Lewis Hamilton’s out-of-nowhere move to Mercedes, a move nobody could have predicted before the beginning of the season, is undoubtedly a good thing for the sport. It provided us with a shake-up that the driver market desperately needed and, while one has to (and, surely, will) question Hamilton’s motives, it could be the career break Lewis needed.
That is not the point I’m aiming to make with these few paragraphs though as for me one of the best parts about this whole ordeal is that the outlandish move happened despite most people refusing to believe it until the very second it was announced.
You see, this, for me, was a perfect demonstration of what separates a casual fan from somebody who you could refer to using the terribly negative term “hardcore”. Casual fans aren’t worse by definition and, in fact, we obviously need more of them to keep the sport sustainable, but it has to be said for the thousands of people who went onto forums and said the story was complete tosh because Eddie Jordan broke it – they were completely and utterly wrong.
While EJ is a loveable (your mileage might and probably does vary) clown, you’d have to be very silly to not take what he said seriously. Three years ago, he called Michael’s return to F1 just like now he called his possible retirement. The guy’s around the paddock all the time, as good of an public inside source as you can get and works for BBC, who have a reputation they need to keep up. In fact, the most surprising thing about Hamilton’s move post EJ’s announcement was that it took them so long, which, as far as I know, could’ve had something to do with the overeagerness of Simon Fuller to sign with Mercedes.
It was reportedly going to be Wednesday last week when all hell was supposed to break loose, but the revelation came two days later, first reported by The Telegraph’s Tom Cary – first, he broke the news that Lewis finally made up his mind and then correctly called the, quite frankly, shocking Perez move. Enough of the preaching from me, though – the morale of the story is that there usually is a lot of interesting stuff in the rumour mill and with F1 it is likelier to be true than with any other sport I’ve ever watched. With that in mind, having read up on a ton of transfer rumours spurred by the big move, here’s my guide to the silly season for you – what could happen, what seems likely to happen, what’s outlandish but might just be crazy enough for 2012 to happen.
Sauber – Monisha Kalterborn might be saying that the team was going to try to retain Perez but it doesn’t seem they were banking much on it, as rumours that Sauber already have their lineup prepared appeared immediately after the big announcement.
Seemingly in pole position for the Sauber seat was Jaime Alguersuari. The Spaniard reported a couple of weeks ago that he will definitely be racing in 2013, confirmed that in his BBC column a few days ago and even gave SPEED one hell of a hint as to where he’ll be racing – look at teams from 5th to 7th in the constructors standings. The teams in question are Mercedes, Sauber and Force India.
With Mercedes obviously out of the question and Force India the less likely option, that meant that Sauber was the obvious choice.
It does seem, however, with Jaime and whatever team is in question stalling that announcement, that all is not well. As suggested by Rob Sinfield (@GrandPrixDiary) in his F1 press roundup, Jaime reportedly told a Spanish mag (Marca, I think) that it was indeed Sauber he was planning to go to yet, without a definite contract, he cannot be particularly certain of that anymore.
A shame for Jaime, then, that there is certainly immense competition for the seat. Third in GP2 this year, Mexican Esteban Gutierrez is another prime candidate for the Sauber seat. He has been their test driver for two years and seems to have the Telmex sponsorship behind him. With Gutierrez obviously ready for F1 and Perez pulling out of Sauber, you’d imagine that the team has no choice. To avoid losing the sponsorship you would think they have to bring Gutierrez on board. And, of course, there have been rumours to that regard – so much so that, according to the info some of my pals who cover junior series found, the announcement might be made as early as Tuesday… oh wait that’s today. Sure hope this blog post doesn’t become obsolete the second I post it.
There are other juniors who probably have a mathematical chance of earning the seat. Enter Fabio Leimer and Robin Frijns. The former, a Swiss driver (see the connection?) already tested for Sauber last year in the YDT, while the latter is rumoured to be doing that this year. Leimer is certainly more mature than his Mexican competitor but seems to lack the raw pace which is sort of proven by him finishing seventh in GP2 this year. He’s had his share of atrocious luck, yes, but in his third year of GP2, I’d imagine more was expected of him.
Frijns is a much hotter property but it looks like the best he can look forward to is being a test driver. Weird, since, despite the fact that he’s been rising through the ranks fairly quickly, you wouldn’t call him unproven – the kid has been regularly beating the likes of Jules Bianchi and Sam Bird in WSR and, coming into the last round, has a major shot at the title.
