Qualified - The Silliest Rumour In The Silly Season May Just Be True
It's funny how life goes in swings and roundabouts. You feel unloved at one moment and the next you're getting more love than you could ever hope for, and handle. That seems to be the general feeling around the Daniel Ricciardo camp this week. One second the only look ins he can get are from two mid-range teams, the next he's suddenly being slung into a potential top spot.
Let me explain what I'm talking about. News Corp services (including Fox), Yahoo, Speed Cafe and 9WWOS are all reporting this morning that they've gotten their hands on leaked Ferrari documents and emails. These emails are mostly about Sebastian Vettel. Turns out he hasn't been happy at Ferrari of late. Word on the street (pun intended) is that his family is demanding (probably the wrong word to use, but I'll lean into it) more of his time.
And fair enough? I mean Vettel is a multiple time World Champion and also holds the mantle of youngest ever World Champion. That aside Ferrari have been trying to nab the top spot off Mercedes for almost a decade now without success. Vettel is a father and a husband and he spends at minimum three quarters of the year on the road. As you could imagine, everyone has a breaking point.
This aside the documentation is basically a change management plan for Ferrari. It was apparently spurred on by Daniel Ricciardo's sudden departure from Red Bull last year, which at the time exposed a gaping hole in Red Bull's driver management plan and prematurely promoted Pierre Gasly into a top seat for Formula 1. Something that we all know hasn't turned out all that fantastically for Red Bull and ironically has had Helmut Marko talking to Daniil Kvyat's management about a replacement seat (what is it with Red Bull and recycling drivers?).
Anyway, Ferrari names two drivers who have been linked to a potential Vettel retirement. The first is Valteri Bottas, though the writer also notes that discussions with management have had him pinned at Mercedes for the foreseeable future. To me that seems like a fair assessment as well. Valteri Bottas is doing well at Mercedes at the moment and is in the best position in Formula 1 currently to challenge for a World Championship. Why would he give that up?
The second driver is the one which has caught the attention of the media and fans alike. Ferrari talks about high level conversations with CAA Sports about, drum roll, Daniel Ricciardo. Daniel Ricciardo actually signed with CAA Sports late last year after his somewhat failed contract negotiations during silly season.
It seems though that the extra money was well spent on representation, with Ferrari nipping at Ricciardo's heels to partner with Charles Leclerc in the 2020 Formula 1 World Championship Season. In another complete surprise the document also outlines that Ricciardo demanded to have a clause included in his Renault Formula 1 contract which meant that if either Mercedes or Ferrari pursued him during his contract term with Renault he would have right of refusal and a termination clause in his current Renault contract.
Legally speaking, at the time of his contract finalisation last year, Renault Formula 1 and Cyril Abiteboul wouldn't have seen a problem with that clause, with most drivers in both teams locked down until 2021 and both teams having clear list management plans. With Charles Leclerc racing at Alfa Romeo at the time and Esteban Ocon sitting as a reserve driver for Mercedes.
But, ironically, Ricciardo's departure from Red Bull, and Red Bull's lack of a list management plan created a storm in Formula 1 which no-one expected and essentially effected the entire grid. With rookies Alex Albon and Lando Norris both being given premature drivers seats, Pierre Gasly getting given a Red Bull seat, Carlos Sainz being given a McLaren seat and Ferrari making the decision to bring forward their list management plan and switch Kimi Raikonnen and Charles Leclerc.
I can confirm if I was Cyril Abiteboul at the end of 2018, after the entire Formula 1 grid had basically been flipped on its head, and I knew my top driver had a ticking time bomb in his contract in the form of a termination clause, I would be sweating. I would be sweating so much that I could fill an infinity pool.
I can also confirm if I was Cyril Abiteboul in mid-2019, having severely under performed (let's be honest) to an expectation I had set previously for the season and having a frustrated top driver, not because he doesn't like the team but because he keeps rooting out silly mechanical mistakes with his car, I wouldn't be sweating. I would probably be dead.
With all of that in mind, the 2019 season seems to be creating a perfect storm which no-one could've predicted for Daniel Ricciardo. The man who the entire Formula 1 fan base cannot deny, should've had a Ferrari or Mercedes seat last year anyway. Ricciardo seems to be a fan of redemption. Let's see if he truly gets redeemed at the start of 2020.