Sebastian Vettel gives his full approval for Kimi Raikkonen to replace Mark Webber as his team-mate at Red Bull

 

Sebastian Vettel has made it clear that he would accept Kimi Raikkonen as his team-mate at Red Bull next season instead of Mark Webber. Though he made a light-hearted response to the inquiry – "I think nobody could have a problem with Kimi as team-mate, except for [Sergio] Perez" – his humour masked the deteriorating relationship with the Australian driver after five years in the same team.

Webber has refused to be bowed despite Vettel gaining the majority of the glory. But they fell out spectacularly in Turkey in 2010 and again in Malaysia this year, and now rumour suggests that as Webber is finally ready to walk away, the team owner, Dietrich Mateschitz, wants the 2007 world champion, who made such a brilliant comeback last season, as his replacement.

"I could try and have a word, but it's not my decision," Vettel insisted when it was suggested he might stipulate the choice of partner in a team that is known to dance to his tune. "I've been racing with Mark now for a long time, five years. We've done pretty well, so it's always difficult to imagine what happens if things change."

Then he gave his clearest indication yet that the increasing likelihood of winning a fourth consecutive championship this year might prompt a change of team-mate. "In the end of the day you want to challenge yourself. I want to be sat on the grid, nervous, excited to start, to find out who is the best on that day. In a way you hate it because you don't know what's going to happen, but in a way you love it as well because that is the challenge you face. It's the same in any sport.

"Wimbledon's just started. If you could just put the easiest player with one of the favourites in all the rounds and then an easy player in the final, it's not the same Wimbledon crown as playing five hours in the final, five sets, against the world No 1. And therefore I wouldn't mind who comes in. I respect all the drivers, and I certainly respect Kimi. I get along quite well with him. He doesn't talk a lot, but it's the same for all of us!"

So would he be pleased to see the back of Webber? "I'm not really keen on rolling up what happened in Malaysia. I respected Mark a lot before that and I still respect him. On a personal level I think there is a lot of hype produced just because neither of us has problems speaking out that we get along but that surely we are not best friends. What people make of that is 'a horrible relationship, disaster for the team'. But we never had a fight and we have never screamed at each other. We always treat each other with respect.

"Certainly it's not easy to beat him. And much as I respect Fernando [Alonso] and Lewis [Hamilton] I can only judge them from far away because they are with different teams. I can judge Mark much better because I know what he's doing. I know his strengths and weaknesses, he knows mine. And, yeah, certainly he's not easy. I think he is very quick. He has certain very, very strong areas where I am struggling to match him and to beat him."

So would he be prepared to measure himself in the same car against Raikkonen, arguably the best out there together with Hamilton and Alonso? "If you have the opinion you are the best and nobody is able to match you, that's the beginning of the end. I think there will always be someone, in some circumstances, who will be able to match you and beat you. And I'm not trying to find who is the ultimate best driver in Formula One history. I'm not really looking for an answer to that."

Just, perhaps, for a new challenge at Red Bull.

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