Just as the F1 paddock was becoming accustomed to Daniel Ricciardo being the most likely partner for Sebastian Vettel in 2014, another major player started to be linked to the role.
Despite the belief that Kimi Raikkonen would be the stronger foil for Vettel following Mark Webber's retirement, paddock gossip in Hungary claimed that Ricciardo was on the verge of cementing a move from Toro Rosso to replace his fellow Australian, but the weekend ended with increasing talk of Fernando Alonso leaving Ferrari for its biggest rival.
The speculation began when the Spaniard's manager, Luis Garcia Abad, was spotted in earnest discussion with Red Bull boss Christian Horner in the Hungaroring paddock, and Horner did little to slow the rumour mill when he told various television outlets that outsiders would be surprised at just who had expressed interest in filling Webber's seat.
"There is quite a lot of interest," the Briton confirmed to the BBC
, “We'll take a bit of time over the summer to reflect on the options that are open to us and look to make the right decision to put the right driver alongside Sebastian before next year.
Denying that he would be prepared to let Vettel move in the opposite direction – as had been suggested by some of the more fanciful rumours, Horner insisted that there was still a lot to consider before Red Bull could make its anticipated August line-up announcement.
"Last week there was speculation about Kimi; this week it's about Fernando,” he acknowledged, “We want to make sure nothing wavers in our mind about putting the right team package together with the two fastest drivers we can, who will work collectively well together and achieve the best results for the team."
Meanwhile, Abad – who also represents Red Bull protégé Carlos Sainz Jr – told the British broadcaster that his conversation with Horner had not
been about a possible move for Alonso, who has been frustrated by Ferrari's inability to match Red Bull at the front of the field and dropped behind Raikkonen in the pursuit of Webber after finishing only fifth in Hungary.
Interestingly, recent rumours of Vettel possibly moving to Ferrari at the end of his Red Bull deal were always played down by the prospect of Alonso black-balling a serious rival in the second scarlet car....
Horner was also spotted deep in discussion with Raikkonen's manager, ex-F3 winner Steve Robertson, over the weekend, raising speculation that perhaps Ricciardo's position as favourite for the second RBR seat wasn't quite as comfortable as many expect.