maybe go to Red Bull in a couple of year’s time once Mark Webber has retired.
In conclusion, of this shortlist of contenders for the seat, no clear frontrunner has emerged. There are pros and cons to all of the drivers mentioned here moving to Ferrari, and the same can be said for those that didn’t make it onto the list. The team could even take a gamble on people like Kamui Kobayashi or Heikki Kovalainen. Whatever the team decide upon, however, it is clear that Alonso will be consulted before any contracts are signed. Ferrari is ‘his’ team now, and that won’t be changing any time soon. Especially if he can clinch this year’s world title.