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The 2010 line-up as it stands

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Here I have been keeping track of all the rumours and speculation regarding next year’s driver line-up by drawing up lists of potential drivers for each seat, but it seems that at the end of August we are no closer to knowing who will be driving for who than in the last few weeks. In fact, with BMW’s withdrawal and Massa’s injury, it has become even more complicated. Anything could still happen.

Championship leader Jenson Button would be a bit silly to leave the team he has been with since 2003, so I can’t see him going anywhere even though no deals have been tied up yet. The question is over the second seat. Barrichello was known to be looking at other options, having spoken to Williams, whilst US F1 chief Peter Windsor has previously stated he would like to sign him as lead driver. There are a number of alternatives but little speculation, although Brawn have been looking at some of the usual names that are currently available. Ross has been talking to Raikkonen’s management team and was said to be interested in Rosberg. And you wouldn’t rule out test driver Davidson and young Senna, who came oh so close to debuting this year with the team.

Probable: Jenson Button
Likely: Rubens Barrichello
Possible: Nick Heidfeld, Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubica, Kimi Raikkonen, Bruno Senna, Anthony Davidson

Red Bull-Renault/Mercedes
With both Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel confirmed for 2010, the only question mark hanging over Red Bull is the engine supplier. As early as China, it was rumoured that the Austrian outfit was looking to switch to Mercedes power to follow the lead of Force India and Brawn, but Autosport have since reported that the team are happy with the latest big push from Renault to help with their title fight and could stick with them for another season.

Confirmed: Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel

The Scuderia have a dilemma – they seemingly have 3 top drivers lined up and 2 seats for them. Both current drivers are theoretically contracted for 2010 but they are also presumed to have a big sponsorship deal with Spanish banking giant Santander, who have requested the services of Spanish pay driver Fernando Alonso. The general consensus before Massa’s Hungarian GP qualifying accident was that Raikkonen would be the one making way, heading off into F1 retirement and crazy world of rallying. However, as discussed in my earlier article, he has been known to have been in negotiations with other teams, so his career may not be over yet. And if you want a long shot, how about hungry Michael?

Likely: Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen
Possible: Michael Schumacher

Lewis Hamilton has a contract for 2010 and beyond, so he’s highly unlikely to be heading out the door. The question is who will be his team mate? Heikki Kovalainen has already been given the hurry-up by Martin Whitmarsh – in public! A rare thing to happen. The team had had an option on him but have now chosen not to take it up, instead forcing the Finn to work for a new contract, but I can’t see his performances improving enough to get him a new seat – last year, his mediocrity was blamed on the tyres and driving style, but no excuses this year, so I think he’s doomed. Instead, it looks like McLaren will go for Lewis’ old mate Nico Rosberg, which will also satisfy Merc’s German quota. Outside shots could be Kubica, Sutil or even a return for Kimi – don’t rule it out.

Probable: Lewis Hamilton
Likely: Nico Rosberg
Possible: Heikki Kovalainen, Robert Kubica, Adrian Sutil, Kimi Raikkonen

Until the Valencia weekend, it was generally perceived that Toyota would retain both drivers for next year, despite interest shown in Raikkonen and Rosberg. Both Trulli and Glock have been solid drivers, with the car at fault for the team’s progressive slide down the grid throughout the year. But instead, it now seems that the team don’t want to give Trulli the 2 year deal he wants, and they have decided to tell the rest of the world that he probably isn’t staying – a strange way of doing things. Maybe it’s just a bluff, a negotiating tactic. But if it isn’t, then what’s changed? Well, BMW has been sold, which has put Kubica on the market – maybe they’re close to a deal with the Pole. Or maybe another driver is either close to signing a contract or already has – Rosberg or Raikkonen perhaps? I honestly have no idea who will be driving for them next year but it’ll probably be one of those 3 or Trulli – it has to be, unless one of the big guns has decided he wants a new challenge, presumably under the influence of a lot of alcohol. But then again, if the latest speculation is to be believed, Toyota may not even be around next year…

Probable: Timo Glock
Likely: Jarno Trulli
Possible: Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubica, Kimi Raikkonen

