Silly season roundup
Since I posted about McLaren driver options for next season, I figure I might as well try and get all the silly-season stories out of the way in one go:
Mark Webber: He has stated time and time again that he wants to stick with Williams. I'm not really sure why he's so keen to stay at Williams. I mean it's a team with a great herritage and outside the manufacturer-backed teams it's the best place to be right now. But if you had the chance to join Renault next year, surely you'd take that wouldn't you? OK, there's some romance for Webber at Williams because Alan Jones won his World Championship there and it also has a fellow Aussie as Technical Director in Sam Michael. But compared to the team that has all the momentum right now? All the more strange is that Webber is managed by Flavio Briatore and had a testing role at Renault before his Minardi->Janguar->Williams adventure.
Finnish driver Heikki Kovalainen seems almost certain to get one of the seats at Renault in 2007. He was runner up to Nico Rosberg in the 2005 GP2 season and is currently the team's 3rd driver. That leaves the other seat - Renault could extend Fisichella's contract or hire a current driver - it seems unlikely they'd run another rookie alongside Kovalainen. Possible signings include Webber (as mentioned above) and Kimi Raikkonen. A few months ago Flavio dismissed the chances of Renault signing Raikkonen in what would be a straight swap for Alonso with McLaren. Since then though senior figures at the Renault parent company have said that they are willing to pay to sign a "top driver". Well there's no chance of Michael Schumacher effectively returning to his old team, so that only really leaves Raikkonen, unless you have a relaxed definition of "top driver".
The speculation of the last week has been that Ferrari are in talks to sign David Coulthard for 2007. What was originally just paddock talk became full-on rumour-mill material when DC refused to discuss it in a press conference at the British Grand Prix. At first sight it seems pretty fanciful that the driver who looked like he might be out of the sport altogether after McLaren dropped him, would now be in line for a seat at Ferrari. But he has done a solid job for Red Bull and without Klien or Liuzzi scoring many points, they must be glad they signed him. He has experience with the Ferrari engine this year (not that I think that really counts for much) and seems to get along well with Schumacher these days (taking the heat off him with the GPDA for example). If Ferrari can't get the signature of Kimi Raikkonen for 2007 or if Schumacher retires, they could certainly do a lot worse (by retaining Felipe Massa for example).
Then there is the thorny subject of Jacques Villeneuve... In an in-depth interview with Autosport.com, Dave Richards rehashes the whole Villeneuve debacle for the umpteenth time (and yes, he's as bored of telling the story as we are of hearing it). Richards claims that with JV's contract accounting for such a large percentage of BAR's budget and the BAT directors wanting him to get the team in order ahead of a possible sale, he made JV an offer that he could refuse: Stay a BAR driver in 2004 but we won't pay you any more than what we're already paying your for the years up to 2004. He was effectively asking JV to drive for free (plus some expenses and bonuses). Unsurprisingly JV refused, thinking he'd easily get a better offer elsewhere. History records of course that not only did he not get a drive elsewhere, but he also as a result missed out of the change to take many podiums (and collect the bonuses for them) in what would be BAR/Honda's best year to date.
Peter Sauber signed JV to a two-year contract for start of 2005 and then sold his team to BMW at the end of that year. There was plenty of talk before the start of the season about whether BMW would honor the contract and keep JV this year. In the end it doesn't look like they had much choice and it's just as well - after enduring a tough 2005, JV has done an excellent job in the BMW-Sauber this year. There remains every possibility that BMW will sign JV for an additional year even though they seem keen to promote current 3rd driveer Robert Kubica to the main place alongside Nick Heidfeld (who's already under contract for 2007). If JV doesn't stay at BMW, there is a lot of speculation that he will go to Toyota to replace a retiring Jarno Trulli. Ralf Schumacher is still on a long-term contract there.
Juan-Pablo Montoya's manager has, we are told, been frantically looking for a full-time drive for him next year. McLaren are almost certain to drop him even if Kimi does leave as expected. Renault don't seem particularly interested. Ferrari likewise. BMW already have drivers vying for seats. Williams are sorted unless Webber decides to leave, but they won't take Montoya back and Montoya wouldn't crawl back to Williams as long as Sam Michael is still employed by them. Red Bull and STR have their own stable of drivers. Honda have two drivers under contract. MF1 and Super Aguri are a fate worse than death. That just leaves Toyota which would leave JV and Montoya fighting for the seat alongside Ralf Schumacher. I'm not sure which one I'd pick out of those two personally.
I'm not sure what will happen to Giancarlo Fisichella if Renault drop him as I expect. There seems to be a dichotomy in modern F1 where there are a few drivers the teams would pay millions to have and then the rest of the seats are filled by "the next big thing". There aren't many seats available for journeymen like Fisichella anymore. It's hard to feel sorry for him - he will have had a championship winning car for two seasons at the end of this year and if he's only won a few races, well, he can't blame it all on bad luck. He seems too young to retire (although now I look it up, he is a year older than me!), so maybe he'll get a 3rd driver role somewhere, but my personal feeling is that he won't be racing next season.
Speaking of Fisichella, this isn't really silly-season news, but I'll stick it here as it doesn't really deserve a post all of it's own: He has today started a legal action against Eddie Jordan over money he claims he was owed from his time there in the 2003 and 2004 seasons. It's interesting that he's sueing Jordan the man instead of Jordan the team, now Midland F1 of course. I don't think anyone needs reminding that Eddie was on the plaintiff side the last time he visited the high courts where his case against Vodafone was thrown out, but not before he received a verbal dressing down from the judge.