As it got underway the silly season looked like it was going to be quite boring, with all the top drivers staying put and just a few spots in the mid and back field up for grabs. Now that the dust slowly settles, we see there’s been quite a bit of exciting moving and shaking after all and we are seeing some serious and sad faces from those who missed out.
Here I’d like to focus not on poor old Rubinho, Heidfeld, Liuzzi or even Sutil, but on those young guys whose F1 careers are now hanging in the balance after barely even having started. Petrov, Alguersuari, Buemi and D’Ambrosio all had more than decent seasons last year (yes, I admit even Petrov did OK) but all are stuck in the horrible limbo of third driver hell or worse after getting unceremoniously dumped by their respective teams.
With HRT finally announcing their 2nd driver with another comeback kid Narain Khartikeyan, the 2012 grid is now officially full. Some doubts still linger over Trulli’s seat at Caterham, depending on whether Petrov can scrape together enough Russian Rubles to oust the amiable Italian w(h)inemaker. As you all know I’m probably one of the most fervent Petrov bashers out there, and while I respect Trulli’s career and talent, I’d much rather see the hungry Russian take another stab at it than witness another season of over the hill Trulli moaning and getting spanked by Kovalainen.
With Caterham’s third driver role just given to Dutch GP2 graduate Guido Van Der Garde, Petrov’s chances to remain in F1 are getting quite small indeed as the cash just does not seem to be forthcoming with the start of testing just a few days away. Virgin could have been an option with the Russian links, but the timing kind of bit them in the ass as they had already signed Frenchman Pic shortly before Vitaly’s dismissal at Renault was announced. Even in the cutthroat world of F1 it would be kind of harsh to dump a kid you just signed before he even turned a wheel…
We may see some more third driver roles announced but even in that department there are not many vacancies left. Jerome D’Ambrosio has his Gravity management and decent performances last year to thank for his the reserve seat at Lotus and who knows, if the car isn’t quite up to par and Kimi gets bored of F1 again, we may just see the Belgian back behind the wheel this year. That said, when Virgin dumped him for Pic, I didn’t see much hope for him, and with this at least he’s keeping his name and face buzzing around the F1 paddock.
Sebastian Buemi is clutching at straws landing the third driver role at both Red Bull and STR, a good way to keep himself in the system but if I were Buemi, I’d forget about any long term future at Red Bull and sponge up all that top secret knowledge about Red Bull in the simulator working with the engineers, to then offer my services to another team for next year…. on condition that they only get the info after a contract has been signed of course.
Jaime Alguersuari is another young talent to find himself without a seat or even a third driver role at the moment. It was reported he turned down the HRT seat – which in most circumstances I’d say was a good move – but in Jaime’s case it looks like he’s ending up with no role in F whatsoever so he may end up regretting that decision.
Of all the recently dumped guys, Alguersuari seems to be in the most dire straits. Vague rumors of a possible Merc role have surfaced but they are already clearly grooming Di Resta for when the old Kaiser re-retires and have Sam Bird pulling a Paffet as reserve driver. I honestly don’t see any prospects for Jaime there.
Ferrari have Bianchi and Kubica lined up, Force India have stabled Bianchi for Ferrari for a while, Sauber have Perez, Kobayashi and Gutierrez, Caterham have Sims (and perhaps Petrov), Lotus has Kimi, Grosjean and D’Ambrosio, Toro Rosso just dumped him, HRT sucks ass, Virgin need pay drivers along Glock – and have Wickens and Quaife Hobbs in their stable. Finally Williams are grooming their very promising reserve driver Bottas while cashing in on the much needed money of Senna and Maldonado. The only place I’d see some simmering of hope for Jaime would be Mclaren, since their reserve line up of Turvey and Paffet isn’t very impressive, but has Jaime really proven he deserves to be in a top seat yet?
There are just not many openings for an F1 orphan who just got robbed of his parental backing. All the other families have already picked their favored son and aren’t too keen to adopt it seems. Of course, he is still very young and has 2.5 years of F1 experience under his belt, so if he manages to keep busy this year, I’m sure his name will pop up again somewhere next year, but he really desperately needs to get himself back into the picture somewhere now that Red Bull has totally cut him loose.
The 2012 season promises to have an even more fun silly season – probably already starting after the 5th GP lol – with possible openings at the four top teams: Red Bull (Webber), Mclaren (Hamilton), Ferrari (Massa), Mercedes (Schumacher). Even further down the grid nothing is really carved in stone so we could see a total earthquake in driver movement for next year.
Stay tuned to the backmarkers F1 blog and podcast for all the insane analysis on this and much more!