2010 could be the beginning of a new era for the Williams team, as both drivers seem likely to leave and a change of engine supplier is on the cards. They seem to be getting cold feet with Toyota and their lack of commitment to the future, so are now looking around to see what the other manufacturers are offering. A reunion with Renault is a possibility, but this could depend on what Red Bull do – if they stick with Renault, Williams may end up picking up the Merc supply that was originally destined for Milton Keynes. A second return to Cossie power is an outside bet. Any way you look at it, Toyota boy Nakajima’s seat is under threat, as he’s only in a seat to pay for the engines right now. Williams will be eager to get rid of Kazuki, who still hasn’t got onto the scoreboard after 10 races despite having the same car that has taken Rosberg well into the top 10 in the championship. Nico himself his ambitions away from Grove, so he too will probably depart. Coming in is likely to be another Nico – Hulkenberg, another German hotshot managed by Willi Weber currently leading GP2. Alongside could be any number of drivers, although Frank will be looking for a reasonably well-known face with experience. Barrichello and Heidfeld are two distinct possibilities, having already been talking to the team. They also have an outside chance of stealing Kubica if he’s up for the challenge and can’t get a foot in anywhere else, or maybe Heikki could sign up. Again, a lot of possibilities.

Likely: Nico Hulkenberg
Possible: Nico Rosberg, Kazuki Nakajima, Nick Heidfeld, Rubens Barrichello, Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen

Alonso is almost certainly gone this time – after hanging on to him last year despite increasing speculation that he was off to Ferrari, it seems unlikely they’ll be able to keep the services of the double champion for a seventh season. So, they will be looking for a big name to replace him, and the most likely candidate is Kubica, who tested for them in 2005. However, the relationship between him and Briatore is said to be frosty, as Flavio dropped him from the junior programme at the end of 2005, which allowed Robert to join BMW. So who else is there for them to fall back on? Kovalainen is a possibility, as he was employed by the team for a while before moving to McLaren, and then there’s fellow Finn Raikkonen who nearly joined them midway through 2006 (allegedly). But it’s probably easier to pick drivers that definitely aren’t going to drive for Renault next year – namely Trulli because of 2004, Barrichello because he’ll be too old for their plans, Heidfeld because he’s too slow, di Grassi because he’s too inexperienced. Pot luck once again. Elsewhere, Grosjean is probably odds on to stay as long as he doesn’t stick it in the hedge too often over the next few races, otherwise new reserve driver di Grassi, another GP2 starlet, could find himself in the car next year.

Likely: Romain Grosjean
Possible: Fernando Alonso, Robert Kubica, Kimi Raikkonen, Heikki Kovalainen, Lucas di Grassi

Peter Sauber is rumoured to be joining forces with a Malaysian company (presumably long-time sponsors Petronas) to bid to get his old team back, and is close to completing a deal. It’ll be great to see Peter back and even better if he has serious backing this time. Returns to Ferrari and Mercedes power are on the cards. As for drivers, current tester Christian Klien has already put himself forward, and to be fair, you wouldn’t say no – he’s a solid choice that has recent testing experience and knows the team. A very Sauber-esque choice, in that sense. So I’d say he’s a strong candidate. Alongside him could be just about anyone – Heidfeld will be in the running because he has driven for the team for so long. If I was in charge, I’d take him unless he had his sights set elsewhere. Until now it looked as if he would be going, possibly to a new team, but in some ways, BMW pulling out has perhaps strengthened his future with the team. Away from current drivers, perhaps a driver could be dictated by engine supplier. If it’s Ferrari and they’re in trouble over drivers, how about a crazy return for Raikkonen? If it’s Merc, how about di Resta or Paffett, who himself was once eyed up by Sauber for a 2005 drive? There was also a rumour the Piquets would be buying into the team in collaboration with David Sears of Super Nova Racing. Or perhaps, maybe even the return of Jacques…?

Likely: Nick Heidfeld, Christian Klien
Possible: Nelson Piquet Jr, Gary Paffett, Paul di Resta, Jacques Villeneuve

Toro Rosso-Ferrari
Presumably Toro Rosso look set for stability, with Buemi and Alguersuari likely to be maintained for the future. The one dark horse hanging around is Sebastien Loeb, who, according to Autosport magazine, was absolutely definitely 100% certain to drive in the Abu Dhabi GP in place of the Spaniard to evaluate for a full-time switch in 2010. Loeb later said that Abu Dhabi would probably come too late for a full-time switch but he was in discussions for a one-off. But anything can happen in F1 and it usually does.

