As Formula 1 takes its traditional summer break, one of the key talking points within the media and the paddock is the question of who will replace Mark Webber at Red Bull Racing.

Departing | Australian driver Mark Webber is to retire from Formula 1 at the end of the season. (Image | GT Spirit)

Departing | Australian driver Mark Webber is to retire from Formula 1 at the end of the season. (Image | GT Spirit)

The team’s hierarchy will use this three-week break to discuss which driver they believe to be the best appointment once the Australian leaves to race for Porsche next season, in the classic Le Mans 24 Hour race.

Before the last outing in Hungary, the two leading candidates for the seat were Lotus’ Kimi Räikkönen and Daniel Ricciardo, of Red Bull’s sister team Scuderia Toro Rosso.

However, following the race it was revealed that Christian Horner, Red Bull team principal, had held talks with Luis Garcia Abad, the agent of Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso.

Although it is not altogether surprising that the two-time World Champion is being linked with the British-based team, it adds another serious contender into the mix for what will be one of the most hotly contested seats in the sport.

Kimi Räikkönen

The Finn has had a very good season so far and currently lies second in the World Drivers’ Championship just behind Sebastian Vettel, 26.

Although he has won only once this year, in the first race in Australia, Räikkönen has been highly consistent. Five second places so far, along with points finishes in all this season’s races, make the 33-year-old a model of consistency, which Red Bull would find very valuable in their attempt to secure the World Constructors’ Championship.

This steady stream of results also points towards the 2007 World Champion being in good form following his return last year from the World Rally Championship, which can only endear him to his potential future employers.

However, Räikkönen is known to be happy at his current team as he has few media commitments, which would not be the case at Red Bull, and with Lotus also trying to pen a new deal with the driver, a very tempting offer may be needed to lure him away.

Fernando Alonso

The Spaniard, 32, has endured a difficult few races for Ferrari, and doubts about his future have subsequently become more vocal in recent weeks.

Although his former boss, Flavio Briatore, said he expects him to remain with the Italian team, his coy reply to comments about his future and the team principal, Luca Di Montezemolo, rebuking him for this have stoked the fire somewhat.

Alonso currently lies third in the Drivers’ Championship, 39 points behind German driver Vettel. Yet the car’s recent form has not been good, and both the Spaniard and Di Montezemolo have criticised it.

An issue for Red Bull, however, would be the potential for conflict within the team were he not the main driver. This happened with Lewis Hamilton at McLaren where, after a tumultuous year, Alonso left under a cloud.

This would be a concern for both him and Red Bull, as neither is likely to give ground on this issue, with the employers being very unlikely to treat both of their drivers the same, particularly given Vettel’s recent history.

Daniel Ricciardo

Australian driver Ricciardo is part of the Red Bull system already, at its sister team Toro Rosso, and is thus under serious condition by decision makers.

The rising star has performed strongly with a slower car than the leaders, and consistently qualified well, with the third session regularly being within his grasp. He has, however, slipped down the field in races, so there is a concern that, while his natural pace is strong, Ricciardo lacks the ability to compete over longer distances.

The young driver’s test in July also allowed Red Bull to assess his potential at the wheel of a Championship-leading car, and may have helped bosses formulate their plan of action for the coming season.

Having not exactly set the world on fire during the session, there remains a belief that the 24-year-old is too raw and too much of a risk to invest in at this point in his career. Nevertheless, by appointing Ricciardo, Red Bull would be able to assure Vettel of his “undisputed-number-one-driver” status.

All four could potentially be lining up alongside the triple World Champion next year, but it is Räikkönen who looks to be in prime position for the seat at present.

This is the view in the paddock but, with the recent courting of Alonso through his agent, it may well come under question. The brusque statement from the Ferrari president that no driver is bigger than the team also casts some doubt over this presumption.

However, despite all this there is no guarantee that the Red Bull car will be as dominant next season as it has been over the past couple of years. The changes to the engine in 2014 could enable other teams to challenge its hegemony.

It could, therefore, be a grave error by any of these drivers to make the switch if Red Bull are not challenging next year. Lewis Hamilton moved to Mercedes on the basis of next season’s car, but assurances of what will happen in the future from any team are never a guarantee.

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