Your Comprehensive Silly Season Guide: End of the Year

Posted: December 11, 2012 by Valentin Khorounzhiy in Insights

Even with the 2012 season of Formula One wrapped up, we still can’t tell who all the winners and losers are as several teams are still stalling with the announcement of their 2013 lineups. However, before we dip into that, let’s see, how the rumour-reliant method has ended up working for me previously. Below is the list of my previous “likely estimations” and whether or not they have stood the test of the many announcements made by the teams since then:

  • Ferrari: Fernando AlonsoFelipe Massa
  • Lotus: Kimi Raikkonen – Romain Grosjean
  • Sauber: Jaime AlguersuariEsteban Gutierrez
  • Force India: Nico Hulkenberg – Paul di Resta
  • Williams: Pastor MaldonadoValtteri Bottas
  • Toro Rosso: Daniel RicciardoJean-Eric Vergne
  • Caterham: Heikki Kovalainen – Charles Pic
  • Marussia: Timo Glock – Max Chilton
  • HRT: Pedro de la RosaDani Clos

Bolded are the predictions that ended up correct (or, honestly, were already correct as of writing that previous piece – as with Alonso and, seemingly, Glock). In italics are the predictions that fell flat – obviously, I did not see the HRT demise coming and Hulkenberg’s move to Sauber was slightly surprising, though, it didn’t come straight out of the left field.

Finally, a more recent development links one Nico Hulkenberg to Sauber. Can’t comment on that much besides saying that it’s a rumour, but news have come out of less.

In regular text are the names of the drivers whose position is still not confirmed or whose seat is being heavily contested for by other hopefuls, but more on that later. Finally, underlined are the names of the teams that have already confirmed their driver lineups for 2013 (or, in the case of HRT, have unfortunately ceased to exist) and are of no interest to us in this analysis.

With that in mind, let’s go into the remaining stretch of the silly season and see, team-by-team, which driver is linked with which squad.

Lotus – after the comeback season Kimi Raikkonen has been enjoying, it was pretty much a no-brainer for Lotus to keep him in the team at all costs and that they did. It’s become much more complicated with the second seat, as Romain Grosjean, who’s enjoyed a fantastic first part of the season, seemingly lost a huge chunk of his confidence after being handed a one-race ban after Spa. In the second part of the year, Grosjean, while still remarkably quick on one lap pace, was never particularly impressive with the races, especially when they didn’t last very long for him as he continued to struggle with completing the first lap without any accidents, whether his fault or not.

As such, Lotus have been stalling on re-signing the Swiss-born Frenchman for another year, reportedly asking Total for more money in sponsorship. Also, reportedly, Total wouldn’t be so keen on that as some rumours suggest they’re slightly wary of being associated with Grosjean due to them being major proponents and financiers of safe driving campaigns and him not exactly fitting that image.

With that, naturally, rumours of Grosjean being replaced have been appearing all over the place, though the media has hardly concentrated on one particular figure to consider.

The most major option for Lotus as of now seems to be Heikki Kovalainen – the Finnish press have been reporting that alleged negotiations have taken place between Heikki and the team from Enstone. From a certain perspective, it’s a move that would make sense – it’s looking highly unlikely that Heikki will get to keep his Caterham seat and, having spent 2007 driving for Renault F1, Lotus as of now is probably the team he has most contacts in. Still, apart from the occasional mention, there has been nothing solid linking Heikki to Lotus, but, again, crazier things have happened, this very year in fact.

Another option, this one especially popular with the fans of the sport, seems to be for Lotus to go with Kamui Kobayashi who has been dropped by Sauber in favour of either Hulkenberg or Gutierrez. Following that, Kamui has started a fundraiser campaign and managed to raise, at this point, more than two million US Dollars – a sum that’s nothing compared to what the likes of Senna, van der Garde and others are reportedly carrying around with them, but could still be an indicator to teams that Kobayashi is the popular man in F1. Still, there’s been nothing definite or particularly reputable connecting Kamui to that seat, so, I’m afraid, it might just be a whole lot of wishful thinking.

Finally, Lotus always have their reserve driver, Jerome d’Ambrosio, but, even though he did reasonably when replacing Grosjean at Monza, he probably is not the level Lotus would be looking for.

EDIT: According to @GrandPrixDiary and numerous other sources, Italian journalists are spreading info about Lotus looking into signing GP2 champion Davide Valsecchi. It’s hard to see happening, but then again, he did test for them at this year’s YDT and top the timesheets against drivers in better machinery – could it be they’re that impressed? Doubt it.

Recent rumours suggest that Grosjean’s future could be announced either this or next week. And, honestly, it’s really hard to see Lotus dropping him at this point.

Estimated likeliest pairing: Kimi Raikkonen (confirmed) – Romain Grosjean

Force India – while there has been no official confirmation of sorts, it seems widely believed that Force India will retain Paul di Resta for 2013, even though the Brit’s perspectives have been looking a tad less bright since Mercedes announced Hamilton with di Resta also seemingly losing the teammate battle to Hulkenberg at the end of the year. Still, with Force India officials being super defensive about Paul’s season and sounding pretty sure they’re retaining him, I wouldn’t bet against this one.

As to his likeliest teammate, while the rumours have been suggesting that the usual suspects are being considered (Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi, reserve driver Jules Bianchi), it seems that two people have been regarded as the prime candidates for the seat. The first one of them is Bruno Senna who, even after being expectedly laid off by Williams, still has plentiful backing and seemed to be the likeliest choice for the latest few weeks.