Likely: Sebastien Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari Jr
Possible: Sebastien Loeb

Force India-Mercedes
Taking it as certain that Force India will be around in 2010 in the current guise, their driver line-up is looking pretty solid. Tester Liuzzi has stated he has a race deal in his pocket for 2010, so no wild guesses needed to work out who that is with – it is alleged that he had a similar deal for this year, though, so we shall see. Alongside the Italian, it is likely that Sutil will be retained unless he is lured by a bigger team, with Fisichella probably heading out the door. Although he had been rumoured to be retiring, he has since said that he wants a race deal, but has also been rumoured to be heading to Maranello – only as a test driver, though.

Likely: Adrian Sutil, Vitantonio Liuzzi
Possible: Giancarlo Fisichella

An announcement had been expected for the Valencia weekend, but the former Minardi driver kept relatively quiet about his driver choice for 2010. However, strong rumours have linked the team with McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa, and Campos admitted on Radio Marca recently that the veteran is his first choice. He is likely to be paired with a rookie, of which a number have been touted. Initially, Mexican youngster Sergio Perez, backed by telecommuncations giant Telmex, was rumoured to be signing up, but attention has since switched to Russian GP2 contender Vitaly Petrov, who drove for Campos in GP2 and still drives for the team, now known as Addax. He did his chances no harm at all this weekend with a win in Valencia. Other names thrown into the hat include a host of Spaniard, as well as former Campos driver Giorgio Pantano and famous nephew Bruno Senna. Buemi’s cousin Natacha Gachnang is expected to be confirmed as test driver in a presumably financially-motivated decision.

Likely: Pedro de la Rosa
Possible: Vitaly Petrov, Sergio Perez, Giorgio Pantano, Bruno Senna, Javier Villa

US F1-Cosworth/Toyota
As discussed in my earlier article on him, Jonathan Summerton is favourite to sign up as the team’s young American driver. The 21 year old is largely unknown, so a shock signing is on the cards there. Alongside him, it could again be one of a number of drivers. In the game of F1 musical chairs, the veteran signed to lead the team could be the driver left without a drive when the music stops, so it could be any one of a number of drivers. Favourite is currently Alex Wurz, who had retired but in suspicious circumstances when he was conveniently replaced at the end of the season by Nakajima. Villeneuve has been linked with the team as well, as has de la Rosa despite the Campos rumours, and Peter Windsor stated his admiration of Rubens Barrichello earlier in the year. Other names in the ring include your Heidfelds, Bourdaises (or something like that), Trullis, Kliens and so on. Oh, and the Toyota engine link is genuine – it has been mentioned a couple of times that the team were looking to switch their supply to the Japanese manufacturer. Now that would be a kick up the backside for Mosley…

Likely: Jonathan Summerton
Possible: Alexander Wurz, Jacques Villeneuve, Pedro de la Rosa, Christian Klien, Sebastien Bourdais, Nick Heidfeld, Jarno Trulli

If you thought some of the other teams were difficult to guess, then what about Manor? Yes, they are a new team, but there have at least been rumours about their potential driver choices. There has been virtually nothing in the news on the drivers of John Booth’s team. That could mean one of a number of things – they’re going to surprise us with a major shock signing, they’re looking in different places to what one would expect, they’re waiting to see who’s left by the end of it and nab a desperate veteran on the cheap, or they’re busy sorting out everything else right now. There was a left field rumour that young F3 driver Max Chilton would fill a drive due to his rich father buying into the team, but with Branson thought to be onboard and possibly taking a stake in the team, you’d think they may not necessarily need the money. But on the subject of Branson, he loves PR, so there would be nothing like a big shock signing from under everyone’s noses. So for a really wild bit of speculation, how about a potentially free big name driver that used to drive for Manor in his junior days, namely one K Raikkonen? Highly unlikely but never say never. It would be a typical Branson move.

Possible: Nick Heidfeld, Rubens Barrichello, Paul di Resta, Lucas di Grassi, Max Chilton, Adam Carroll, Kimi Raikkonen, Roberto Merhi, and just about anyone else you can think of

Other teams
Yet another rumour went around the paddock this weekend, suggesting Force India’s F1 future was in doubt. Vijay Mallya is thought to owe Ferrari and Mercedes quite a lot of money over the engines, and doesn’t want to be wracking up a sizeable debt. And so the story was that he was going to sell the team to none other than Prodrive, who, after failing to get an entry the conventional way, would get in the expensive way. The Merc engine deal is a vital part of this, as Aston Martin are said to be doing a deal with the Stuttgart marque to fit their road cars with German engines. David Richards is also keen to get Aston into F1 – seemingly ole DR has been bitten by the F1 bug again despite losing out on a slot in dubious circumstances. If this was to come off, it could spell danger for Force India’s current drivers.

