At the moment there is only about half a dozen drivers certain of a seat in F1 for 2013, Vettel at Red Bull, Alonso at Ferrari and both McLaren and Mercedes drivers. The rest have a lot of uncertainty around them. Ill start at Red Bull, the dominoes for Mark Webber leaving for Porsche LMP1 programme next year have started a list of about 5 drivers being lined up for the seat, both Toro Rosso drivers, Ricardo and Vergne, with Ricardo having the “Chosen One” looks gazed toward him. The other 3 are Raikkonen, Alonso and Hulkenberg. Raikkonen has long had an associassion with red Bull from his Sauber days, although he wasn’t allowed personal sponsors at McLaren the Red Bull link surfaced at Ferrari in 2007 till the end 2009 when he was often seen with a Red Bull drinks bottle on the top of his chassis and in his hand when doing the pre race track parade. Kimi also had strong Red Bull sponsorship in WRC in 2010 and 2011, at Lotus he has been seen with their energy drink sponsors drinks holder.
As for Alonso, Im sure his Samurai Warrior inside him is using a little bit of the Art Of War in order to strengthen his place at Ferrari or remind them about something. As for Hulkenberg, Helmut Marko is a fan, however I think he wont be in the seat at Red Bull for 2014. As for who I guess will be in the RB10 for 2014, id guess it will be a Vettel and Riccardo partnership as I feel that Raikkonen wont commit to the PR days, as at Lotus he only has to do a handful per year, and only when suitable to Him. I also feel that Riccardo is a great brand fit, he is something different as a personality as well, he is known for his love of heavy music and attended the 2013 Download Festival to see his friends Parkway Drive play, this is a key market that Red Bull could do a cross over with. He clearly qulaifys well, however does go backward in the race to 2013 form, however when he was at HRT in 2011 he had a knack of going forward.
As for the STR domino that now falls, it will no doubt go to Felix Antonio Da Costa, who proved he was fast in the Silverstone Young Driver test in both the STR and Red Bull. No doubt that STR will try and team him up with Jean-Eric Vergne for 2014 as to provide continuity with the V6T power-trains coming into play for 2014. No doubt STR will try and get Sainz Jr and Kvyat having about 3 or 4 FP1 drives as well. No doubt that Red Bull will keep Buemi as their Reserve driver for both teams.
That line of Dominoes sorted, next up is the Ferrari line, I expect Massa to be booted from the line up in 2014 as Luca Di Montezemolo will want Ferrari to have a strong partnership for 2014, as Massa has been dominated yet again by Alonso, I doubt he can come back in the final half of 2013 as he did in 2012. He is exposed at present. As for replacements, I can only see two, Paul Di Resta and Kimi Raikkonen. Kimi again will feature here, however for the same reasons as Red Bull, he wont commit to the PR days, and no matter what the pay is, he wont do it is my guess. This leaves Di Resta, the best of the rest in the first half of the 2013 season, he should have had up to 20 more points to this stage in the season, and he has shown a more mature image and with a feel for the tyres, he could just be what Ferrari are after, and he does do PR days. Yes Ferrari have a driver in Kobayashai, but his recent crash in Moscow in a F60 i think have just ruled him out of a gamble.
This leaves a hole at Force India, as I think Still will stay at the team, I think its down to two candidates, Jules Bianchi and a GP2 driver in James Calado. One is known to the team, and the other impressed at the Young Driver test at Silverstone. The team has always had a good policy of promoting youth, they promoted Still in 2007 when it was Spyker to a race seat from a Friday seat in 2006, they also did the same with Di Rasta in 2011 after impressing in a FP1 seat in 2010 and the young driver test in 2009 when he was up against American JR Hildebrand. James Calado would get the nod for me, however id give him 4 FP1 drives before the end of the season, Brazil, USA, Japan and Korea for my guesses.
