With Kimi Raikkonen returning to the site of his only World Championship, and Daniel Ricciardo making the step up to the Red Bull senior squad to (possibly) play second fiddle to Sebastian Vettel, speculation as to who-will-be-in-what seats next year is sure to start/have started.
Here is Badger GP’s run down of who may be where come Melbourne 2014.
Firstly, lets cover off the obvious ones;
Ferrari have a mouth wateringly un-PR friendly superstar lineup of Kimi and Fernando Alonso, which is as likely to end in tears as it is World Championships, especially given the Italian manufacturers inability to build a title winning car in recent years.
Mercedes look to be fairly settled with what most would consider the second best line-up on the grid – both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have shown pace, but inconsistency, in performances so far this year.
McLaren also look to be fairly settled, with the somewhat underwhelming 2013 car masking the potent combination of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez.
Red Bull have the bases covered with a younger (better, perhaps?) Australian in their line-up to partner what is looking likely to be 4 time World Champion Sebastian Vettel.
Now for the rest…
With the loss of Kimi Räikkönen causing a little pain for Lotus, it will be interesting to see where they turn for the much needed anaesthetic. The obvious choice would appear to be the snubbed Nico Hülkenberg, who was cruelly robbed of the Ferrari seat by text message at the 11th hour.
But with the team rumored to be short on funds going into 2014, and Nico perhaps being wary of being in 4 teams in 5 seasons, it might not be as cut and dried as many may think. Whoever is in the black-and-gold seat will need to bring some sort of funding ultimately.
Romain Grosjean is likely to be safe as a result of the cash he brings from Total, and the associations with Renault. If we are talking hard cash, then an outside bet may be one Pastor Maldonado, who is unhappy with Williams inability to supply him with a decent car.
However, his backing comes from PDVSA, an oil company, which may clash with Grosjean’s Total sponsorship. It would great to see the team take a punt on current 3rd driver and 2012 GP2 champion Davide Valsecchi, but our outside bet could be on Robert Kubica. The fan-favourite Pole is liable to be keen to return to F1 – if he is fit enough.
Sauber have had a tough season. A poor car and a poor rookie have hurt the team, as have stories of unsettled finances. If Hülkenberg does leave for pastures new, then they possibly could be looking for two drivers for 2014.
One of those is almost certain to be Sergey Sirotkin (assuming he obtains a superlicence) who comes with significant Russian backing. An obvious choice for the other seat might be Ferrari exile Felipe Massa, who would bring experience and potential development for the team, but for a team struggling to pay it’s current line-up, it is doubtful if they would be able to afford him.
Other names to throw into the mix could be Jules Bianchi or Kamui Kobayashi; the latter has a history with the team and both have strong connections with Ferrari, which in turn would keep the engine link strong between the Swiss and the Italians.
Bruno Senna, who brings Gillete-shaped money with him, and a host of GP2 drivers. It really is a case of following the money for Sauber.
Poor Paul DiResta. He would have been a good fit at Ferrari, and may still be a good fit at Lotus, depending on how the tide turns.
If we were to guess, we would imagine that both he and Adrian Sutil will be staying exactly where they are for 2014, although GP2 starlet James Calado’s recent outing at Monza for Friday practice might get his foot in the door if either, or both, were to move on suddenly.
Whoever ends up driving for Williams has an unenviable task. The expectation that the team, and it’s history dictates, have meant that strong performances must return – sooner, rather than later. If next year’s car is anything like those of recent years, despite the promise of Mercedes power, it might prove difficult to shine.
Recent large losses announced by Williams Group mean that funding is also important to any future driver employed at the Grove-based squad, and for this reason (assuming he doesn’t leave) Pastor Maldonado is probably safe for another season.
Likewise, the investment made into Valterri Bottas’ career means that – assuming he isn’t poached by another team – he is also likely to stay on board for 2014.
Toro Rosso have an interesting conundrum as the feeder team for Red Bull. Having sent Daniel Ricciardo off to Milton Keynes with an even-larger-than-usual smile, they must now turn their hand to next season knowing that its back to square one in terms of driver development.
Christian Horner and Franz Tost have both said that Jena-Eric Vergne will get another season at the Italian based outfit, although the point of this is unclear as he would appear to be unlikely to step up to the first team in the short/medium term. His connections to France (as in, you know, being French) would mean that new engine supplier Renault will be backing him to stay on. And if Total runs out of patience with Romain Grosjean, Total might just switch allegiances too.
Antonio Felix Da Costa is the only one of the team’s development drivers with sufficient experience to make the step up. They have two further drivers performing well in GP3, Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jnr, and they will perhaps share a testing/reserve role.
Ultimately though, we might get at least one fresh face into F1 thanks to Red Bull.
Caterham & Marussia
It is very, very hard to know who will be in any of these 4 seats come 2014, perhaps with the exception of Max Chilton, who is liable to retain his seat purely through the financial backing that he brings through AON.
As for the others, it’s very much anyone’s guess…although the temptation of a Russian driver driving for a Russian team (kind of) at a Russian Grand Prix is liable to be a very tempting option for Marussia. This could lead to the aforementioned Daniil Kvyat, or indeed ex-Lotus and Caterham man Vitaly Petrov, landing a seat.
Charles Pic, Giedo Van der Garde and Heikki Kovalainen will all be doing their bit to land a drive, but it will be down to money more than anything. Even talent.