By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
The Formula 1 season is already hitting the summer months and thus speculation has begun for 2017, with Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen once again at the center of attention.
The 2007 F1 champion has enjoyed a solid season thus far, scoring three podiums in eight starts, but he and teammate Sebastian Vettel are still searching for the Scuderia’s first victory of 2016.
However, an expiring contract has many believing the Italian manufacturer will move away from the Finn and look the direction of current Force India driver Sergio Perez, who has scored a pair of podiums in the last three grand prix.
Perez is ready for a top seat after showcasing third-place finishes at Monaco and Baku.
Do two podiums with Force India warrant a seat that can contend for championships? In four years with the Silverstone-based team Perez has amassed four podiums, with one each in 2014 (Bahrain) and 2015 (Russia) prior to equal his total in 2016.
However, it was just a few short seasons ago that Nico Hulkenberg had the car to beat in the Brazilian Grand Prix until an ill-timed safety car and run-in with Lewis Hamilton led to a penalty and fifth-place result. The outing caused a stir with the German on everyone’s radar, but a sideways move to Sauber the only thing out there in 2013 before returning to team with Perez at Force India.
Hulkenberg has since never been given a shot with a premier team.
So, here we are. Perez is another Force India driver that has drawn the surveillance of the top F1 teams.
But this time is different.
Hulkenberg has never scored a podium in 102 starts, yet Perez has seven in 101.
The rumors swirling around the paddock is that Ferrari are looking at pairing the 26-year-old with four-time F1 champion Vettel.
Perez wasted a great opportunity with McLaren in 2013, never taking podium and drawing the ire of his competitors, including teammate Jenson Button.
Button cited his teammate’s driving style as ‘dirty’ and overly aggressive.
Ironically, a collision with Raikkonen at Monaco had the Finn upset and calling for someone to hit the Mexican in the face.
Can Ferrari get more out of Perez than Raikkonen? Will Perez get along with Vettel and be a team player? Or race above his head and once again become overly-aggressive and mistake-ridden similar to his McLaren days? Is he solid enough driver to help develop a car throughout the course of the season?
These are the questions to ask if you are Ferrari.
Raikkonen, even as the elder in Formula 1 at 36-years-old, is a world champion and proved countless times since his return to Ferrari that he races for the team and not himself.
Truthfully, with 2017 bringing technical changes, Ferrari would be keen to keep the ‘Iceman’ to help develop the car to compete with the pace of current constructor juggernaut, Mercedes.
However, if they are looking to move on from Raikkonen, perhaps they should look once more at another Finn, Valtteri Bottas.
Bottas was linked to replace his fellow countryman last year, but a large buyout fee kept him from moving. However, an expiring contract at the end of this season makes it a more enticing offer for the Scuderia and along with being the same age as Perez, he has nine podiums in just 64 career starts.
It also can’t hurt that he has been teammates with former Ferrari driver Felipe Massa for the last three seasons.
The other option, if Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene are looking at experience and pace, is Haas driver Romain Grosjean.
The Frenchman was teammates with Raikkonen at Lotus, and has helped build a first-year F1 team based out of the United States.
Grosjean impressively scored points in Haas F1 Team’s debut in Australia, and backed it up with points in Bahrain and Russia.
Considered a ‘nutcase’ early in his career by former Red Bull Racing driver Mark Webber, Grosjean, now 30-years-old, has since silenced the doubters and proven he can be someone teams can rely on.
Consider the link between the teams with Haas being supplied Ferrari engines and last year’s reserve driver, Esteban Gutierrez, and it makes sense that Ferrari could look to Grosjean for 2017.
Overall, Perez undoubtedly has had some impressive runs, but lacking consistency and a proven history of throwing away good opportunities should leave him on the outs for at least another season – especially when Ferrari may be better off with Raikkonen all along.