Round up, round up. F1’s annual silly season has once again opened for business. Headlines, rumours, and wild Eddie Jordan claims, it’s arguably the most exciting time of year off-track for the F1 circus. This year’s edition see’s the rush for a lucrative 2014 driver-team combination, and no seat is more coveted than that of the vacant Red Bull cockpit. It’s a clear two-horse race, with Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo pulling ahead of, arguably, the forgotten man, Jean-Eric Vergne.
Sitting in the bosom of Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s influence was always there to guide Vergne to the heights of Red Bull Racing. However, having been categorically shunned in favour of Ricciardo for a drive in the RB9 at this week’s Young Drivers Test at Silverstone, alongside a certain three-time world champion, that guidance looks to be somewhat hollow.
It’s hard to see just how, or where, poor Jean-Eric can carry on his F1 career. In his year and a half as a Toro Rosso driver, his stats scream sacre-bleu compared to those of team-mate Ricciardo, having being out-qualified 15-5 by the smiling Australian, and out-raced 13 times to 7. Try taking that with a pinch of salt.
Furthermore, to Vergne’s distaste, comes the corporate PR side of proceedings. Red Bull project a ‘cool and fun’ image that suits Ricciardo and Raikkonen down to the ground. On perceptions made so far, not so much in the case of Vergne. In other terms: if you can pull off a flat-peak cap, you’re certainly on the right track for a crack in a Newey-designed machine. One or two homage helmets at Monaco aside, of course.
With Red Bull seemingly out the question, any hopes would appear to lie with Jean-Eric’s current midfield-rivals. An unsettled Sauber squad, a vastly improved Force India, and an under-performing Williams’s team would appear to be the most likely ports of call, with the likes of the now Ferrari-involved Marussia and Caterham an outside shot. ALL of these options of course rest heavily on whether Red Bull retain their financial support of Vergne should he shift to pastures new.
It’s a desperate qualm for the 2010 British F3 Champion, one that mirrors that of Sebastian Bourdais, Sebastian Buemi, and Jamie Alguersuari, all of-which have found themselves outcasts of Scuderia Toro Rosso in recent years. All four of these drivers arguably deserve a cockpit in the big-time, but in an era where money speaks louder than the tick of the stopwatch, they find themselves – and here’s the danger for Vergne – completely adrift.
In the serious shenanigans of silly season, it would seem that the F1 circus is set to leave Jean-Eric Verne in Grand Prix exile, and far from smiling.