Is Ross now on the Horn’s of a dilema?

19 11 2009

My last article discussed McLaren’s options for driver choices and concluded that if Kimi was not going to accept any offer from Woking, there were a pair of tiny little hands that might be quite good. Those competent little hands are still available.

McLaren resolved its dilemma by hiring the World Champion Jenson Button for 6 Million pounds per year over three years. Many Jenson supporters have been disappointed by the news of the defection to the enemy. The press and even Sir Jackie Stewart have questioned the wisdom of the decision. I think it is a great opportunity for Jenson and wish him all the best at McLaren.

One person’s sport is another person’s work

Many people have naturally jumped to the conclusion that Jenson simply followed the cash cow. Certainly Brawn were mostly sending out a message that it would only go so far to secure his services (limit being about 4 million pounds). It is rumoured and likely to be true that they did raise this to 8 million when the wabenzi took control of their company.

I think an important point missed, is McLaren were giving Jenson a three-year contract. Both teams wanted to start the 2010 season with the Number 1 on their cars. Jenson and his negotiating party had used his salary cut from the heady Honda days as ammunition to gain public support fuelled by emmotional media headlines.

Given that the previous season he scored a massive 3 points, even if his salary was now only 3.1-3.5 million Jenson was still looking the most expensive driver on the grid in terms of cost per point at the start of the season. Sure during the season he amassed numerous points, wins and helped secure both championships and his salary was finally met with appropriate results. I say well done Jenson now you can move on and establish your reputation as a driver.

Jenson was not Mercedes long term option

I am sure Jenson was being only offered either a one or two year contract or for a longer contract at a lesser amount. Mercedes’ longer term vision is to get Sebastien Vettel having missed out on Schumacher scene they did not want to miss out second time round. He is still very young, very fast (especially in the wet) and mostly without an overtaking manoeuvre to his credit. When his current contract ends at Red Bull, if not earlier, he will be recruited. I think Jenson read this message as well and said so long and thanks for all the cash.

Ross will be given a free hand to run the team

Well firstly I doubt that Nico was Ross’s first choice – he was secured by Mercedes to either slot in at McLaren or at Brawn depending on progress with planned negotiations. Up until his cheating during the yellow flags incident at Japan I quite liked the guy. He is very marketable with his flaxen hair and has good communication skills. Intellectually he is no slouch (he was accepted in an engineering programme at Imperial Colleague) and has done enough to convince me he has the driving potential.

No one would deny Nico had less than at least a solid 2009 season. He scored consistently but failed to get onto the podium but scored all of the team’s points. Williams have always fought extremely hard to retain his services and Nico has shown loyalty to the team. Williams did release him this time with uncharacteristically little fight.

Is it just possibly he under-performed given their projected targets? Or is it now the team is going back to being more independent and is cash-strapped? I really like Kazuki, but he was a burden on a team wishing to score points. The final proof was Williams actually lost sixth place – ironically through Nick’s good performance in the last race. Sam Michael has also said Nick compared very well to Robert.

I think Williams had to trim costs so the option of Rubens and the new Nico mark II is a very smart one. Nico I is now Ross’s baby (or burden) and he has to build a team around this German starlet. I think Brawn are genuinely surprised that Jenson split because now they need a second seat kept warm for the arrival of Vettel. I am sure Ross has a free hand on this choice, if not the first choice. So lets review the options

A cheap Nick to replace an expensive Button

The press has latched onto Nick Heidfeld, he is German and obviously Mercedes wants an all German Team. For an international company this is the last thing their marketing department wants. Nick was put up as the second driver for both Mercedes-powered teams, because he a) will come in cheap(ish) and b) it is like a threat either sign this really good driver or you will end up with Nick. By reputation Nick is a “Journeyman” a competent driver at most and too modest for convincing PR duty. To Nick’s fans (including me) this is strange but we have to accept combined wisdom of the media and the F1 fraternity. Both Martin and Norbert have recognised that Nick is under-rated as a driver so I am sure Nick remains a fall back option for Ross.

Nostalgia Returns

Michael Schumacher has been linked to team up with Mercedes having gained a renewed appetite for F1 driving. I think we can discount this or his neck injury was a cover-up for other issues (like the Ferrari F60 was a complete swine to drive). I cannot see the sense in this choice. At most he might be be drafted in for testing and development purposes and I still consider that to be a long shot.

Does the Iceman cometh’

Kimi’s negotiation at McLaren became very public. It is McLaren or nothing, my terms and my freedom or nothing etc etc. no matter how much McLaren would have wanted Kimi he was making himself unattainable. Then, in an even more public way, Kimi announces he will not drive in 2011. Among Kimi’s fans this has been met with borderline hysteria. I am sure this has been an entirely calculated strategy by his manager and they are negotiating with Ross as I write this blog.

I have no idea how successful it will be because Kimi and his team have the third option and that is to get a Red Bull seat at some time in the near future. From a marketing point of view Kimi and Red Bull make perfect sense. Whether Ross takes the bait of Kimi will depend on Mercedes’ purses and the freedoms they will provide him. I am not sure that signing a mega million buck contract with the party animal antics of Kimi will go down terribly well with the struggling factory workers who’s jobs are on the line or lost.

Could it be Jarno, Heikki, or a Sutil?

It now has come down to one of the above. Trulli has another option that he has admitted to (and it will be with Lotus where at least his talent will be recognised). Mercedes and Brawn could take on Heikki as an act of charity but it also looks like you are inheriting another team’s reject. Ironically anyone signing Kimi is actually accepting another reject, but so much better packaged. Ferrari wanted to get rid of the guy at almost any cost (sure to get Fernando – but is he really worth so much?). Sutil would be cheap to buy but will push up the running costs on carbon fibre budget (though with Kimi not around it might almost be worth the risk).

The Ross Brawn Magic

For the second year in a row Ross is going to have to weave some magic. Were I Ross I would steer well clear of Kimi and work on getting Vettel as soon as possible. Draft in an interim driver to support Nico. If it be Nick, market both Nico and Nick as underdogs who have never had the chance to be in consistent race winning cars (and at the same time have a little stab at BMW). If either driver happens to reverse their record books by winning, claim all the credit and start a new fairytale, replacing a British setting with a German one.

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