The F1 driver market for 2010 is a much more unpredictable one than we’ve had recently – or maybe it just seems that way because so many drivers stayed in the same teams this year as last.
There are big names looking for new berths – Robert Kubica and Kimi Raikkonen – and top teams with vacancies to fill. Let’s take a look at who could end up where.
When Ferrari is on the hunt for a driver, the other F1 teams wait for Maranello to make their move.
Kimi Raikkonen fans must be rather sick of the long-running rumours that Ferrari, unhappy with his performace, are seeking to replace him with Fernando Alonso. However Raikkonen’s recent upswing in form, culminating in his Spa victory last weekend, could give Ferrari a reason to keep him.
Felipe Massa will not return to the F1 grid before 2010. In the meantime, Ferrari’s thoughts are occupied by finding a third substitute for him.
Michael Schumacher’s neck injury rules him out of competition for the rest of the year if not longer. Giancarlo Fisichella would surely jump at the opportunity, if Force India are happy to release him.
Robert Kubica could be another option. While Fernando Alonso cannot get out of his Renault contract to drive for Ferrari this year, with BMW set to quit F1 Kubica could be able to make the move.
If not, then who? Marc Gene? Sebastien Bourdais? Vitantonio Liuzzi? Christian Klien? They’re not short of options, but the problem for Ferrari is finding someone who has recent experience and won’t be off to another team next year with a hatful of the Scuderia’s secrets.
Ron Dennis-era McLaren were always pretty easy to read when it came to the driver market: they would grab the two best drivers available to them, even if they already had a ‘superstar’ on their books.
This is, after all, the team that paired Alain Prost with Niki Lauda, Ayrton Senna with Alain Prost, Juan Pablo Montoya with Kimi Raikkonen, and Lewis Hamilton with Fernando Alonso.
Heikki Kovalainen received a very public hurry-up from Martin Whitmarsh earlier this month, suggesting Whitmarsh’s policy of hiring drivers is likely to be little different to his predecessor’s.
One driver who has been consistently linked to McLaren is Nico Rosberg. They are believed to have approached him to replace Fernando Alonso at the end of 2007, but Williams blocked the move.
Test driver Nico H?â??lkenberg is poised to wrap up the GP2 title in his rookie season. The last driver to match that feat was Lewis Hamilton.
With Schumacher’s career guru Wili Weber arranging his affairs, and several of Schumacher’s former personal sponsors adorning his overalls, it seems highly likely H?â??klenberg will be in F1 next year. Williams looks like an ideal berth, particularly if Rosberg does move to McLaren.
Williams, then, could end up with an all-new driver line-up in 2010, and would surely want an experienced driver to pair with rookie H?â??lkenberg. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of them either on the market or likely to be, including Kovalainen, Trulli, Kubica, and former Williams pilot Nick Heidfeld.
The future of Toyota’s F1 team is the subject of much debate. Its parent company have suffered huge losses in the economic crisis and will not decide on the F1 budget until November.
What the team needs is wins, and the failure to translate their strong qualifying at Melbourne (before their penalty), Bahrain and Spa into a breakthrough victory will be weighing heavily on their minds.
The team has already hinted it will not keep Jarno Trulli on for a sixth full season. But with no word on their future for another three months, their chances of attracting a top-line driver are remote.
BMW / Sauber
The decision by the board of BMW to quit F1 in 2010 is not likely to be swayed by the team’s improved performance at Spa.
Robert Kubica has already been tipped to join Renault next year – he tested for them after winning the 2005 World Series by Nissan (now Renault) but was picked up by BMW.
The team’s hopes of getting a top driver on board for next year hinge on it getting its entry confirmed by the FIA as soon as possible.
Like Toyota, Renault are another team whose immediate future in F1 has been called into question – and that was before the FIA began its investigation into alleged cheating by Renault at Singapore last year.
Its top driver is believed to be heading out the door, title sponsor ING is also departing and the parent company is suffering from the decline in car sales.
If they do remain it should guarantee a berth for Romain Grosjean, potentially alongside Kubica.
One of the few teams who changed their driver line-up this year, Red Bull are keeping the same pairing for 2010.
Sebastian Vettel has recently signed a contract extension until the end of 2011, with an option for 2012.
Following his maiden Grand Prix win at the Nurburgring, Mark Webber also gained a contract extension for 2010.
Having dumped Sebastien Bourdais for Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso now have one of the most junior line-ups ever seen in F1. Expect them to stick with their young charges in 2010.
If this dramatic leap forward by Force India lasts until the end of the year, they are in an excellent position to lure one of the drivers being cast aside by the big teams.
This depends on whether they choose to and succeed in keeping Fisichella. They have Vitantonio Liuzzi waiting in the wings to take his place.
Ross Brawn has said he’s happy with his current drivers and indicated he wants to keep them on board for 2010.
Campos, USF1 and Manor
Of the new teams, USF1 have dropped the clearest hints about their ambitions which we looked at last month.
Their hope of finding a suitable young American driver to place alongside a European veteran may be stymied by the shortage of suitably experienced US talent. The likes of Jonathan Summerton and Alexander Rossi need more time in GP2 or similar before making the jump to F1. Sticking with a non-American pairing to start with and investing in a young driver scheme might be their best choice.
Similarly, Campos are believed to want a Spanish driver, and the experienced Pedro de la Rosa would fit the bill perfectly.
There may be three new teams, but there’s no shortage of drivers looking for seats. Former F1 drivers Alexander Wurz, Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Bourdais, Nelson Piquet Jnr and Takuma Sato could all be added to the list above, and past and present GP2 drivers Bruno Senna, Giorgio Pantano, Lucas di Grassi and Vitaly Petrov could all figure.
Who goes where?
Where do you think the drivers will end up next year? Have your say in the comments.
2010 F1 drivers