That’s that line of dominoes all down and in place, now to Lotus, its all down to Raikkonen, I think he will take a 1 year offer here, as Ferrari and Red Bull I guess will look else where, as they want their pound of flesh in return for a decent wage to PR contract. This leaves one more domino here, Grosjean. Can he see out the year at Lotus without getting away with murder and keeping the seat for the rest of 2013 and 2014. Its known he is seeing a physiologist, however quick he seems to be, can the Lotus team afford all those lost opportunities in points? That is the question, no doubt that if Grosjean was at the standard of a Rosberg he would have kept the team in P2 in the Constructors Table this year, now that Mercedes have taken this, I cant see Lotus taking this back. Who can replace him? I will suggest Hulkenberg, as I think a Raikonenn and Hulkenberg partnership will compete with the rest of the top 5 teams.
So with McLaren, Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari, Lotus, Force India and Toro Rosso all solved, the next seats to be prised will be at Williams, Sauber, Caterham and Marussia.
Williams will, to my guess, stay with Maldanado and Bottas, however with Mercedes AMG power next year, id think they will offer Susie Wolff a handful of FP1 drives, my guess is she will get 6 as a decent guess. However, id like to see Wolff maybes show a little race craft and see if she can be put in a WSR car for a season.
Sauber all depends on finances, if I were Sauber, id try and grab Massa or even Grosjean as a lead driver, with the Russian money that is behind Sergey Sirotkin leading somewhere, who knows. They have massive debts, and rumour has it they could fold any time. This is a mess I just cant fathom. Its a line of dominoes that I just cant seeing fall. This may be the death of a F1 team, the first one proper non manufacturer backed team since Arrows to my stance. Im sure the Lawyers will be getting their money here. My guess is that if Sauber fold, there will be a new FIA tender process for 2 new teams to enter as full time entries. However if I was to have my way, id have 2 single car entries in a F1 Asia/Euro/Americas Series style thing as well. But that’s for another blog entry. But I can see 24 car grids being the absolute optimal in F1. I will have one caveat, Caterham and Marussia may be monitoring this situation as if Sauber do fold, both teams will be in for at least a €35m windfall from FOM prize money, and this will be huge for both teams.
Now for the still named two new teams, Caterham and Marussia. First Caterham, I think retain Pic, he is showing to me that he is worthy of a seat in F1, however a second season with the same team is the acid test, however Van Der Garde I think is showing signs of improvement, and flashes of brilliance in Monaco in a wet Quali session, I just think that Caterham may be looking to reinstate Kovalinen into a race seat for 2014 as the team now realise a good driver who will be able to feed the team what they need to act on to make the car better, and the fact they lost continuity in feedback to develop the car has harmed them in 2013. The fact that the CT04 will be the first car designed without upheaval of moves to new facilities or excuse X or Y and the Renault/Red Bull rear end will be massive plusses for them. Also lets see if that Leafeald facility has any magic left in it as it was the one that the BGP001 was conceived in with Super Aguri.
Now Marussia, the team that some think shouldn’t be around, I don’t think that way, I think that way. Every sport needs a minnow, a would be giant killer. The team has a Ferrari power-train deal for 2014 and have the McLaren Wellness/Tunnel deal as well. All this stands them in good stead, and id keep the same driver pairing in Bianchi and Chilton, the reason is that they will have allot on their plate with the V6Ts and all else that will go on next year with the aero challenges, and for a team of their budget, they need continuity. Both drivers need a similar test to Pic, a second season in the same team to see how they develop.
McLaren and Mercedes are status quo, Button and Perez will be a stronger pairing next year, id expect Perez to start pushing even more, but McLaren will be more or less developing a car over 2014 for the start of 2015 for Honda will probably happen. And Mercedes will stay as is as Hamilton is contracted for next 3 years and Rosberg next 2, and either would be stupid to jump ship as the 2014 Mercedes could just be the title winning car if they produce a chassis as much an equal to the engine, as they have been working to make both the most lethal combination in F1 since the Ferrari domination years.
Next will be reserve and development drivers, that will be another topic, some of which I have touched on, and the even sillier season with tech directors and designers.
2014 is shaping up.