Still, while Sauber does have a sort of reputation for hiring young talent, they might just go with an older, more experienced quantity. And when you look for “experienced”, it doesn’t get much more of that than Michael Schumacher. With no retirement announcement from the German, you’d have to assume that he isn’t done just yet and, reportedly, his manager has been seen talking to Kaltenborn. Weak link, you’d say, but it sure seems the journos think otherwise.
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. And, well, forgive me for forgetting, but they could always re-sign Kamui Kobayashi, although the chances of that are looking increasingly slim.
Estimated likeliest pairing: Jaime Alguersuari – Esteban Gutierrez
Force India – our own @TheVillainF1 suggests that the team might not even exist in its current form in 2013, but, for the sake of the article, let’s assume that it does.
With Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta losing out on the McLaren seat they both had major chances of getting, you’d expect them to stay with the team. A couple of problems with that, though. Firstly, Hulkenberg could always still get a promotion (more on that later) and the same seems true for Paul. Secondly, you have to wonder whether Force India are too keen on keeping di Resta anymore, now that his future Mercedes chances seem gone and you could be forgiven for thinking Mercedes probably don’t support him anymore.
So, say either of them vacates a spot. Who is it then? Jules Bianchi is the prime candidate, as suggested by Mallya himself (who said there’s no reason why they wouldn’t promote Bianchi like they promoted Nico a year earlier). Much of that might depend on whether Bianchi wins the WSR title or not (or it might not depend on that at all), but Jules in undeniably quick and certainly ready.
Obviously, don’t count Jaime Alguersuari out. It might still be Force India he was planning to return with and, if so, there shouldn’t be much of a problem with that, seeing how the team desperately wants money and Jaime could bring just that with CEPSA.
That’s pretty much it right there. Schumacher has not been linked, neither have any of the young guys, and, really, just to mention someone else – GP2 vice-champion Luiz Razia tested for them in the YDT. Might be him.
Estimated likeliest pairing: Nico Hulkenberg – Paul di Resta
Williams – Pastor Maldonado is probably going to be retained and, while you can’t be certain that Bruno Senna will be fired, his chances of staying aren’t looking that great. The team’s test driver, one Valtteri Bottas, is the prime candidate for a seat. The team, mostly Toto Wolff, seem really happy with him as he has been sublimely quick in the practice sessions that he got to run. And, at some point in the season, I’d almost be ready to call Bottas a certainty for that seat.
I still do but some, namely, Edd Straw, suggest that Williams could go with Michael Schumacher. It would make sense, certainly, from a marketing perspective as well as for team balance – Pastor, while insanely fast, is still very, very inexperienced and a massive crasher while Michael, while also a crasher, has lots of experience and could score consistent points. That looks like fantasy at the most, folks, but, hell, why not.
Estimated likeliest pairing: Pastor Maldonado – Valtteri Bottas
Ferrari – all of us know Fernando Alonso is staying, but for whoever his partner’s going to be in 2013, it’s a total randomfest. You’d expect Felipe Massa to have been dropped already, but it’s silly to deny he’s been strong recently, which is probably what’s getting Ferrari to consider keeping him. It’s just for another year, after all, as them letting Perez go suggests they have some mighty plans for the future. Perhaps a German driver for 2014? Eh, I dunno.
For now, there are two other main candidates. While other names have been extensively linked all season, according to BBC’s Andrew Benson, it is now squarely between Massa and the Force India duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta. Benson stated on Twitter he’s been getting different reports on who is to land that seat, with one insider suggesting Massa is a certainty and another saying that it is likely to be Nico. Not sure how good the di Resta link is, but it certainly seems reasonable.
For everyone who’s been wanting Michael Schumacher to score a one-year deal with Ferrari – I wouldn’t call it too outlandish, but it seems terribly unlikely now. PA’s Ian Parkes suggested, rather hilariously, that a representative told him Ferrari were more likely to hire Ascari than Schumacher.
Estimated likeliest pairing: Fernando Alonso – Felipe Massa
Lotus – Bernie Ecclestone was quoted as saying he would want Michael Schumacher to join Kimi Raikkonen at Lotus. However, the final word might not be his, as Boullier has already suggested that they were really interested in retaining both of their drivers. Since there’s not much else where Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean could go (and why would they), this one is fairly obvious.
