British GP Silverstone 2010

British GP Silverstone 2010
Hamilton gets pushed to the second row ready to start the British GP

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

F1 (Not So) Silly Season 2011

As the teams left Budapest to enjoy a four week summer break, it was notable how little speculation there had been about which deals may be on the horizon concerning next season’s driver line-ups. The reason that this year is different is pretty simple really, the teams at the sharp end of the pit lane have, by and large, all got their personnel signed up for next term, whilst the teams further down have got more pressing issues on their minds, namely trying to secure their budgets for 2011, so that they can start to plan for which power units to deploy in their cars and which nuts they want to hold the steering wheel. These teams though, are where the majority of the intrigue will play out in the driver market, once the more pressing issues have been dealt with, not least who will pilot the entries of the new team (whoever that may be) that will be announced sometime around the resumption of the season at Spa.
Here we take a look at each team, considering announcements that have already been made, contracts which are in the public domain and what each of their options include for 2011 (we will probably throw in the odd bit of wild speculation and gossip for good measure).
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
With both drivers already signed on deals that will keep them at the Woking based squad until the end of 2012, along with an ongoing deal for Mercedes-Benz HWA engines, it only leaves testing duties to be decided, which will likely continue to be performed by Gary Paffett, possibly rejoined by Pedro de la Rosa, should he find himself without a drive.
Mercedes GP Petronas
Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg both have Mercedes deals for 2011 and beyond, and while many people have plenty to say about the merits of Schumacher’s comeback, the man himself has recently reiterated his desire to continue next season. Regardless of the critics, his employers are highly unlikely to try and push him out after the resources used to acquire his services. Nick Heidfeld is also on the books and may be farmed out to a Mercedes customer team.
Red Bull Racing
Red Bull were in the fortunate position of having tied Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber to deals for 2011 before the recent implosion, with rumours abound at the time that Ferrari were ready to offer the Australian a drive next season. Renault will be retained as an engine supplier, with reliability issues seemingly resolved, Red Bull seem to be content to favour the driveability of the unit at the expense of the power of some of its peers.
Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro
Felipe Massa has been retained to partner (or support) Fernando Alonso through until the end of the 2012 season.
AT&T Williams
With Rubens Barrichello’s 2011 contract just waiting to be signed and Nico Hulkenberg almost certain to be retained, the team should continue to improve as they grow accustomed to each other and the Cosworth engine.
Renault F1 Team
Having secured the services of arguably the most impressive performer of all in 2010, Robert Kubica, for another two years, Renault look as though they have been creating an exit path to send Vitaly Petrov down at the end of this season, although he has so far delivered on the goals which he has been set. Should the second seat become available, the speculation around who will occupy it will be huge, as it is already, due to it being probably the only available seat in a car which could win races. Timo Glock, Heikki Kovalainen (as part of a Renault engine deal for Lotus), Adrian Sutil and Heidfeld have all been linked, whilst Kimi Raikkonen (staying in WRC), Sebastien Buemi and Mark Webber (signed new deals) have ruled themselves out. The team are also looking to add a title sponsor for next season, with Mastercard seemingly best placed to do a deal.
Force India F1
Adrian Sutil is yet to pen a deal for 2011, and both the crash prone German and Italian team mate Tonio Liuzzi (who has a deal for 2011, but will be lucky to last until the end of this season) may be seen to have taken the squad as far as they can. Paul di Resta should have proved himself quick enough in Friday outings this term to be tried in ’11, and should Sutil also leave, expect Heidfeld to be linked, whilst Karun Chandhok should not be discounted, despite Vijay Mallya turning down previous opportunities to run his compatriot.
Scuderia Toro Rosso
Both Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari have been announced for 2011, and the deal to run Ferrari engines again has been agreed, with the Faenza based outfit also running the Ferrari KERS system, due to its integration within the unit.
Sauber Motorsport
Neither of the Sauber drivers have yet signed a deal for 2011, but while Kamui Kobayashi’s recent performances must make him a likely candidate to stay on, they must make it harder to justify keeping Pedro de la Rosa for another season especially due to the fact that the team is going to need either fresh investors or well backed drivers to plug the gap which will be created by the withdrawal of BMW’s financial support. Drivers linked with most of the seats who require this sort of backing include Telmex backed Mexicans Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez and state oil company (PDVSA) backed Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, who incidentally also recently commented that controversial President Hugo Chavez, “is pushing” to get him an F1 seat.
Lotus Racing
With both of its experienced drivers, Jarno Trulli and Kovalainen signed for 2011, Lotus seem to be quite settled. However, if they wish to get out of their Cosworth contract and move to a Renault supply as rumoured, it has been suggested they may be forced to swap Kovalainen for Petrov as part of such a deal.
Hispania Racing Team
Plenty of uncertainty surrounding their existence in 2011, let alone their drivers. HRT will need to build their own chassis and judging by the way they have shuffled their drivers of late to accommodate the slow but well financed Sakon Yamamoto, trouble is on the horizon. The team will need to secure some major financial backing if it is to have any freedom to choose to stick with Bruno Senna and/or Chandhok. If they were really serious about car development, giving tester Christian Klien a chance in the car could only be a positive thing.
Virgin Racing
Virgin will be hoping that Timo Glock honours the terms of his contract which lasts until at least the end of 2011, although Lucas di Grassi is believed not to be signed for next year. Virgin haven’t thrown money around in their maiden season, but that is due to the team’s philosophy, by the same token they are not in a position to have to sign pay drivers, and may choose to give di Grassi the chance to build on his experience.
We will have to see how it plays out over the coming weeks and months, I would be grateful for anyone to leave any comments or suggestions about omissions or rumours that I haven’t picked up on – or even if you just think I’m wrong. A piece will follow later in the week on the subject of the new teams bidding to get an entry for 2011, their possible line-ups and what their chances of survival will be in the cut throat world of F1.
Be sure to follow me on twitter:@daimccann and @ifitsgot4wheels.