Mark Webber’s announcement that he is to retire at the end of the current Formula One season sparked off an intense debate as to who will replace the Australian at Red Bull Racing from 2014 onwards.
Webber retires after a relatively successful career in Formula One, which has seen him win nine races and take 11 pole positions. His relationship with world champion Sebastian Vettel has been a major talking point for the last few years, with on track collisions and team orders marring their relationship.
It is expected that Vettel will have a say with regard to who partners him at Red Bull. With it looking increasingly likely that he will defend his world championship crown for a third time, Vettel is undoubtedly the number one priority for Red Bull, having recently signed a contract extension, keeping him at Red Bull until the end of the 2015 season.
Therefore, fans and journalists alike suspect that Red Bull will be unlikely to bring in a driver that could rival Vettel, such as 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen re-ignited his passion for the sport when he returned in 2012, finishing third in the overall standings and notching another win on the way. Raikkonen won the opening race of 2013 too, and unless Ferrari up their game, looks to be Vettel’s closest challenger for the remainder of the season. Many find it unlikely that Raikkonen would be prepared to play second fiddle to Vettel should he join Red Bull, but he is undoubtedly one of the most in-form drivers at present.
It’s more likely that Red Bull will opt to bring in one of their junior drivers, as they did with Vettel when he replaced David Coulthard in 2009. Daniel Ricciardo currently races for junior team Toro Rosso and has amassed 11 points this season and finished in a career best 7th at the Chinese Grand Prix. The Australian also tested for Red Bull at the young driver test in July, where he staked his claim for the vacant seat. Additionally, there is external pressure upon Red Bull to prove that their young driver programme actually works, as it is only Vettel who has graduated to the main team having being part of the junior team previously. Alongside Ricciardo, Sebastian Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari, and Jean Eric-Vergne are just a few names that have made their way in to Formula One having been part of the Red Bull programme but never made it in to the senior team.
Other candidates include Felipe Massa and Paul Di Resta. Massa is out of contract at Ferrari at the end of the current season and is a proven team player and race winner. He would be keen to remain at a top team and his wealth of experience would possibly be attractive to Red Bull. Paul Di Resta is enjoying his most successful season to date with Force India, but is desperate to prove his worth at a top team. Di Resta’s contract expires at the end of 2014 and has been tipped to replace Massa at Ferrari but it’s unlikely he would reject a Red Bull offer. With Vettel continuously being linked to a drive at Ferrari, Di Resta could become an eventual replacement for the German at Red Bull.
Formula One returns on the 26th July after several drivers attended the Goodwood Festival of Speed, an event concerned less with tyre blowouts and more with classic car transport.