Spanish team Epsilon Euskadi, another failed applicant this year, were also rumoured to be still chasing an entry and when the FIA announced there would be 2 new teams entering shortly, they were immediately linked. It remains a possibility that the Basque outfit could yet still get in and make it 2 Spanish teams on the grid next year. Although obviously at this early stage there are no driver rumours, former GP2 driver Adrian Valles would be an instant candidate, having driven for the team at Le Mans last year and in the World Series by Renault this year.

Other drivers
Although I did mention him on a couple of occasions as a long shot, Jacques Villeneuve has made himself available for another F1 comeback, although he has only been linked to US F1 so far in the media. Likewise, there have been few rumours about Nelson Piquet Jr’s post-Renault F1 future, but he would surely be a good candidate despite his dubious form at Renault, perhaps in a testing capacity. Another name that hasn’t yet been linked to a team is Takuma Sato. Since his tests for Toro Rosso in the winter, the Japanese driver has sat on the sidelines, although he looks likely to step into an IRL drive soon. But surely his skills and experience would be invaluable to a new team – it certainly came in handy for Super Aguri. Sebastien Bourdais also has recent race experience and would surely be a candidate for one of the new teams. Anthony Davidson would be ideal for a new team as well, with thousands of miles of testing experience. 2008 GP2 champ Giorgio Pantano is currently unattached, whilst Bruno Senna is killing time in sportscar racing waiting for an F1 opportunity. And I wouldn’t rule Michael out just yet. Despite what he says, I’m sure he is even more eager to get back into F1 now that he was robbed of the chance to jump in the Ferrari in Valencia. It’s now unfinished business once again. And remember, his Ferrari contract expires at the end of the year, so he’s free to do what he wants. Is there yet another twist in the story of Schumacher to come?

So combining all of that, here’s my latest prediction for the 2010 line-up, with numbers based on the current standings. Bear in mind that some, especially the testers, were complete guesses:

1) Jenson Button – Brawn-Mercedes
2) Rubens Barrichello – Brawn-Mercedes
3) Mark Webber – Red Bull-Renault
4) Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull-Renault
5) Felipe Massa – Ferrari
6) Fernando Alonso – Ferrari
7) Lewis Hamilton – McLaren-Mercedes
8) Nico Rosberg – McLaren-Mercedes
9) Jarno Trulli – Toyota
10) Timo Glock – Toyota
11) Heikki Kovalainen – Williams-Mercedes
12) Nico Hulkenberg – Williams-Mercedes
14) Romain Grosjean – Renault
15) Robert Kubica – Renault
16) Nick Heidfeld – Sauber-Ferrari
17) Christian Klien – Sauber-Ferrari
18) Sebastien Buemi – Toro Rosso-Ferrari
19) Jaime Alguersuari Jr – Toro Rosso-Ferrari
20) Adrian Sutil – Force India-Mercedes
21) Vitantonio Liuzzi – Force India-Mercedes
22) Pedro de la Rosa – Campos-Cosworth
23) Vitaly Petrov – Campos-Cosworth
24) Alexander Wurz – US F1-Cosworth
25) Jonathan Summerton – US F1-Cosworth
26) Jacques Villeneuve – Manor/Virgin-Cosworth
27) Lucas di Grassi – Manor/Virgin-Cosworth

Brawn – Anthony Davidson
Red Bull – Brendon Hartley
Ferrari – Giancarlo Fisichella, Marc Gene
McLaren – Nelson Piquet Jr (guess), Gary Paffett
Toyota – Kazuki Nakajima
Williams – Dani Clos
Renault – Davide Valsecchi
Sauber – Adam Carroll (guess)
Toro Rosso – Mirko Bortolotti (guess)
Force India – Paul di Resta
Campos – Natacha Gachnang
US F1 – Alexander Rossi
Manor/Virgin – Roberto Merhi


Written by James Bennett

August 24, 2009 at 01:56

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