Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Crazy and no-so Crazy Driver Market!

The F1 driver market will always be an interesting read as at times you can hear some audacious stories floating around. For 2012, there is an unusual calm and more or less all the big 4 teams have announced their drivers. I don’t expect any change in Red Bull (Vettel & Webber), McLaren (Button & Hamilton), Ferrari (Alonso & Massa) and Mercedes (Schumacher & Rosberg) and also Sauber has announced that it will continue with Sergio Perez & Kamui Kobayashi while Team Lotus has re-signed both Heikki Kovalainen & Jarno Trulli, there is still some speculation on Trulli’s role if he is going to be a race driver or will he take up a David Coulthard type of role.

Williams, Lotus Renault, Force India, Scuderia Toro Rosso, Marussia Virgin Racing and HRT still has available seats and there are plenty of drivers in the market. The biggest news which is going around is that former World Champion Kimi is having talks with Williams. One may wonder why a driver of the caliber of Kimi would have talks with Williams but it actually makes sense for everyone involved if this actually happens. Williams have gone from one of the most dominant team of the 90’s to a mid-field team which this season has gone even worse. They are just ahead of the 3 new teams of F1. Force India and Sauber are well ahead and even the possibility of catching up Toro Rosso is remote. Williams have announced a partnership with Renault but Red Bull is the premier works team of Renault while Williams is more or less a customer team only. The benefit for Williams by signing Kimi is that they have a former Champion racing for them and this could easily attract new sponsors for the team. Also the serious intent that the team is looking at breaking away from the mid-field will be shown by this move. Williams took a lot of flank by replacing Hulkenberg  with Pastor Maldonado but then atleast the team’s financial situation is stable and Maldonado is doing a pretty decent job and comes with a decent driver pedigree as having won the GP2 Championship. For Kimi, Williams is the sort of team where he would have less pressure as no one expects him to win races with the team and a few good drives would once again entice the likes of Red Bull and McLaren. If Kimi had gone to Red Bull and had Vettel smoked him out like he is doing it to Vettel, Kimi’s future in the sport will have a downward spiral. So Kimi and Williams is the best combination for both the parties involved.

Force India is now almost challenging Renault for the 5th place and has a realistic chance of taking it but then with Sahara taking over a major stake in the team and also Sahara is keen on an Indian driving for the team, things are not too clear for the team. But then Paul di Resta seems to have a contract for 2012 while there are reports saying that Nico Hulkenberg has already signed for 2012. This line-up seems to be the most logical for the team and if the car is as good as this year, this line-up can pose a challenge for even 4th place for the 2012 season. F1 is business and nationalistic ideals do not go well with it and Force India may actually will not a sign an Indian driver to race while Sutil is bound to get the axe despite being in the team since the beginning. Sutil has had enough chances and also the brawl in China has not done him any favors. He has some personal sponsors and he is looking at the Williams seat as well but then his days in F1 is more or less over if Force India does drops him.

Lotus Renault is the most complicated team on the grid as despite being called a Renault the team has nothing to do with the car company and all it does is run Renault engines. The team could have had a stellar year this season but Kubica’s accident has ruined everything and his replacement Nick Heidfeld has failed drastically and has even been dropped by the team. It is a bit harsh on Heidfeld as more or less his F1 career is over with this move. Kubica is still recovering and there are rumors floating around that he may become the reserve driver for Ferrari in 2012 and take up the race seat during the 2013 season once Massa’s contract is done. This seems to be a good option for Kubica as given how murky the Renault teams has become. Renault still had a decent car and could attract some good drivers but does the team actually has the money to pay a good driver is a good question. Vitaly Petrov & Bruno Senna are currently racing while Petrov is well backed, Senna if he could pull off some good performance during the last few races, could be a good for the team as the Senna name can attract sponsors. Romain Grosjean is more mature and a better driver than we last saw him and his French connections could earn him a seat but then it call comes to money when Lotus Renault will decide on its drivers.

Toro Rosso has four drivers for 2012 with the incumbents Jaime Alguersuari & Sebastien Buemi more or less evenly matched but with new Spanish sponsors coming in, Alguersuari may have an edge while Daniel Ricciardo & Jean-Eric Vergne will also come into the mix. Ricciardo has done decently well with HRT while Vergne is rated highly but still is untested in F1. STR may just drop both Alguersuari & Buemi and bring in the other guys.

For the minnows, Timo Glock will race for 2012 while Jerome d’Ambrosio may get the boot. The likes of Charles Pic & Giedo Van der Garde will come into the mix while even Petrov can come in if Lotus Renault decides to give him the ax. For HRT, the biggest thing once again will be getting their car ready and anyone with enough money will be driving for team but Vitantonio Liuzzi may yet be retained.

Rubens Barrichello’s long F1 career is coming to an end and it looks certain that Williams have not renewed his contract while Lotus Renault could be his realistic shot at driving a good car while HRT may sign him if he brings in the money.

2012 looks sober but 2013 will be very interesting with the likes of Hamilton, Massa, Webber, Schumacher and Rosberg all without contracts meaning that big 4 teams has seats available. But Mercedes is sure to sign on Rosberg unless McLaren dumps Hamilton while Schumacher will retire at the end of next season but then a few race wins may even keep him going longer for a bit. Massa needs a miracle to continue with Ferrari while only a World Championship could get Red Bull retain Webber. Hamilton’s best chance of another title is with McLaren but then stranger things has happened in F1 and a former World Champion did sign for BAR and his F1 career plunged into the depths and it never took off again. Kimi’s return will be a big  plus for the 2013 silly season as a solid year with Williams could add him in the mix and F1 is just getting interesting.  

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