The driver market has been very stable for the last few things and the last big move occurred when Alonso left Renault to join Ferrari while that was always expected but there have not been any big shocking moves which caused most teams to change drivers. Looking at the line-up of the top teams for the current season, everyone has a good line-up and maybe expect for McLaren, 2012 could be very different for the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and even Renault.
Two drivers who could really make a difference and plunge 2012 into a silly season are Mark Webber and Felipe Massa. Webber has a deal only till end of the year while Massa despite on paper has a deal till 2012 nothing is guaranteed as everyone knew what happened to Kimi Räikkönen.
Red Bull owns Toro Rosso for the development of drivers in their program and Vettel’s success vindicates continuing the program but then with Daniel Ricciardo all set for a Toro Rosso seat in 2012, both Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari will be hoping to step-up and become Vettel’s teammate for 2012. But then it all depends on Webber and his chemistry with the team. No team likes a driver who is way too outspoken and keeps criticising & whining to the press about the team and Red Bull given how strong they are can actually any driver to partner Vettel.
Things in Ferrari are a different story and some speculate that had it not been for Massa’s serious accident, it would have been Kimi and Alonso rather than Massa continuing in the team. Massa had one great season where he nearly won the championship but then apart from that season Massa has lacked the consistency which is needed for a top driver. Last season Alonso owned Massa and looking at how things have shaped up this season things may not be that different. Massa’s failure last season was one of the main reasons why Ferrari could not even challenge for the constructors title while McLaren due to good point scoring drives by Button and Hamilton were very much in the hunt.
For Red Bull things are not that complicated as given how strong their car is any good driver would want to drive for them. Webber if he still has that hunger could be retained but I doubt if that could happen. Among the 3 young drivers Daniel Ricciardo is the most talented one but he is yet to drive in F1 while the current STR drivers Buemi and Alguersuari are both good but lacks consistent which Vettel showed when he was in Toro Rosso. If Massa is booted out of Ferrari he could come into the picture as he is a proven performer and with a fast car he can always have a good race. But one name which could surprise everyone was Nico Rosberg. Rosberg has always showed that he had the talent when he was in Williams and moving to Mercedes he did manage to beat Schumacher but then if he does manage to beat him once again this season Rosberg will be able to prove that he belong with the race winners.
One name which keeps popping up whenever Red Bull comes up is former champion Kimi Räikkönen, who is sponsored by Red Bull and is not that serious about either rallying or NASCAR as his deals are all on per race basis. A Kimi return would do F1 a world of good and it would be good to see Kimi and Vettel go up against the likes of Hamilton, Button, Schumacher and Alonso. But then Kimi has been out of F1 for 2 years and things have changed now but not that drastically that he could still be fast and challenge for races. Kimi would be a marketing coup for the team and he is also close to current world champion Vettel which means that the driver harmony in the team will be very good.
Massa and Webber could just swap seats but then Ferrari would actually benefit a lot from Webber as he is off proven quantity and since he does not have too many years left in him, he could fill in the seat till Vettel is available or till the likes of Sergio Pérez and Jules Bianchi are ready for F1. Another name which could be associated with Ferrari will be Nico Hülkenberg. The man is managed by Wili Weber, the same guy who brought Schumacher to Ferrari and the Hulk showed last season that how good he was in a bad Williams’s car and this season in Friday practices he has shown good pace with Force India.
Mercedes could end up losing both its drivers but then though Rosberg to Ferrari rumours are afloat, he is currently in the best position to pick teams as if he has a good 2011, he can actually choose between Ferrari and Red Bull while his teammate Schumacher has said that he will continue to drive till 2012, but then if Rosberg dominates him once again like he did in 2010 and Paul di Resta if he continues in the way he has started the season, he could retire to make way for the younger driver. Another possibility for the Mercedes seat will be Hülkenberg but then his nationality would play a major factor in getting him the seat.
Renault will be waiting for Kubica as this season they do have a car which can challenge for the title and no offence to Nick Heidfeld, who is very good but then he did not have a whole season for 2010 and the car was built around Kubica. Heidfeld could still do well but then losing the early momentum means that the team would be forced to fight for the 3rd place in the championship rather than look at race wins and the title itself. Vitaly Petrov has been impressive so far and if he continues to do the same he could hold on to the seat for quiet sometime. A very good season for Heidfeld means that he could possibly get a seat with likes of Williams and Force India for 2012.
Among the others, veteran Rubens Barrichello could stretch his career further but that is not going to benefit anyone while Sutil if he continues to get outpaced like this then his dream of a top car could just vanish as Mercedes would be looking at the likes of di Resta and the Hulk while Renault wants a consistent driver which Sutil may not be. Timo Glock will rue that he did not take the gamble and sign with Renault as his chance of getting a drive for a top team is getting very slim. Maybe he and Sutil can look at Team Lotus for a drive as Trulli is not getting any younger. One driver who I wish gets a good drive is Kamui Kobayashi as he is a true racer and Red Bull will do no harm in giving him a chance for 2012. If he fails to land a drive in the next few seasons he could fast become these generations Heidfeld, a good talent but never had a race winning car.
Long way to go for the 2012 season but the traditionally the driver’s market slowly picks up momentum at the start of the European season and this year it could be no different.