SPA FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium: Formula One returns this weekend after its now traditional mid-season European summer break with speculation swirling around Ferrari as the circus heads to the Belgian Grand Prix.
A month on from Lewis Hamilton’s victory in Hungary, the Italian team is the focus of intense attention both on and off the circuit as they prepare for action at the majestic Spa-Ardennes circuit in the Ardennes.
Two-time champion Fernando Alonso and his Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa are expected to mount a second-half challenge to defending triple world champion Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull.
And the team is fending off suggestions that they are poised to re-sign Kimi Raikkonen, currently with Lotus, as the sport’s ‘silly season’ for driver transfer speculation also intensifies.
Team chief Stefano Domenicali, dogged by talk of crisis and upheaval throughout his summer holidays, said: “There is much talk outside the company regarding the future, but we must concentrate only on the present, on the fight for the championship.
“The words of our president before the summer break must serve as a stimulus, because they were meant as the words of a good family father, who, first and foremost really roots for our team. Keep those words in mind and let’s all pull together, starting in Spa.”
As Ferrari regroup, Lotus are set to make serious overtures in their bid to keep Raikkonen, who left Ferrari in 2008 to test himself in the world rally championship before returning to F1 with Lotus in 2012.
According to Raikkonen’s agent Steve Robertson Lotus remain favourites to retain him next year.
“Lotus hold the key to his future,” said Robertson. “If the team can provide him with the answers he is seeking, which will ensure he has a car that can fight for race wins and the championship, then he will stay.”
Domenicali addressed his Maranello staff on Tuesday to make clear that who drives alongside Alonso next year - current incumbent Massa or a new face -- is not important right now.
Instead, he urged each team member to do his or her best to lift Alonso and Ferrari to the top of the standings.
“We have spelt it out many times before -- the driver topic is definitely not a priority,” said Domenicali.
“What counts is to give them (Alonso and Massa) the best chance of finishing ahead of everyone -- and, in order to succeed, each and every one of us must do our job to the best of our ability on all levels.
“If they have a winning car in their hands, then I am convinced they will know how to win with it. If we all believe, then we can do it. Our history tells us that...”
Alonso trails Vettel by 39 points and knows that a resurgent Hamilton and Mercedes are also a major factor in his bid to stop the German landing a fourth successive drivers title.
“There is still everything to play for and we have gone through this before, as recently as last year,” added Domenicali.
“Nine races means that a total of 225 driver points are available and rest assured that the goals we set ourselves at the start of the season are still perfectly attainable.”
As Alonso seeks a revival, Russian teenager Sergey Sirotkin appears set to gain his first experience of an F1 car during a demonstration appearance with Sauber in September.
Sirotkin, 17, made his first visit to Sauber’s Hinwil factory in Switzerland this week to meet the team and have a seat fitting.
He does not yet have a mandatory superlicence, but is scheduled to try the Sauber car at Sochi, proposed venue for a Russian Grand Prix next year, on September 27.AFP