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Tied up in knots over Vettel to Ferrari

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Tied up in knots over Vettel to Ferrari
Oct 15, 2012, 7:28 PM

Ferrari's mysterious blogger, The Horse Whisperer has made one of his occasional interventions on a day when the BBC F1 website ran a story with a ...

Ferrari's mysterious blogger, The Horse Whisperer has made one of his occasional interventions on a day when the BBC F1 website ran a story with a strong line that Sebastian Vettel is headed to Ferrari in 2014.

And, as always, the Whisperer's view is interesting for what is said and for what is not said.

It started with the BBC F1 site, where this morning's headline was "Ferrari plan for arrival of Vettel"

Underneath the thrust of the argument was, "Ferrari sources say they already have a deal in place with double world champion Vettel, with an option for the 25-year-old to join them in 2014," adding that, "Vettel's potential move to Ferrari has been sanctioned by Fernando Alonso, their number one driver."

Later in the day a couple of lines were added: "But Red Bull team boss Christian Horner insists Vettel will not leave. He told BBC Sport: "Sebastian Vettel, without a shadow of doubt, will be part of the Red Bull Racing team in 2014."

The Horse Whisperer ran a post mid afternoon ridiculing the story of a "presumed agreement between Vettel and the Scuderia – however inexistent (sic)".

The Whisperer pointed out an interview Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo had given this morning on Italian radio - before the BBC Online story broke - where, as the Whisperer put it he, "again put off all discussion about who might drive alongside Fernando Alonso in 2014 – after all, given that we don’t yet know who will have that role in 2013 there is not much sense in talking about the long-term future."

What Montezemolo said was, "In the last 20 years I've always said I don't want two roosters in the henhouse. I want two drivers who drive for Ferrari, not for themselves. I don't want problems and rivalries. Two roosters damage equilibrium and create tension."

The Whisperer was critical of the cut and paste type F1 websites that had leaped on the Vettel-to-Ferrari bandwagon and then later in the day did a 180 degree U Turn taking Montezemolo's line as a total rebuttal,

"This phrase (about roosters and henhouses) was immediately picked up by a wide range of sources, many of whom were exactly the same ones who had just written the precise opposite, as the denial of a possible partnership – which remains completely hypothetical, better to stress that before someone takes advantage of the poor Horse Whisperer – made up of Alonso and Vettel," wrote the Whisperer.

At its heart was a subtle point and not everyone will have appreciated its full nuances, as he went on to leave some wriggle room,

"It’s a pity that Montezemolo had simply stated a principle, nothing more, nothing less. At Ferrari there will be room for anyone who demonstrates they have the talent to drive a scarlet car and to work in harmony both with and for the team."

This is because Montezemolo himself had issued a clarification after the BBC story came out, saying, "I was making a general point, there is room at Ferrari for anyone who shown he has the talent to drive the red car and knows how to work in harmony with the team."

I know who writes the Horse Whisperer column and he's a prominent figure within the Scuderia, so this is a careful message.

So what's going on here with this non-denial denial?

Well as with any story of this kind, first of all there is always the tactic of destabilisation. This is a story which destabilises the internal harmony at Red Bull at a crucial moment in the championship. If it turns out to be true and Alonso is in on it at this stage, then it will not be destabilising for him and Ferrari, mystifying though it is.

Vettel to Ferrari alongside Alonso would be one of the biggest stories of recent F1 history, up there with Senna and Prost at McLaren in 1988-89 and the fall-out from Alonso and Hamilton at McLaren in 2007.

Alonso is an extraordinary driver who gets the maximum from the equipment and knows how to lead his team to compete for a championship; since 2005 he has been in contention in five of the eight championships and has won two of them.

But all the evidence from Alonso's career shows that the one thing he cannot cope with is being beaten in qualifying or a race by a team mate. So as Ferrari has based its team around him since 2010 and he has another five years with the team, it makes no sense to put a driver like Vettel alongside him. As Montezemolo also said in his interview today, it leads to internal tension and problems.

The stories of Vettel having some kind of agreement with Ferrari have been around for a while, but were given fresh impetus today by the BBC story. The Corporation is still riding high from Eddie Jordan's scoop on Hamilton moving to Mercedes, a story which left SKY's F1 team wrong-footed.

As I have written here several times in the last six months, my sources in Italy, which have never been wrong on a Ferrari story in the last 20 years, say that there does appear to be some kind of understanding between Vettel and Ferrari, but it is conditional on many things and is not necessarily for 2014, as has been suggested. So there is substance to this, but not necessarily as it's being portrayed.

Vettel is contracted to Red Bull to the end of 2014, so to leave before that would require some significant change. As his is consistently the highest performing car of the last three years, it's hard to imagine performance clauses which would lead to him finding an exit route (or wanting to) unless it's a clause saying he can leave once he's won three world titles for the team.

However, much as Hamilton felt he could only grow as a man and a driver by leaving the McLaren team that had raised him from an apprentice, it's not hard to see why Vettel would leave for Ferrari, to prove himself elsewhere.

But it's not clear why he would wish to do so with Alonso still in situ and in his prime. As Jackie Stewart has observed, he is only 25 and has plenty of time on his side. He can go to Ferrari a few years later and have the place to himself.

So the 2014 move makes little sense from either driver's point of view.

But as the Whisperer reminds us, "At Ferrari there will be room for anyone who demonstrates they have the talent to drive a scarlet car and to work in harmony both with and for the team."

This leaves plenty of room for Vettel. At the right time.

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