Just when you thought F1’s annual ‘silly season’ was over, it rears its ugly head once more.
Ross Brawn has confirmed he will be leaving Mercedes at the end of 2013, while Lotus have announced they will be choosing between Williams refugee Pastor Maldonado and Nico Hulkenberg to fill the vacant seat left by Kimi Raikkonen at the Enstone team next season.
Both developments have serious ramifications for F1.
Ross Brawn’s departure from the team he saved from destruction at the close of 2008 is mystifying, to say the least.
Why have Mercedes chosen to replace a man who has overseen the winning of eight driver’s titles with Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button and, more importantly perhaps, the same number of constructor’s championships with Benetton, Ferrari and Brawn GP?
Removing his undoubted skills and talent from the pit wall in 2014 is ostensibly to make way for the incoming Paddy Lowe. Brawn claimed earlier this year that if he was to stay at Mercedes, he wanted to be ‘the reference’, the ‘go-to man’ for Formula One operations trackside undertaken by the team. It has been made clear that his hardline attitude is what has cost him his job, with Mercedes unwilling to give the Englishman the control and influence he desires.
So what next for Brawn? A fishing sabbatical, as he did in 2007 after leaving Ferrari? Maybe not.
He has been linked with heading up Honda’s development program as they prepare to supply engines to McLaren from 2015 onwards, but sources in F1 have denied he will be working with the Woking-based team. Additionally, Brawn reportedly did not see eye-to-eye with the Japanese management when he was overseeing their disastrous F1 efforts in 2008. That he rescued that team and made it double World Championship winners in 2009 is proof to anyone that his talents should soon be snapped up.
Lotus Facing Decision
Speaking of talent, few now doubt Nico Hulkenberg has plenty of it. What he doesn’t have though, is money. Something Pastor Maldonado can promise in abundance.
Lotus is sailing a stormy path through turbulent financial waters at present and despite on-track results is strugging to make ends meet. That they are choosing between Maldonado and Hulkenberg is no surprise, but it highlights the depths of Lotus’ woes if they are seriously considering taking on a man who is, at best, a very competent ‘pay driver’.
Are we being unfair to Mr Maldonado? Possibly.
His 2012 Spanish Grand Prix victory seems but a distant memory now, the highlight of three very disappointing seasons for Williams. Therein lies the key; Maldonado has never consistently been given the tools to get the job done. When he was supplied, he delivered; after all, where was Bruno Senna that weekend? If his talent happens to come with a hefty chunk of South American petro-dollars, so be it.
Nico Hulkenberg doesn’t have the advantage of being a proven race-winner, but there’s little doubt the German will one day mount the top step of the podium. What is in question is his judgement – especially on the contract side of motorsport.
A single year at Williams, Force India then Sauber is not a good way to build development and harmony for a driver, and although Sauber has picked its game up since the summer break, they will be unlikely to give the German a car capable of fulfilling his promise.
You can’t find holes in his on-track record however. He has every chance of ensuring there are two German drivers dominating Formula One over the next few years should he end up in the right equipment.
To outsiders the choice may look simple. All three men concerned know that is certainly not the case.