Christian Horner appears to have a clearly defined short-list of contenders to replace Mark Webber next season but, sadly for current Red Bull reserve Sebastian Buemi, he is not among them.
Horner has already acknowledged that Kimi Raikkonen and Toro Rosso drivers Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo are the most likely candidates to step into Webber's seat ahead of next season, but Buemi has made no secret of his desire to return to an F1 race seat, despite currently combining his development role with a competitive ride in the World Endurance Championship with Toyota.
For Horner, however, the Swiss will not be returning to the grand prix grid with his current employer.
“Sébastien has made a great contribution this year as third driver and doing development work in the simulator; he had a great run at Le Mans last weekend - which was super to see – but he's not a contender for a race seat at Red Bull Racing,” the Briton told journalists at Silverstone, “He's an important member of the team, but our choice is more focused on the current, active, F1 drivers.”
That statement will naturally enhance the attention on the supposed battle between Raikkonen and the Toro Rosso juniors
“We're fortunate that we have the pool of talented young drivers at Toro Rosso to draw upon and we will also gauge what else is available in the marketplace,” Horner confirmed, “Kimi Raikkonen is a driver you would be foolish to ignore, [but] we're going to take our time. It's important that we make the right decision; we don't need to be in a rush. We'll evaluate the options available to us and try to make the best decision we can.”
With Lotus determined to hang on to its star asset, Horner knows that prising Raikkonen away from Enstone won't be the work of a moment, but appears confident that Red Bull's record may be the deciding factor.
“At the end of the day, I guess it's going to be the equipment at their disposal,” he reasoned, “Any driver - any competitive driver – is going to want to be in the most competitive environment that he can be in, [and] I guess that's the same for Kimi as it would be for any driver.
“But let's just be clear here, we're not just looking at Kimi Raikkonen, we have Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne who are true contenders for that seat. We just need to take a bit of time to look at all of the options available to us.”
Despite Webber insisting that the ongoing frostiness between himself and Vettel had not been a factor in his decision to call time on his F1 career, the question of partnering the three-time world champion – and potentially having to play second fiddle to him - will no doubt be one for potential candidates to consider. For Horner, however, the only pre-requisite is finding someone who can match – or, preferably, better – Webber's points production as the team pushes to retain its constructors' title.
“We want the best driver that we can possibly get,” he confirmed, “Sebastian wants to be challenged, wants to be pushed and, from our perspective, there are two championships.
“There's a drivers' world championship and a constructors' world championship and you don't win a constructors' championship with one driver. So, from our perspective, we want to field the most competitive line-up that we can and do our very best to support both
drivers as we always have done.”