The silly season takes off, who goes where? It's already September, and it is time for an update on the developments on the drivers' market. A quick round through the paddock reveals there is still room for changes, but there are also teams who...
The silly season takes off, who goes where?
It's already September, and it is time for an update on the developments on the drivers' market. A quick round through the paddock reveals there is still room for changes, but there are also teams who will not change their driver line-up. McLaren will continue with Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, and Red Bull will enter the 2011 season with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, the latter recently signed a one-year contract with the team. Mercedes GP will also keep the same line-up, although recent speculations indicated Michael Schumacher would not return in 2011.
BBC co-presenter and ex-Formula One team boss Eddie Jordan was the man who initiated the rumors Schumacher would quit at the end of the season, Jordan had spotted several team bosses, drivers and managers visiting the Mercedes GP motor home during last weekend's race at Monza. "I've a hunch something fundamental has changed. I believe he is disillusioned and thinking of quitting," Jordan said during a live BBC broadcast.
Schumacher probably had enough of the speculations and has issued a statement in which his spokeswoman Sabine Kehm denies he would abandon his comeback after just one year. "Michael has no plans to quit at the end of the year." she said. "When he entered into the whole comeback scenario, he was fully informed about the situation with the car. That's why he chose it to be a three year contract -- you cannot expect to come back and win straight away in that situation."
Schumacher's comeback has been disappointing, he has been outclassed by his German team colleague Nico Rosberg, the Mercedes is not as fast as he would like it to be, and he so far only scored 46 points, while Rosberg scored 112 points. Kehm, "Obviously he would have wished that the developments to the car improved its performance more than they did. But it is a three year project to build a winning team and he is in the middle of the process."
Mercedes Benz sport director Norbert Haug also denied team principal Ross Brawn would leave the team and commented, "We are absolutely together working on next year's car." And Brawn himself has denied rumors Mercedes is building a car for next season which would be more tailor-made for Schumacher. Brawn insists there is nothing special about the 2011 car, "We are not building a car around Michael; we just want to develop a good car. There is no special characteristic."
Ferrari has a contract with Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa for next year, but after the team order scandal, many believe Massa is looking for another employer, as he doesn't want to be the number two driver. Rumors say it is possible Massa could trade places with Renault driver Robert Kubica, but he has signed a deal for another two years at Renault. Kubica would love to drive for the Maranello-based outfit, but as both Massa and Kubica already have contracts for 2011, only lengthy and tedious negotiations could make such a driver swap possible.
As said, Renault has a contract with Kubica, but no contract for a second 2011 driver. They would like to retain Russian Vitaly Petrov, but only if he improves his performance. And to make it a bit more complicated, 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen, who is currently active in the World Rally Championship for Citroen, is interested to join Renault in 2011. Renault team principal Eric Boullier has confirmed Raikkonen is indeed a candidate for a race seat alongside Kubica -- if Kubica doesn't swap places with Massa that is.
If Raikkonen would sign a deal with Renault, Petrov has to go, but he is an interesting driver because he brings in a lot of sponsor money. Lotus has revealed they want to use the Renault engine next year, and have reached an agreement with Cosworth which makes the Renault deal possible. A part of the deal could involve moving Petrov to Lotus, Lotus could certainly use the Russian money, which is estimated to be worth 5 million Euros. Lotus driver Heikki Kovalainen recently told he has a contract for 2011, but Lotus would not confirm this, and team principal Tony Fernandes has only confirmed the team will announce its driver line-up during the Singapore Grand Prix.
The Swiss-based BMW-Sauber team confirmed last week they inked a new deal with 23-year old Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi, a contract he truly earned, and right after the Italian Grand Prix team principal Peter Sauber announced Pirelli test driver Nick Heidfeld will return to the team and will replace Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa for the last five races of the season. De la Rosa's position was already under scrutiny, despite his vast experience, he only scored six points, while Kobayashi has scored 21 points this season.
Peter Sauber, "It was a hard decision for me to make as a team principal and I want to thank Pedro for his professionalism. By signing Nick we have a driver we know extremely well who will help us to further judge the comparative potential of our car." De la Rosa was of course not happy, but stated he 'would be back in 2011'.
But other teams are not entirely happy with Heidfeld's move, as it is still unknown whether the German will continue his test role for Pirelli or not. The Italian tyre company, who will replace Bridgestone as Formula One tyre supplier next year, has admitted Heidfeld could continue testing the new tyres, and teams fear this could give BMW-Sauber an unfair advantage when the new tyres will be introduced next year.
