Criticism of Formula 1 is at an all time high after what seems to be another season which will be dominated by the Mercedes team.
The silver arrows have taken all but one of the eight Grand Prix victories on offer so far this year, which has led to dwindling numbers in global television viewership and threats from manufacturers to quit the sport.
Worldwide audience figures fell by 5.6% during 2014 and, even with Ferrari’s competitive resurgence this year, the likelihood of growth in those figures seems remote.
Whilst criticism of the sport seems harsh, the critics may be made to eat their own words come summer 2016, however it may require the loss of one of its most brilliant servants.
Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari contract renewal hopes look bleaker by the day. The Scuderia have openly stated that they are happy to wait to offer the Finn an extension to his current deal, sighting better performances from their racing driver that results from the uncertainty.
However, Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene has hinted to the Italian press that, whilst Raikkonen continues his recent run of bad form, other candidates for his seat are beginning to make enquiries.
“If I gave you the list of drivers who have called me since the start of the season [Valtteri] Bottas is one of many,” Arrivabene told Gazzetta dello Sport.
“The Ferrari is the car everyone dreams of driving, but there are only two seats and both are full.”
The Italian’s words may not be conclusive in indicating Raikkonen’s exit, it seemed that Arrivabene gave a cryptic clue when asked if Daniel Ricciardo was one of the interested partes.
“No,” Arrivabene added. “Perhaps he [Ricciardo] does not have my number.”
Ricciardo is hot propety within the F1 drivers market after a sensational debut season in the Red Bull, taking three victories – making him the only non-Mercedes winner that year.
Now, with the Milton-Keynes based squad struggling with their engine and threatning to quit the sport, the Australian has added fuel to the Ferrari move rumour.
“What I want is to win, basically. That’s a lot of my frustration this year, because of that. We’re not in a position to win, and as a driver that’s really the only thing you want,” Ricciardo told reporters including Grand Prix Times.
“With contracts, this and that, it’s not as easy as saying, ‘Yeah, I’ll go to Ferrari, and that’s that’. There are things in place, and from my understanding of contracts it’s not likely that I can get out.
Ricciardo and Bottas, seen here on the podium together, remain favourite to replace Raikkonen (© Octane Photographic)
“Going back on the Ferrari thing it’s obviously nice to be recognised by a team like that. I’ll take it as a compliment, and we’ll see what happens.”
The vultures seem to be circling over the #7 Ferrari and, with the Scuderia’s improvements in pace, the likelihood is that they will be the best contenders to defeat the conquering Silver Arrows next year.
The rules of diminishing returns could mean that Ferrari are set to bring the fight to Mercedes on a regular basis, however they may need to partner Sebastian Vettel with a younger and more consistent driver than Raikkonen.
Bottas and Ricciardo, both without a world championship to their name, both receiving plaudits for their exploits since their entry into the sport, seem to be ready to become regular race and title contenders.
The Ricciardo move may well raise a few eyebrows amongst the Vettel camp, after the Australian seemed to have the better of his German former team-mate in the Red Bull last season. Interestingly, Vettel has responded to the rumours of Raikkonen’s departure by stating he would like the Finn to stay on at the team.
“Obviously I’d like to continue with him [Raikkonen]. We have an excellent relationship and we motivate each other, but it’s not for me to decide and I don’t know the details.” Vettel told Sky Italia.
“He is going through a season of ups and downs, but we are talking about a talent that can do his job to perfection.
“It’s true that this year he has made some small mistakes, but in certain circumstances he was also unlucky, so I think the situation should be considered in proportion.”
Perhaps the four-time world champion could be threatened by the return of a former nemesis that seemed to consistently out-pace him in a team he once called his own. Vettel may also dislike the thought of having Bottas enter his domain with his raw pace and calm demeanour, ironically similar to his compatriot Raikkonen.
F1 will continue to receive criticism throughout 2015, whether it is valid or not. However the horizon of a resurgent Ferrari could be the key to a change in fortunes for the pinnacle of motorsport.
Imagine the starting grid for the 2016 Australian GP, with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in between the Ferrari’s of Vettel and Bottas or Ricciardo, all four with a realistic chance of a win and the world title. Imagine coming into Abu Dhabi in November 2016, with little to no idea of who will claim the world championship.
What better way for F1 to answer its critics with a four way fight for victory in 2016, however, unfortunately, it may mean we have to say goodbye to one of the most talented and oddly charismatic drivers to ever grace the sport.