Once a driver makes his mark in Formula 1, rumors begin to circulate that he’ll be off to Ferrari. It’s only natural. Ferrari is the most illustrious team in the history of the sport. And they also have the deepest pockets.
Michael Schumacher left a very strong-looking Benetton team at the end of 1995 to go to Ferrari at the urging of his manager Willi Weber. Schumi was skeptical. “Why should I drive one of those red cars that I’m always passing in my Benetton?” he allegedly said. Weber encouraged him to take the long view.
The long view, of course, was code for “deep pockets.” Schumi (and Weber, who was known in the paddock as Mr. Twenty Percent, a reference to his cut of Schumi’s earnings) enjoyed an immediate and substantial pay hike when the German ace joined the Scuderia.
When Schumacher began his first retirement, Kimi Raikkonen took his place. Was the Kimster interested in being a part of the Ferrari heritage, or did he simply covet a Schumi-sized pay day? Good question. The laconic Finn isn’t one to betray an enthusiasm, although he might well have cracked a smile in private when he saw the size of his first Ferrari paycheck.
The Raikkonen-Ferrari marriage wasn’t a match made in heaven, however. Three years down the road, the Scuderia encouraged him to explore new career in the World Rally Championship. Next thing you know, Fernando Alonso had replaced the Kimster, claiming that Ferrari was where he’d always wanted to be, and where he planed to stay until retirement.
There are many other such examples in the Maranello archives. Ferrari attracts some of the biggest marquee names in the sport. So it’s no surprise that Luca di Montezemolo is now hinting that he would like to see recently crowned world champ Sebastian Vettel in Ferrari livery one day. And Vettel, for his part, has admitted that he sees nothing wrong with the idea.
“No question, it is my wish and goal to drive for Ferrari one day,” Vettel said recently. He qualified this somewhat, however, by adding, “But right now I’m happy. I have two more years of contract with Red Bull and we have big plans.”
Red Bull advisor Dr. Helmut Marko has rubbished the idea of Seb in red, however. “It is a natural thing that a racing driver dreams of Ferrari, and Ferrari looks at a great driver like Sebastian,” Marko recently told the German newspaper Bild. “But just for the legend of Ferrari, Sebastian will not leave us.”
Which is a decent point. It’s one thing to be drawn by the lure of an illustrious marque, but if you’re already sitting in a car that regularly outpaces the Prancing Horses, why would you make a change? Unless they made you an insanely lucrative offer, of course.
And as if to underscore the point that Vettel would be wise not to make any hasty decisions about leaving the Red Bull nest, Marko also said of his young German star, “He is smart enough to know that the circumstances would have to be right. He is not going to change as long as Fernando Alonso is still [at Ferrari]. Otherwise he would be stupid.”
Vettel is the favorite son at Red Bull. He wold have to battle for that status at Ferrari, and Alonso would be a much more cunning team mate and rival than Vettel’s current garage mate, Mark Webber. I suspect that as long as Red Bull continues to build competitve, race winning cars, Vettel will be in no hurry to jump ship, no matter how many euros Luca di Montezemolo waves under his nose.