However, as of now, the tide has changed, and the vast majority of rumours now suggest that FI are very close to signing Adrian Sutil. It might seem far-fetched to some as Sutil still has that whole suspended sentence for inflicting bodily harm on Genii Capital’s Eric Lux, which would complicate quite a few things, not the least of which is him even getting access to some of the countries where F1 races in. At the same time, on every other level it makes perfect sense – Sutil has been with the team in its various iterations since the beginning of his F1 career in 2007, has always been decently quick and has especially impressed in 2010 – so much so, that it was suggested he was dropped only because FI already had an agreement with Hulkenberg in place.

With the announcement of FI’s lineup (or, rather, according to Autosport, di Resta’s partner) due this week, don’t be surprised if the squad ends up giving you a massive feeling of déjà vu.

Estimated likeliest pairing: Paul di Resta (almost confirmed) – Adrian Sutil

Caterham – it was relatively well-known that Charles Pic was a major candidate for a race seat in Caterham, however, to have him confirmed right in the middle of the final race weekend of the year was a bit of a shock. Still, in a sense, it made the situation a whole lot clearer – with Fernandes stepping down as the team principal and Abiteboul taking his place, it seems now that the fight for the second Caterham seat is a two-horse race.

Seemingly not a part of that race is Heikki Kovalainen – while many pundits suggested that Caterham saving 10th place in the 2012 World Constructors’ Championship could give Caterham enough money to keep him, it doesn’t seem that either the team or, really, Heikki are too keen on that idea. While Kovalainen has been fast enough in the three years it has spent with Caterham (or Team Lotus, if you like), 2012 was arguably his weakest season, as good qualifying performances were usually followed by races where things didn’t go so well, especially compared to his teammate. As such, the cost of keeping Heikki around might be too high for Caterham now, when there’s a plethora of drivers who can be generally as productive and bring money with themselves.

One of those drivers is, yet again, Bruno Senna, but rumours have stated his backers aren’t interesting in paying for a seat in one of the backmarker teams. Surely, Caterham could use the money he’d bring along, but it looks like Senna is counting on more.

With that, the list is largely narrowed down to two candidates. One of them is Giedo van der Garde, who spent 2012 as Caterham’s reserve driver and seems to have decent financial backing from the Dutch firm McGregor. A WSR winner, van der Garde has been in the whereabouts of an F1 seat for quite some time now but always came short. At 27 and after another decent year in GP2, this might be his final chance and, in this author’s opinion, he is one driver who’s been long overdue a proper F1 shot.

Who’s the other one? Why, the man who gave Caterham 10th in the standings at Interlagos – Vitaly Petrov. While mid-season things seemed to have went haywire for the Russian as he was noticeably struggling to come up with sponsorship for a 2013 seat, to the point where his manager had to pretty much postpone all negotiations with teams. However, lately, it’s all been looking up, as reputable sources (among which, Joe Saward) believe he might just have the backing to edge out the competition for the seat. Again, even disregarding the money, Petrov has looked mighty impressive in comparison to his teammate on Sundays, so it would make sense for the team to retain him. As of now, his manager is reportedly in advanced negotiations with Caterham and it seems likely that the outcome of that will decide the fate of the 2nd Caterham seat.

Estimated likeliest pairing: Charles Pic (confirmed) – Vitaly Petrov

Marussia – while there hasn’t technically been a confirmation that Timo Glock will be one of Marussia’s drivers for 2013, both the team and the press appear more sure of it than even in di Resta’s case. Glock is reportedly on a multi-year contract and it’s hard to see Marussia wanting to pay him off as he is obviously both quick and experienced and very nearly gave Marussia the much desired 10th place in the WCC with his excellent Singapore drive.

As for whoever the second driver is going to be, you’d have expected Max Chilton to be officially announced by now but, for whatever reason, he hasn’t been. Again, with no evident competition for the seat and Chilton reportedly bringing in lots and lots of money, it’d be very hard to imagine why not everything is clear at Marussia at this point. Alas, I’m afraid I’m at a loss here – the only possible reason for Chilton not to be signed, as this was something all of us were 99.9% certain of when he was announced as their reserve driver, is someone else showing up with even more money.

Some of the recent rumours point to Ma Qing Hua – and, while you’d imagine he can probably outbid the Brit, it would be one massive risk to take for Marussia if they want to take the fight to Caterham next year.

It is worth noting that Carlin, the GP2 team partnered with Marussia, have already announced their 2013 lineup, replacing their 2012 drivers Chilton and Rio Haryanto being replaced by Felipe Nasr and Jolyon Palmer. While Haryanto is expected to be signed by one of the top teams for the 2013 season of GP2, same can not be said for Chilton, who probably isn’t even considering that possibility – so, looking at those signs, you’d imagine his future to be F1-bound already.

Estimated likeliest pairing: Timo Glock (multi-year contract) – Max Chilton

  1. technoelite says:

    To matt and company, been loving your work etc blah blah bah usual spill. I follow F1 very closly and have close links to Caterham F1 due to a family member working for the team. I was wondering if it is possible to help with the running of the blog and to help post information up etc. As it feels sad that the blog has been dead since December. If this seems all happy with you i could start to write what we know from testing etc.

    If you would like to know about the high level of my work, just look up my blog. and message me on there. I will give you my twitter and so on ,skype etc.

    I hope this is all okay with you.

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