Estimated likeliest pairing: Kimi Raikkonen – Romain Grosjean
Scuderia Toro Rosso – alright, this has absolutely jack to do with Hamilton’s move, but I wanted to mention it anyway. Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne are both likely to retain their seats even though their season has been fairly anonymous (due to the car, in my humble opinion). However, with the recent noise Antonio Felix da Costa has been making in the junior series, he could just score the drive. After finishing 3rd in GP3 against more than talented opposition, Felix da Costa focused on his part-time campaign in WSR and quite literally began kicking ass. His recent results against the likes of Frijns, Bianchi, Bird and Sorensen have been nothing short of incredible. As Will Buxton (F1 coverage for SPEED and GP2 + GP3 coverage for Sky) suggests, that might be enough for Marko to decide that Antonio should get a drive. Even if he doesn’t, I wouldn’t bet against him coming in midway through 2013.
Estimated likeliest pairing: Daniel Ricciardo – Jean-Eric Vergne
Caterham – seemingly nowhere to go for Heikki Kovalainen so he might just have to endure another season at Caterham. By the sounds of it, the team is very close to signing him for another year and could announce that soon.
The fun begins with the other seat, as Vitaly Petrov seemingly ran out of sponsorship money that led his manager to suspend all talks with other teams. Now, he could still find the sponsors, so I wouldn’t write him out, but it doesn’t sound good, going by international news as well as Russian news.
The drivers who are tipped to replace him are well-known. Firstly, Charles Pic would like to have a drive (although he’s also been linked to Sauber and Force India a long time ago, but after the shake-up, it’s all been quiet) as he might be looking at the possibility of being ousted by Marussia for 2013 (more on that later). Charles is quick, has sponsorship, has been very impressive in his first season in F1 and you’d imagine Caterham are seriously considering them.
Don’t count their test driver out, though. Giedo van der Garde also has sponsorship, is also quick and hasn’t run his share of FP1 sessions yet. While he’s getting just a bit old, he’s still seemingly very capable, which he has shown this year with a commendable 6th place in GP2 (an achievement considering the bad luck and the team’s inexperience). You’d imagine he’s the reason why Caterham hasn’t made moves – they want to see how Giedo fares in comparison to Kovalainen and they will get to observe that in the last races of 2012.
Among other rumoured Petrov replacements is, peculiarly, Sebastien Buemi. Not sure what cash he’d be bringing but, should Heikki leave, I’d imagine Caterham would look into signing the Swiss driver.
Estimated likeliest pairing: Heikki Kovalainen – Charles Pic
Marussia – Timo Glock seems to be staying. According to Glock, that is, although he does have a contract for 2013 and Marussia is in no position to buy things like that out. So, if anyone would be leaving, you’d expect it to be Charles Pic.
Now, why would Marussia not try to retain Pic who’s been very good for them this season. Because, according to the rumous, GP2’s Max Chilton (4th in his 3rd year) is going to bring them sponsorship deals that would put Maldonado to shame. While that might be hyperbole, Marussia seem keen on signing Max, who’s already running for their GP2 squad and has obvious ties to the team. The sponsorship would come from his father who is quite wealthy and runs a pretty noteable company – Aon. Whatever money that sort of partnership would bring to Marussia – I’d bet it would be more than Pic is bringing right now.
Estimated likeliest pairing: Timo Glock – Max Chilton
HRT – Pedro de la Rosa says he’s staying. Again, he’s on a deal for 2013 and HRT, even more so than Marussia, are in no position to argue. That leaves it between Narain Karthikeyan and their test driver, Dani Clos.
Both would be bringing money, although I imagine Narain has more than Clos to offer. However, Clos is Spanish and this, after all, is a team that wants to be distinctly Spanish.
Estimated likeliest pairing: Pedro de la Rosa – Dani Clos
Obviously, other drivers could come into the picture for most of these situations, but, as far as the rumours go right now, this is about it. Thanks for your attention and thank you so much, Lewis Hamilton, Simon Fuller, Ross Brawn and others. You made this fun we’re having possible.
Apart from the sources linked in the article, most other info I get has been coming from the Russian resource championat.com as their “auto” section is very nifty as a compilation of daily F1 rumours from non-international sources. Not exactly a plug – none (or, I guess, most) of you can read what they write, cause it’s all in Russian.