The 2012 Formula 1 "Silly Season" has finally kicked off with the re-signing of Mark Webber by Red Bull Racing. The Australian had lengthy discussions with Scuderia Ferrari, about joining the team alongside Fernando Alonso, but decided that the Milton Keynes operation still offers him a better
opportunity to win races and the World Championship, even if Milton Keynes is a bit less glamorous than Maranello.
The news confirms something else as well: Ferrari is considering replacing Felipe Massa. It did not take rocket science to guess that this might be the case, but this is confirmation that the Brazilian has not been doing enough to get the bosses in Italy happy. Massa still has only 23 points to Fernando Alonso's 129, which is a hell of a big gap - even if his recent performances have looked a bit better. By contrast Webber has 116 points to Sebastian Vettel's 100. Pretty good for a second driver!
There have some reports that Vettel has agreed a pre-contract to move to Ferrari in the future, but this seems a little far-fetched as there are no signs at all that Alonso is slowing down. It is also wiser to follow the team's long-held philosophy that one should have a Number One driver and a decent Number Two, in the mould of Rubens Barrichello and Eddie Irvine. The second driver has to be fast enough to collect points and keep the Number One on his toes, without putting him under threat. Webber would have been perfect.
Ferrari now finds itself in a quandary. The most cost-effective route is to use a youngster such as Sergio Perez., who is a member of the Ferrari's young driver programme. At 22 the Mexican still has a lot to learn. He is already in his second F1 season with Sauber, but sources at Ferrari suggest that he needs more time to develop. In all likelihood Ferrari will sign Massa for another year and will then replace him with Perez in 2014.
All on Lewis
With Red Bull Racing now decided the focus of the driver market is the future of Lewis Hamilton. His contract with McLaren ends this year and while it is logical for him to stay where he is, the team is not keen to pay him the kind of money he wants and so rumours have been fed out linking him to various other teams.
This is a dangerous game to play as McLaren could decide to call his bluff and replace him with Paul di Resta. That sounds like an idea but one always has to stop and ask: "Does this REALLY make sense?" Lewis is special and McLaren knows it. So, I expect to see a compromise being found and McLaren having the same two drivers in 2012.
Schumacher is another question. The 43-year-old German has yet to say whether he will go on in 2013, but the signs are that he will sign for one more season before allowing di Resta (or Nico Hulkenberg) to replace him. Michael helps sell cars by being Michael Schumacher.
He is doing OK, but no more on the race tracks. That, however, is not the point.
The writer has covered every Grand Prix for the last 25 years
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