Red Bull boss names Kimi Raikkonen, Toro Rosso pair & Mark Webber as 2014 options
Mateschitz talks up Raikkonen, but insists Webber also in running
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 04/04/13 11:04am
What has become now annual speculation over Webber's future at Red Bull was spectacularly fuelled by the events of the last grand prix in Malaysia when Sebastian Vettel ignored team orders to snatch the race victory from his team-mate's grasp, much to the anger of the veteran Australian.
And although Christian Horner, Red Bull's Team Principal, insisted to Sky Sports F1 last week that he had "no doubt" that Webber could see out the remainder of his one-year contract at the Milton Keynes outfit, the latest episode in the long-running Vettel/Webber rivalry has led many seasoned observers to conclude that the latter is now unlikely to extend his stay beyond December.
But while Mateschitz has left the door open for the 36-year-old to stay should he wish, the Austrian billionaire has nonetheless thrown several names in the frame for the seat should Webber move on or retire - with Lotus's star asset Raikkonen the most high-profile, and tantalising, of them all.
"Kimi is cool and fast and always a candidate," Mateschitz told Germany's Speedweek publication.
Although Vettel, as Red Bull's home-grown talent, is widely considered to be the favoured driver by the company's Austrian hierarchy, Mateschitz nevertheless has close ties to Webber and was said to have been unimpressed with the World Champion's actions at Sepang.
Indeed, Bernie Ecclestone claimed on the eve of the Malaysian GP that Mateschitz had given Webber the first refusal on the seat for 2013 despite the team having held talks with Lewis Hamilton's management.
The door for a further extension of his stay remains ajar, according to Mateschitz, who added the expected names of Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo into the frame should Webber ultimately depart.
"Whether he retires, only he will choose but Mark is definitely a candidate for 2014," Mateschitz added.
"He is always welcome with us, so too would be a quick junior like [Jean-Eric] Vergne or [Daniel] Ricciardo from the Toro Rosso team. Sorry, I know it's a diplomatic answer which leaves everything open, but that's how it is. Everything else is pure speculation."
With Raikkonen's contract at Lotus believed to run to only until the end of the current season, the 2007 World Champion would appear as things stand to be an available target for Red Bull, with the Finn already having previously been sponsored by the energy drinks firm during his two-year stint in rallying.
The option of promoting one of their two junior drivers at Toro Rosso arguably remains the more straightforward choice. However, neither Vergne nor Ricciardo have yet clearly positioned themselves as the heir apparent to Webber.
Speaking in the latest edition of F1 Racing magazine, Vergne made clear his overriding goal was to take the next available seat at the World Champions.
Asked if he thought he was the driver who would replace Webber, the Frenchman replied: "I'd love to be that guy - and I'll do everything I can to get there."
He then added: "If I perform well then maybe I will get a Red Bull seat. If I am not good enough, they will replace me and I'll lose my place - but I'm here [at Toro Rosso] now, I deserve my seat and I have to prove that to everybody by getting good results."