It’s after the Italian Grand Prix now, with Sebastian Vettel winning and Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber second and third (click here for full details), but I haven’t changed my mind that something is up that will have several drivers playing musical chairs before the 2014 season begins.
As I mentioned in a column written late Saturday night (just scroll down and it’s the entry below this one), Ferrari in the form of its president, Luca di Montezemolo, and the team's No. 1 driver, Alonso, are not happy with each other.
Ferrari doesn’t like him shooting from the lip and Alonso is unhappy that the Scuderia has been unable to provide him with a championship-winning car. When you are a two-time world champion, you want the road ahead to be clear so you can see forever, rather than the current reality of looking up the tailpipes of an Infiniti Red Bull Racing RB9.
I said in the earlier post that if Alonso didn’t win the race Sunday, or else finish on the podium, that he’d be gone from Ferrari in 2014 because they would ask him to leave. So he was second on Sunday but he lost again to Vettel and my thinking now is more that Alonso will leave rather than be dismissed.
Why? A friend of mine, Rick Morris, emailed me some thoughts and it opened my eyes to a few scenarios.
What, for instance, would happen if Alonso went back to McLaren? Perhaps McLaren has got something up its sleeve and will make a Great Leap Forward in 2014. If that’s so, they need a No. 1 driver because the two guys who are there now – Jenson Button and Sergio Perez – simply won’t be able to get the job done.
They can’t get rid of Perez, because their big money Mexican sponsorship going forward depends on him being in the team. But Jenson’s best years are behind him and it’s time to move on.
Enter Alonso. Returning to McLaren would allow him to take care of some unfinished business and would give the team the racing driver they’ll need to challenge for podiums and victories in the next few years.
Button would continue in F1, by the way, by taking Kimi Raikkonen’s place at Lotus because Kimi would move to Ferrari to fill the hole left by Alonso.
Having said all that, Ferrari will have to be very careful how they handle the Alonso situation. I was at the Colossus Theatre in Vaughan on Sunday morning to watch the Italian GP on one of the big theatre screens. I have no idea how many people were there – lots, though – and many were members of the Ferrari Club of Ontario.
Whether this is reflective of anything, I’m not sure, but I sensed that Alonso was a crowd favourite, certainly more than Massa. If there is to be a divorce, then, only a Raikkonen could keep the tifosi from rebelling.
It’s a shame what’s happening to Formula One at the moment. There is not the depth of talent in the field that there was 10 or 20 years ago. Perez was promoted from Sauber to McLaren and was expected to dazzle and he’s been a big disappointment. And I suggest that Red Bull is not going to be all that happy with Daniel Ricciardo once Webber gives up the seat behind Vettel. It's not that Ricciardo isn't ready; I just don't think he's good enough
The reason Alonso might go to McLaren and Raikkonen might go to Ferrari and Button might go to Lotus is that there ain’t nobody better out there nipping at the heels of the front-runners. It shouldn’t be like that; there should be drivers with promise, waiting in the wings for their chance.
Right now, there just aren’t any.
It’s Sunday morning and the Italian Grand Prix will start soon (seven to eight hours from now, actually, as I’m writing this around midnight) and here is my latest prediction:
If Fernando Alonso doesn’t win the race, or take some sort of place on the podium, he won’t be at Ferrari in 2014. Kimi Raikkonen will be, instead. In fact, Kimi will be No. 1 with Felipe Massa remaining in the saddle as his backup.
Alonso was reprimanded earlier this season for mouthing off about Ferrari and Saturday, during qualifying, was heard in a radio transmission calling the team "idiots" for not insisting that Massa hang back and give him a tow in an effort to challenge Red Bull for the pole.
Alonso later said that people misunderstood his words and that he’d actually called the team "geniuses."
Sure he did.
So he’s on thin ice and there is no such thing as tenure in F1. When Alain Prost complained about the Ferrari back in the Nineties, they gave him the pink slip.
Watch Alonso this morning. There is no doubt he is one of the great race drivers of our time. If he comes through, and is one of the top three at the end of the day, he might take the heat off. But if he’s not on the podium, I suggest his time at Ferrari is limited.
