Jean Eric Vergne’s time in F1 is a perfect testament to the fine margins by which career’s in the sport are defined. Despite matching Daniel Ricciardo for the majority of their partnership at Toro Rosso, it was the Aussie received a ticket to graduation while Vergne was left to fight off the next young talent – a fight which Red Bull decided he had lost. Now racing in Formula E and with a role as Development Driver at Ferrari, JEV has not given up on his F1 career just yet and is eyeing a possible return to the grid in 2016, behind the wheel of a Ferrari no-less.
Regular readers will be well aware of my opinions regarding Jean-Eric Vergne and it is safe to suggest that if I was a member of the hierarchy at Red Bull Racing, my vote for the candidate to pair Daniel Ricciardo in 2015 would have headed in JEV’s direction – not on the basis that Kvyat is not worthy of the opportunity, but in response to the impressive performances recorded by Vergne in 2014, which cemented the perception that his abilities would see him make a seamless transition to the big team.
Alas, Kvyat became the second Red Bull youngster to bypass Vergne in the system and while it was ultimately Carlos Sainz Jr who replaced him, the programme was evidently not working for JEV. In many regards, it seemed as though Dr Helmut Marko had omitted him from the Red Bull roadmap as soon as Ricciardo earned promotion. As such, a move away was necessitated.
Ultimately, regardless of the capacity, Vergne has found himself at Formula 1’s most prestigious team – certainly not a poor destination to find as a contingency plan. The Frenchman is unquestionably ambitious at Maranello and has stated that he has his sights set on Kimi Raikkonen’s seat for 2016. The Finn is anticipated to retire at the end of this year and as such, an opportunity could become available to partner Sebastian Vettel at a newly refurbished Ferrari.
“I know I gave my best [for Toro Rosso] and that’s why I have no regrets,” Vergne said when speaking to Italian publication, La Gazetta de Sport. “And now I’m at Ferrari which is also a great opportunity for 2016.”
A great opportunity, so it may be, but Vergne will have to face significant competition for the potential seat. The team have reportedly been courting Valtteri Bottas in an attempt to swoop the Finn away from Williams and into a vacant Ferrari seat. Meanwhile, Esteban Gutierrez has bounced back from his Sauber ejection by being appointed to the role of Third Driver at Ferrari.
However, seats in the top teams are always priceless and competition is suitably high. Vergne would certainly be a strong candidate for the opportunity – he has proven his credentials on many occasions throughout his stint at Toro Rosso, beating Daniel Ricciardo in 2012 and edging out Daniil Kvyat last season. These accomplishments compare well to Esteban Gutierrez’s CV. The fact that JEV is also maintaining his race craft with outings in Formula E should also be of benefit to his chances.
As such, Bottas seems to be the most likely threat to Vergne’s grand-plan. However, the Finn is relishing his opportunity at Williams and with the team finishing above Ferrari in 2014, ending the season with the second best package, there is seemingly no reason for Valtteri to seek pastures new.
What may initially seem to be an outlandish statement from JEV could in fact prove to be a realistic target.
Image Credit: "Jean-Eric Vergne 2014 Jerez test (28-31 Jan) Day 3" By Leo Hidalgo (Flickr: Rosso) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons