The 2010-2011 driver merry-go-round doesn’t look like being too exciting, at least not on the face of it. The top four teams in the constructors’ championship- Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes- will all remain unchanged next year, as will the F1 crèche known as Toro Rosso.
But that’s not to say there’s no fun to be had in speculating on who’ll go where. After all, there’s a rather appealing looking seat yet to be filled at Renault, as well as possibilities at Force India and Sauber.
So Badger’s taken a look at who’ll end up where for 2011. And, as well as the likely line-ups, we’ve also ventured our thoughts on the teams’ ideal driver pairings for next year. Nothing ridiculous (no Hamilton to Lotus or Alonso to Hispania), just a realistic suggestion for what would make for a productive team. In part one we’ll be looking at three outfits who have much-sought after vacancies, and Hispania, who have two seats available for rent.
Renault can rejoice in the knowledge that they’ve got Robert Kubica under contract for a further two years, but their second seat is currently unfilled, and incumbent Vitaly Petrov has a few rivals for it.
Both Timo Glock and Adrian Sutil have hinted that they’d be interested- and both would be a solid choice- as would Heikki Kovalainen, who’s been linked with a return to his old team. But while they’ve all got plenty of experience and have proven themselves more than capable in F1 could any of them rival Kubica? We’re not so sure- but we know of someone who could.
Yep, Badger’s ideal line-up would see 2007 champ Kimi Räikkönen in a Renault next year. For one we’d love to see him back in the sport- and we’re not alone there. Secondly the combination of Kimi and Kubi- how’d you like the sound of that?- would be absolutely mega. They’re two of the least complicated, purest F1 drivers of the last decade. There’d be no inter-team politics, no head games, just pure, flat-out racing. We can dream…
In reality it’s likely that Petrov will retain his drive, so long as he continues to show the good form he first discovered in Turkey. We don’t begrudge Vitaly his seat- he’s worked hard this year and clearly has some talent- but we can help but feel that Räikkönen and Kubica would be an absolute dream team- except when it came to corporate days. Can we get a monosyllabic answer?
Ideal Line-Up: Kubica & Räikkönen.
Likely Line-Up: Kubica & Petrov
Nothing’s confirmed yet but we don’t reckon there’s much to chat about here. Rubens has had a solid season, scoring some good points and regularly getting in to Q3. Added to that he’s driven in what, six hundred and twelve grand prix now? His experience is valuable, he’s said he wants to stay, and we reckon he’ll will.
Hülkenberg struggled early on in 2010 but he’s now started to look the real deal, capped by a great 6th place finish in Hungary. He showed so much potential in the junior ranks (where he won pretty much everything he entered) that dropping him after one season would make little sense. So things should remain the same at Williams and we’re pretty sure that’s the right way to go.
Ideal Line-Up: Barrichello & Hülkenberg
Likely Line-Up: Barrichello & Hülkenberg
Kamui Kobayashi has begun to shine lately, taking solid points over the last six races, so there’s no reason to drop him. It’d be handy if he brought some money, but kudos to Peter Sauber for picking his drivers solely on talent.
Pedro de la Rosa finally broke his 2010 duck in Hungary, and hadn’t embarrassed himself prior to that. More importantly he’s got bags of experience, something Sauber have benefited from in the transition from BMW-backed big-hitters back to independents.
But Pedro will be 40 by the time next season gets underway, and rumour has it GP2 title leader Pastor Maldonado will replace him at the Siwss squad. Maldonado has wiped the floor with his GP2 rivals this year, and his sponsors, PDVSA, are keen to break in to F1. Sauber’s car is currently a pretty large blank canvas for sponsors, so it’s a natural fit.
But Badger’s choice for the seat would be Nick Heidfeld. He’s still only 33 but has a full decade of grand prix racing behind him, the vast majority of which was with Sauber. His experience would compliment Kaumi’s raw pace well, and unlike de la Rosa there’s potential for him to stick about for a good few years yet.
But in honesty any of the three drivers mentioned would be a solid choice for the team. Peter Sauber has always been a good judge of racing talent.
Ideal Line-Up: Kobayashi & Heidfeld
Likely Line-Up: Kobayashi & Maldonado
Assuming they don’t collapse over the winter or sell up to someone with actual money (both very possible) Hispania will remain a ‘seat for sale team’ in 2011. A shame, as it means Sakon Yamamoto- who is a better DJ than he is a racing driver- has a solid shot at finally securing a full season F1 drive. It’s not impossible that Bruno Senna or Karun Chandhok will be back for 2011, but that will be conditional on them upping their sponsorship input.
In an ideal world (one where they have a bit of cash) they’d hire the vastly experienced Pedro de la Rosa (as they tired to last winter) and up-and-coming Spanish GP2 racer Dani Clos. An all-Spanish line-up would make great marketing sense for this Spanish team, and with the know-how of Pedro and a hungry young charger in Clos they’d be in a good position to make progress.
As far as we know at the moment though the seats will go to whoever can pay, which makes the list very long and rather pointless delving in to. Anyone interested should send a blank cheque to Dr Collin Kolles, c/o HRT F1.
But remember: you may have to share your seat.
Ideal Line-Up: de la Rosa & Clos
Likely Line-Up: Yamamoto & A Blank Cheque
Part two- where we’ll assess the future options of Force India, Lotus, Virgin and F1’s 13th team- will follow soon.