I am one of the great Monday Morning quarterbacks. I can tell you what every losing NFL team should have done to avoid being shellacked on Sunday. I will beat Don Cherry to the punch and state, unequivocally, that Nazem Kadri is getting lousy advice from his agent and it could ruin his career. (See, I really do know what I’m talking about.)
And I was sitting on the sofa in my Family Room last night yelling, "Stay out! Stay out," at Ryan Newman as he headed for the pits with eight laps to go in the last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race before the Chase for the Championship.
The Chase, in case you've recently arrived from Mars, is the NASCAR playoffs. The top ten drivers in points get to challenge for the championship, plus two wild card drivers - generally drivers out of the top ten in points who have won one or more races. Those 12 will now go for the title over the next 10 races; everybody else will race, of course, but won't be awarded championship points.
Now, Newman had to win that race Saturday night to make the Chase; anything less wouldn’t do it. He was in the lead when Clint Bowyer spun with eight laps to go. You know how NASCAR is. When there’s a yellow, you can bet they will go three or four laps minimum before they throw the green again. Four laps to go, then, maybe only three, and you’re the leader. The race is at Richmond, which is an oval less than a mile around. You stay out and you’re the leader when they go green. You go into the pits and there’s no way you come out the leader.
So Newman didn’t listen to my advice and went to the pits for tires and came out for the restart in fifth place and couldn’t advance further than third by the time the checkers waved. He wound up tied with Martin Truex Jr. They both had one win but Truex had a better finishing record to this point and made it into the Chase while Newman was eliminated.
In a post-race interview, Newman threw his pit crew under the bus, which is always a very classy thing to do. Ryan, you’re the driver. You make the decision to pit or stay out - regardless of what the crew chief says. He says pit and you don’t agree so you stay out. You went to the pits, which was not smart. I was in Mississauga, Ont.,, and I knew you were making a mistake in Richmond, Va., which is 900 kilometres away. I tried to tell you, but you weren’t listening. In the end, it’s your fault you didn’t make the Chase. Nobody else’s. You’re the driver, not them.
Having said all of the above, it was a very exciting last 50 laps as one second Joey Logano is out and Jeff Gordon is in and the next second it’s reversed. In the end, Logano squeezed into the playoffs by a point over Gordon, who missed the Chase for only the second time in his career.
Some pundits are picking Logano to win it all. They are forgetting Jimmie Johnson.
There were no other surprises. We already knew Brad Keselowski was going to miss out. He did.
Here is another prediction. Because of something that happened in the race at Richmond last night, I suggest Keselowski will dump Kevin Harvick at some point during the 10-race Chase. Harvick had better hope it’s not when the Chase is right down to the wire and he’s a contender because Keselowski won’t wait till next year and could just as soon take him out in the last race as he could next week.
Kurt Busch looked genuinely emotional about making the Chase with the little one-car Furniture Row team. Of course, he’s leaving that outfit to go race with Stewart-Haas in 2014, which frankly makes absolutely no sense to me because he seems like a mellow guy now and before ten races are up next year he will be back to being his old obnoxious self.
Quickly: The NASCAR Canadian Tire Series race at Barrie Speedway was rained out last night and will go today, weather permitting. Qualifying at 11:30; racing at 1:30 . . . Sebastian Vettel won the pole for the Italian GP with Mark Webber second and Nico Hulkenburg third. . . One last thing about NASCAR. Many, many people have talked this week about NASCAR allowing Chase Elliott to win that truck race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last Sunday after a full-out assault on Ty Dillon at the last corner of the last lap. Most suggested there is a big difference between "moving somebody out of the way" and just driving straight into somebody. It seems like school's out in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series too. Both Friday night and last night, the eventual winner - Keselowski Friday night and Carl Edwards Saturday - jumped the start on the last restart and weren't called on it. Dale Jarrett, a pretty good race driver in his day and a pretty good NASCAR announcer, said that NASCAR might suggest it has its reasons for not throwing the yellow and ordering another restart "but it's wrong."
Good call, Dale.