MONZA, Italy, Sept 9 (Reuters) - The Formula One championship has said farewell to Europe for another year with two big questions being posed as the glamour sport sets its sights on races in Asia, the Middle East and Americas.
The first - as the mechanics packed up and the trucks left Monza on Sunday night - was when and where, rather than whether, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel will wrap up his inevitable fourth successive title.
The second concerns Ferrari’s 2014 line-up, and the chances of Kimi Raikkonen joining Fernando Alonso in a potentially explosive partnership, and looks likely to be answered within a matter of days.
The paddock chatter after the Italian Grand Prix was that Ferrari’s most recent world champion, currently with Lotus, had agreed a sensational return to the team with which he won the title in 2007.
There was no word from Ferrari, whose president Luca di Montezemolo said on Saturday that the team would decide its drivers immediately after the race weekend and after talking to Brazilian Felipe Massa, whose place is at risk.
Massa, fourth on Sunday, is out of contract and has not won since 2008 while Raikkonen took this year’s season-opener in Australia and had racked up a record 27 successive scoring finishes before Belgium in July.
Montezemolo did not rule out Raikkonen, who left Ferrari in 2009 after being paid off to make way for Alonso, when asked whether he would have him back.
“What happened in the past with Kimi? we won a world championship,” he replied.
“First of all, Kimi is a good driver. For us it was a big satisfaction to win with him the first championship with the new team without (seven times champion) Michael (Schumacher), without Ross (Brawn)”.
Lotus want Raikkonen to stay but must wait for Ferrari.
“In the end if he wants to go to Ferrari he will go to Ferrari, and that’s it,” Lotus team principal Eric Boullier told reporters.
“Kimi is in a position where he is being chased by most of the paddock, and he will decide.”
The Vettel question comes down to simple mathematics, with the German now 53 points clear of second placed Alonso with seven races, worth a total of 175 points, still to be won.
The 26-year-old has won half of the races this season and, ominously for his rivals, the last two in Belgium and Italy were supposed to be his weakest - with team principal Christian Horner going so far as to call them Red Bull’s “Achilles heel”.
The next four are Singapore, South Korea, Japan and India and Vettel won all of them last year.
The German’s closest rivals had no illusions about their scant chances.
Lewis Hamilton’s immediate response after finishing ninth in the race for Mercedes was to declare his championship challenge over, although he then had a rethink and vowed to keep fighting even if the odds were stacked against him.
“I basically need to win every race, which is the tallest order ever, but I can do nothing but try,” said the 2008 champion, who is now third overall but a massive 81 points behind the leader.
“I wish it was a closer battle at the front. It’s a shame it is like it is.”
Alonso said it would take a lot of luck for him to overhaul the Red Bull.
“I think we need to be realistic about the championship now there’s a very big gap. We don’t have enough races and probably we don’t have the speed right now to win some consecutive races and hope to reduce the gap just by pace,” said the Spaniard.
“We need to be lucky and we need to have some DNFs (retirements) from Sebastian or something to win the championship. With the races left and the points disadvantage, it’s hard.”
Asked whether it was all over, Horner refused to tempt fate and repeated a familiar mantra.
”The championship is not yours until nobody can score more points than you,“ he said. ”So we are going to continue the approach that we’ve always taken which is focus one race at a time and try to get the best out of each weekend.
“It’s been a big weekend for us here... for Sebastian to extend his lead in the drivers’ championship and for the team to extend its lead in the constructors’ championship is obviously massively positive for us. But there’s still some way to go.” (Editing by John O‘Brien)