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.

At 22 Buemi is practically geriatric by Red Bull Junior standards. Credit: Red Bull Media.

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.”

Credit: Renault Formula One Team

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?

Credit: nicohulkenberg.com

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.

Jimmy Weeks

Jimmy Weeks

Jimmy Weeks

Latest posts by Jimmy Weeks (see all)

  1. I like Buemi but he is not very ‘Red Bull’. I think Ricciardo fits their image perfectly along with Alguersuari and Vettel.

    It would be a shame to see him go, especially after rumours of him replacing Webber at Red Bull earlier this year.

  2. The Milky Bar Kid says:

    no mention of Massas impending departure from Ferrari!…oh well, wont be long to wait after the hopeless season he has just contributed to. He did almost nothing all year, which cannot be allowed to continue in 2011 if Ferrari are to seriously challenge for the constructors title!! #:)

    • Adam Milleneuve says:

      ooh, not a Massa fan then!?
      C’mon fans of Felipe, surely you can’t agree with this?

      For the record, no details of Massa’s movements have been mentioned because it’s all complete rumour and at the moment we’re yet to see any smoke, let alone fire.

    • There’s probably no mention of ‘Massa’s impending departure’ from Ferrari because he isn’t going anywhere. Unless Stefano Domenicali and indeed the rest of Ferrari are telling lies about his new contract.
      If he’s leaving Ferrari it’s pretty odd that he was testing for them at Abu Dhabi at the weekend isn’t it.
      Funny how the same rumours appear every year about Felipe, yet what do you know, he’s still there. Then again, some of us have the sense not to believe everything we read.

      • Though it’s worth remembering Ferrari’s announcements that Raikkonen “definately didn’t have a contract for 2007″ and Alonso “definately didn’t have a contract for 2010″.

        I think you’re right, Massa will stick around, but it wouldn’t be completely out of the ordinary for the rumour to be factual.
        2011 year will be crucial though. If he doesn’t get more out of the car then it could well be the end of his F1 career, not just Ferrari.

        • Jimmy Von Weeks says:

          The difference is that in those scenarios they had someone lined up. The reason I’m convinced Massa will be there is that there’s no one to replace him. If Renault suddenly quit F1 altogether and Kubica was available I’d be less sure, but who would they replace Massa with? Heidfeld, Sutil, or Hulkenberg? I can’t see it. Hey, when has a German driver ever worked out well at Maranello? ;)

  3. I can’t see Massa leaving Ferrari. He’s the perfect teammate for Alonso (e.g. slower) and Ferrari have never really cared about the constructors championship.

    So long as he can do the “Trulli-Train” or “Kubi-Queue” role (the “Massa-Impasse”?) then I can see him staying at Ferrari for many years.

  4. Bouillier says more dickish things every day. He seems alright in the flash, but is a liability as soon as he opens his mouth to a journalist.

  5. Jenson's Brother says:

    The Massa Impasse – love it.

    Seriously disappointed for Robert Kubica though. He’s a far better driver than Massa, I’d say Webber and maybe even Button – yet no top team seats.

    I’d say Bernie should shunt in another of his forced regulation changes that all the drivers have to play musical chairs each year to get a drive. That’d be far more interesting.

    (and bring back re-fuelling)

    • Refuelling noooooooooo! Lets interrupt a good race with pointless pitstops. Oh we already do that with the forced tyre change. I know lets add random success ballast during pitstops too!

      • Adam Milleneuve says:

        Completely agree about refueling – it’s a massive no no, but wouldn’t it be great if teams/drivers had the freedom to do what they like with regard to fuel and tyres – that’s the ideal…

        • I think next year is going to get worse not better for “fixed” racing.

          The adjustable rear wings can only be used by the car behind, so it could give a disadvantage to someone in front, especially at the classic slipstreamer track Monza, but even more than it ever was.

          For anyone who’s played driving games with rubber-band catchup features, it’s very annoying to see slower cars still catching up when you’re clearly faster in equal equipment.

          I don’t have a problem with adjustable rear wings, but like the tyres and KERS, it should be fully open to use at any time by anyone in any amount rather than enforced by the regulations.

          • I don’t think there’s anything to worry about regarding the adjustable wings. Nothing really changed with the moveable front wing this year, it was used primarily for performance and balance trimming rather than for improving overtaking as it was supposed to be used.

            If only the car behind is allowed to adjust his rear wing, then the only one at a disadvantage will be the race leader. But then he won’t be because teams will adjust their pitstops so that they come out directly behind backmarkers/leaders which allow them to change their wing settings if needed.
            There will be loopholes exploited and the racing will not be affected either way.

  6. I sincerely hope Chandok will be back at HRT. If not, then at least on telly and commentaries more, he’s a cracking chap. His giant brave-man-balls at the start of 09/10 were a racing joy. Heck, I’ll sponsor the fella a fiver.
    No mention of Webber, unless I missed it. Surely Red Bull don’t want his morale boosting comments anymore? I know I’d kick him in the ass.
    Are we all quite sure that Klien hasn’t been poisoning Yamamoto for the past few months?

    • Jimmy Von Weeks says:

      Everything Red Bull have said in the last fortnight points to Webber being there in 2011. Mateschitz has talked about how he will still get equal treatment next year which suggests there are no plans to change. Whether you believe the equal treatment line is another matter.

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