The top teams’ seats may all be set in stone for 2011 but there are still vacancies waiting to be filled in the F1 pitlane. Badger’s been digging through hard facts, rumours and downright lies to being you an update on the post-season driver market.
Ricciardo to give Buemi the boot?
This one’s probably a little ahead of itself. Following all-smiling curly-haired Aussie Daniel Ricciardo’s excellent form in last week’s young driver test there’s been much talk of what Red Bull are to do with their latest protegee. With no F1 seats available and Helmut Marko’s dislike of GP2 Danny Boy’s been left with nowhere to go for 2011.
That’s led to suggestions that Sébastien Buemi will get the boot from his seat at Toro Rosso with Daniel as his replacement. There’s certainly some uncertainty about Seb’s future, and if either STR man is to go it’ll be him: the team just this week made a point of telling the world how pleased they are with Jaime Alguersuari’s progress in 2010 whilst neglecting to mention his Swiss team-mate at all.
But do we see Buemi being booted out over the winter? No. Do we see the team ditching one of their drivers midway through 2011? Why yes, actually.
You see, they’re both guaranteed employment for the first half of the campaign but after that they can be released or re-signed. Chances are whoever comes off worst will go in favour of Ricciardo. After all, Red Bull aren’t shy about dropping young drivers. Just ask Tonio Liuzzi, Christian Klien, Neel Jani, Mikhail Aleshin, Patrick Freisacher, Brandon Hartley, Enrique Bernoldi, Robert Wickens or any of the other 10,000 youngsters they went through before finally getting it right with Vettel.
Vitaly to return – but for how long?
This looks fairly certain now: Vitaly Petrov’s occasional flashes of ability, mixed with his multi-billion dollar marketing potential, seem to have done enough to keep him at Renault for 2011. His scary manager (often mistaken for his mum) says so, the team has as good as said so and Nick Heidfeld – a rival for the seat – has said so too.
Still, they could be a bit more enthusiastic about it. Here’s what team boss Eric Boullier said of his Russian rookie last week:
“As part of our strategy, we took the challenge to develop a young driver this year but it cost us a lot of points and bodywork. Besides, everyone knows that Vitaly is also there for commercial reasons.”
Hardly good for Vitaly’s confidence, is it? In the same interview Boullier also said the plan is to place Jerome d’Ambrosio with Virgin in 2011 with the aim of promoting him to a Renault seat in 2012 or ’13. Again, not great for Vitaly’s confidence inside the team…
Force India in-demand
There’s interest around the Force India seat, with no drivers yet confirmed at this solid mid-grid team for 2011. Adrian Sutil is 99% certain to remain in place, with the ink apparently drying on his latest deal. Adrian did a solid job this year (though it all went a bit iffy at the end) and the delay in getting a new contract signed has mainly been down to his desire to land a better seat. With that not happening he’ll stick about.
The second seat is interesting. Tonio Liuzzi assures the world he has a contract, but we all know they’re there to be broken. “Formula One is a very particular business where sometimes you don’t know until the last minute, but I have a contract and feel comfortable and I think everything should be set up soon,” Tonio said recently.
It’s been rumoured for some time that Paul di Resta will be promoted to a race drive, but Karun Chandhok has also been chatting to his countryman Vijay Mallya about a seat, as have ex-Williams man Nico Hulkenberg and journeyman Nick Heidlfeld. So what’s it to be? Well, none of the outcomes would be a huge shock but Badger’s nose is currently twitching in the direction of a Sutil-di Resta pairing in 2011. That said Mr Mallya’s distaste for dropping drivers (he’s never done it) could secure Tonio for another year.
Where now for the unemployed Hulk?
The incredible Hulk was a scientist; this one doesn’t have a job. So where to now for Williams refugee Nico Hulkenberg?
Unless a decent seat (ie. NOT Hispania) pops up a test role at Mercedes looks a distinct possibility. He could, possibly, do a year as their reserve and then replace Michael Schumacher (with whom he shares a manager) in 2012. Makes perfect sense, so long as Schumi does pack it in after another season – of which there’s no guarantee.
But Nico really should be racing, and it’d be a shame to see his development stunted by a year on the sidelines. Lotus, Virgin, you guys will be missing a trick if you pass this chance up.
Pastor Maldonado and Williams
Like the royal wedding this one’s been a bit will-they-won’t-they and will end up costing the respective tax payers of Great Britain and Venezuela an awful lot but hey, who could stand in the way of true love? Or GP2 champions with sponsorship money? Or… no, we’re done.
Yes, Pastor Maldonado is looking more and more certain to join Williams for next season in one of those ‘worst kept secret’ deals we get every year. He says there will be an announcement on his future this week and whether that materialises or not we’re confident he’ll be a confirmed Williams driver before Christmas. Just don’t expect a gift.
The total mystery that is Hispania
Finally – for now at least – we have to admit that we’ve no idea what will happen at Hispania. We’re sorry, okay, there’s just too much confusion around that team’s future. Sakon Yamamoto seems to have fallen out with them (he wasn’t present in their end-of-term photo); Bruno Senna could well stay, if only for lack of better options; ditto Christian Klien and Karun Chandhok. Pedro de la Rosa fancies it as, we’re sure, do a few GP2 drivers and the odd oil-rich Saudi prince. They’d all need money, and that will be the decider here. Come back, Sakon! Come back with your Yen!
Badger will, naturally, be keeping you up-to-date with all driver market movement throughout the cold, cold winter months.