No matter how much the rules and regulations change there will always be the annual ritual undertaken by teams and spectators alike, some call it ‘the silly season’ where rumors of Lewis Hamilton making a switch to HRT in a shock switch with Narain Karthikeyan are rumored. For 2011 the silly season has taken on a new look with the big four teams retaining their driver line ups, focus has shifted to the smaller teams and more importantly, how up and coming drivers are going to be brought into F1. As always there are a few more shocks to come.
Each silly season usually revolves around the movement of a few drivers who, once the cheque clears, open up the second choice of all other teams. 2011 is dependent on two drivers that did not compete in 2011 and both drivers have unique appeal in their returns to F1. Who are these drivers? Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica of course. So where are two of the biggest names not yet in F1 expected to slot in for 2012?
If rumours are to be believed and then the guarded comments of those in the know at Williams would suggest that Raikkonen, the 2007 champion, will be driving in blue and white. The success of this move will largely depend on Raikkonen’s attitude. As indicated by Darryl Beattie recently, if Raikkonen comes to Williams to collect the cash, the relationship will go nowhere. If Raikkonen comes to fight then Williams recovery with the Renault engine will be assured. Either way I tip Raikkonen to return in 2012 making it six world champions in the field.
Kubica is a different issue altogether. The Pole is still recovering from his horrendous injuries and looks set to be unable to start the 2012 season with Renault. Kubica has two options: 1) Get better and rejoin Renault around the halfway point of next season or devote 2012 to regaining fitness and prove himself fit for a move to Ferrari in 2013. I think kubica will make an appearance for Renault in 2012 as the track time would do him well but I don’t see him at Renault (soon to be Lotus) beyond 2012.
So who loses out? Unfortunately, despite a far better year than his teammate, Rubens Barrichello will make way for Raikkonen at Williams. Despite statistically having the worst season of any Williams driver in history (even worse than Alex Zanardi in 1999) Pastor Maldonado will remain a Williams driver thanks only to Venezuelan Oil Company PDVSA.
Outside the top four teams (Red Bull, Mclaren, Ferrari and Mercedes) only Sauber and Team Lotus (soon to be Caterham) have confirmed their line ups. For the rest it is fine balance between form and funds with the later usually taking precedent.
At Virgin (soon to be Marussia and no doubt something else in 2013) Timo Glock has been secured while the second seat will be filled by a young cashed up dreamer ever increasingly being seen as French GP2 driver Charles Pic.
At Force India Adrian Sutil is under threat of being replaced by Nico Hulkenberg who would be well paired with Paul Di Resta to enable Mercedes to groom a driver to replace Michael Schumacher in 2013.
At Renault (soon to be Lotus) it’s a case of having too many drivers to choose from. Under the Renault banner the inclusion of former Renailt driver and 2011 GP2 champion Romain Grosjean would have been perfect. However the black and gold will remain and the marketability of the Senna name together with some recent form leaves the Brazilian strongly in the running. Renaults problem, much the same as Williams, is that the driver with the dosh is the one with the worst form. Fresh from his interview on Russian television where he slammed the Renault team for the cars poor performance in the latter part of 2011, Vitaly Petrov has been inconsistent in his form which even at it’s best has been hardly sparkling. On form Grosjean and Senna would lead the team with the less successful of the two making way for Kubica mid season. But that would be too fair, something F1 is not and the executives at Lada need someone to represent their company. I expect Petrov to lead the team with Grosjean to start the season but alternating with Senna until the arrival of Kubica. With his connections with team principal Eric Boullier, expect Jerome D’Ambrosio to play a role as a test driver who doesn’t test drive.
And then there were two… and it is here where the hard decisions have to be made. With no testing allowed the demand for drives is stronger than ever. At HRT Pedro De La Rosa has been signed on a two year deal which leaves three positions open to fit four drivers, Jaime Alguersari, Sebastien Buemi, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne. The second driver at HRT will depend largely on which drivers Red Bull choose to drive for Toro Rosso.
At Torro Rosso it appears almost certain that either Buemi or Alguesuari will compete in their last race at Brazil. The simple fact is that both drivers have had a chance to prove themselves and there are now two new Red Bull prodigies that deserve a chance on the big stage. But who does Red Bull go for Vergne or Ricciardo? The answer could come down to funds, something which Vergne appears not to lack. In my opinion Ricciardo deserves the drive and while that doesn’t always guarantee you a drive in F1, his performances with HRT showed his potential and would ensure he starts stronger than Vergne would which is something Toro Rosso desperately need. At the end of the day, if Buemi and Alguesuari get three years then Ricciardo deserves at least one. If he replaces anyone it will be the out of sorts Buemi who’s Swiss marketing value does not compare with the Spanish Alguersari.
So does Vergne get a full season at HRT? If HRT can’t find a greater pay driver then I think they will put him in but they don’t call it silly season for nothing!!
Here is the Racefans prediction for the 2012 grid. (Remember you heard it here first)
Red Bull Racing
1. Sebastien Vettel
2. Mark Webber
3. Jenson Button
4. Lewis Hamilton
5. Fernando Alonso
6. Felippe Massa
7. Nico Rosberg
8. Michael Schumacher
9. Vitaly Petrov
10. Romain Grosjean/Bruno Senna/Robert Kubica
11. Paul Di Resta
12. Nico Hilkenberg
14. Kamui Kobayashi
15. Sergio Perez
16. Jaime Alguersari
17. Daniel Ricciardo
18. Pastor Maldonado
19. Kimi Raikkonen
20. Heikki Kovalainen
21. Jarmo Trulli
22. Timo Glock
23. Nicholas Pic
24. Pedro De La Rosa
25. Jean-Eric Vergne