Renault and Red Bull on Webber's list for race seat
Saturday 05 August 2006
First there was the news of Jacques Villeneuve being replaced at Sauber-BMW by the Polish driver Robert Kubica. Then Alexander Wurz succeeded Mark Webber at Williams for next season. Simultaneously, Ferrari confirmed that they do not want Kimi Raikkonen to go to Renault, just as rumours suggested that their technical director, Ross Brawn, would be taking a year's sabbatical from the Scuderia to go fishing, thus threatening to break up the "super-team" in which Michael Schumacher has so long been cocooned.
Yesterday, as the dull conditions here in Hungary reflected the slow pace of the event thus far, Webber further fuelled a busy news week. The 29 year-old Australian is nobody's fool, nor is his manager, Renault's managing director, Flavio Briatore. It is clear that Webber did not go on to the market on the evening of last weekend's German Grand Prix without having something in prospect. While Williams are unable to afford his $5.5m [£2.9m] pay in 2007, either Renault or Red Bull Racing could. He smiled when it was put to him that whoever he drives for will begin with the letters r and e.
"Clever," he acknowledged. "Williams had a choice to take an option up for a further two years and they weren't in a position to do that so we agreed that we would try to make it work, even if they couldn't have come to an agreement with the original terms in place. But in the end we decided to... Flavio said OK, let's go on the market and go from there."
The smart money ought to be on Briatore placing his driver at Renault. But yesterday fresh speculation coincided with on-track dramas for the rising talent of GP2, the Briton Lewis Hamilton, to suggest that Briatore may "place" Webber at McLaren-Mercedes for a year so that Renault can run Giancarlo Fisichella while breaking in the rookie Heikki Kovalainen. Webber would go to Renault for 2008 in place of Fisichella, his place at McLaren being taken by Hamilton, who would have been further seasoned by a year of testing.
Others sources say a deal has been done with Red Bull Racing. This is only likely to be an option as Red Bull and Ferrari wait to see whether Felipe Massa will need a drive next year if Michael Schumacher decides to keep racing.
The only certainties were Massa's pace in dominating yesterday's afternoon practice by 1.3sec, and Renault's decision, after all, not to run their controversial mass dampers. Alonso and Fisichella were second and third fastest, and seemed happier with their cars.
"The mass damper did not affect anything at Hockenheim in the race there," the Spaniard insisted. "We saw that we had a lot of problems with the rear tyres that we didn't expect. We had some big blisters - and you know you can put on as many mass dampers as you want but the rear blisters will be there anyway. We probably did a bad compromise with the rear end of the car and it was unexpected. So we know what we can do for that and for here it will be much better."
Maybe so, but the strain is showing. After screaming over the radio about Michael Schumacher's antics in qualifying in Germany, Alonso was in trouble yesterday after gesticulating angrily at the Dutchman Robert Doornbos after he had been blocked by him, before weaving slightly at him and appearing to give him a brake test at the next corner. It was uncharacteristic of a notably gentlemanly champion.
The stewards decided that alonso's actions were "unnecessary, unacceptable and dangerous." He has received a 1sec time penalty, to be added to his fastest lap times in each of the three qualifying sessions.
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