It is a bit confusing, apparently Heidfeld's contract with Pirelli enables him to race in Formula One this year as well, but a Pirelli spokesman refused to give any details, "For now we have nothing to add or to comment except that we are working very well with Heidfeld." But today both Pirelli and Sauber did have something to add and changed their story again: Heidfeld will end his contract with Pirelli after September 17, therefore next Friday is the last day he will test the Pirellis. There is also the possibility De la Rosa could replace Heidfeld and take over his testing duties for Pirelli; he certainly has plenty of experience to help Pirelli to develop their 2011 tyres, but again, Pirelli refused to comment.
Spanish media have also reported De la Rosa was seen with HRT team founder Jose Carabante in Monza, fueling speculations he could be looking for a 2011 seat with HRT. Carabante admitted he had spoken with De la Rosa, and also used the opportunity to emphasize his Hispania team has no problems, as FOM boss Bernie Ecclestone had suggested. "We will, for sure, complete this season. We are going well and working hard on next year," the Spaniard said.
HRT driver Brazilian Bruno Senna reckons he will be racing for HRT until the last Grand Prix this year. "I am assuming I will be in the car until the last race. I have a firm place all the way to Abu Dhabi," he said. But HRT can use all the money they can get, and both Senna and Sakon Yamamoto, the latter replaced the ousted Indian driver Karun Chandhok, are not sure they will have a race seat for next season.
The third new team, Virgin Racing, have confirmed they want to retain Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi for 2011. Team principal John Booth is adamant Glock has a contract for 2011, "Obviously Timo is here next year, his contract is tight with both of us, and both of us are very happy with what is happening." But Virgin only has an option on Di Grassi for next year, and although Virgin wants to retain the Brazilian, Belgium Jerome d'Ambrosio is also rumored to be in the race for a seat alongside Glock. D'Ambrosio currently races for the DAMS team in GP2, but according to the rumors, he will have to pay 5 million Euros if he wants to join Virgin.
Force India recently renewed their engine deal with Mercedes, but have maintained radio silence regarding their 2011 driver line-up. Adrian Sutil joined the team in 2007, when it was still the Spyker F1 team, and his only realistic option is to stay with the team. Force India have made a lot of progress the last 2 years, but Sutil is certainly capable of driving for big teams as Mercedes or McLaren, but there are no vacant seats and Sutil will have to stay at Force India for at least one more year.
His team colleague Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi is also happy with his place in the team and wants to stay, but ex-HRT driver Chandhok is lurking around the corner to take over his seat, and with an Indian Grand Prix on the 2011 calendar, team principal Vijay Mallya might be tempted to hire him, especially if Chandhok can find Indian sponsors to join him for 2011.
Toro Rosso also have expressed their desire to maintain the same driver line-up for 2011, and although there initially was some confusion about it, team principal Franz Tost has confirmed both Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi will be racing for the Italian Scuderia Toro Rosso next year.
And finally, the Williams team. They employ the most experienced Formula One driver of all times, Rubens Barrichello, with now 301 Grands Prix under his belt. Barrichello has no doubts, he will race for Williams in 2011. The 38-year old veteran about 2011, "On my side I think it was an easier decision. My part is done, all that is left is the papers to make it confirmed. That I will be with Williams in 2011 is 100 per cent."
His team colleague German Nico Hulkenberg, who excelled at Monza last weekend, expects he will stay at Williams and has indicated his manager, Willi Weber, also mockingly nicknamed Mr. 20 per cent, is close to sealing a new Williams deal. "I want to stay with Williams and I have heard only positive things. I have received a lot of praise, we are continuing to improve and I'm learning a lot at the moment," the young talented German said. And when asked if he would be interested to drive for the German Mercedes team he said, "There are many attractive employers. But my ideal one is more Ferrari, really, than Mercedes. There's no timetable, but of course my ultimate goal is to be world champion."
Indeed, all Formula One drivers, old an young, in the past and in the present, all want to become the next Formula One champion, and therefore they, and their managers and sponsors, are always on the lookout for the best possible race seat to achieve that goal, some will find it, and some will not.
Join us again next week for the weekly "Formula One: On and off track".
See also: Formula One - On and Off track week 36