Unlike football – or indeed virtually all other team sports – the Formula One World Championship consists of only a few dozen athletes. As a result, ‘transfer speculation’ is all the more intense – there are far fewer competitors and far fewer teams, hence the attention of all the world’s pundits, journos and armchair commentators focuses on a select number of situations.
Unfortunately, despite this intense focus, even those who claim to be ‘in the know’ get it wrong with spectacular regularity. F1 is an operation that runs shrouded in secrecy (what was so clever about last year’s Red Bull? We never did find out, did we), and as such driver negotiations tend to be done by stealth.
With that in mind, I thought I’d stick my oar in and speculate as to who will be sitting where next season. I make no claims to authority or analytical supremacy, but if nothing else it’ll be fun to look back later and laugh at how spectacularly wrong I called it.
Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button
All this talk of Hamilton going to Mercedes makes no sense. McLaren are an outfit with history, capability and the inertia one gets from running at the front. Merecedes, by contrast, are struggling just to get on the curve of success. The last four races, where Lewis has been the man with the pace and has only lost due to factors outwith his control, illustrates that McLaren is the place for him to stay. Button is popular with the fans, the media and by all accounts the team staff and will, I reckon, see out the remainder of his career with the Woking brigade as a result.
Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa
Felipe Massa has not been anywhere near the pace of Fernando Alonso at Ferrari. But then again, given that the whole Ferrari team is built around the man from Oviedo, why should he be expected to be?
Nevertheless, mainstream motor sport headlines this year have gone something like this: driver X from a midfield team has a good race. The following week, run a story with the heading ‘X plays down Ferrari rumours’. Next weekend, driver Y from a different midfield team has a strong run. Cue ‘Y plays down Ferrari rumours’ in same news outlet. Repeat ad nauseum.
In my view, the fact Massa is only just starting to come on strong in the second half of the season is more a reflection of the difficulty of having to adapt to a car over whose development he has no control than it is a reflection of any sort of worry or panic on his part. And as such, there is no guarantee at all that Sergio Perez, Paul di Resta, Romain Grosjean or the ghost of Ayrton Senna would do any better a job at driving a carbon copy of Alonso’s car. Ferrari tend to go after the prestige of outright race wins, so why risk rocking the SS Fernando for the chance of a few more constructors’ championship points?
Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber
These two are already confirmed, so nothing to discuss here. They seem to work well together, and much like Button at McLaren, I can see Webber finishing his career at Red Bull. The only danger for Vettel long-term is if worldwide energy drink sales tank…
Nico Rosberg and Paul di Resta
Sadly, Michael Schumacher has to go. Whether it’s his reactions that aren’t what they once were in old age, a driving style that isn’t suited to modern F1 or just a lack of experience of overtaking given that he spent his whole career starting from pole position, the old boy is clearly no longer up to what a team like Mercedes expect or indeed need.
For me, di Resta has been one of the quiet stars of this year. He hasn’t had the big hype results of, say, Maldonado or Perez, but what he has done is demonstrate an ability to score very consistent results on the erratic 2012 Pirelli tyres. And when you’re running at the sharp end of the field, it’s this ability to drive the car to its maximum week in, week out that teams require. I sense a well-deserved big break for di Resta next year. Rosberg, by contrast, really needs to do something next season to prove he’s more than a name.
Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean
Kimi Raikkonen is a dead cert for Lotus next season, for he has driven the black and gold machine into the ground on his return to F1. Grosjean, on the other hand, I am not sure about. I have put him down, but I do worry that he’s tainted goods after his exploits so far this year. In a similar vein to, say, Jari-Matti Latvala in rallying, Grosjean has proven that he can drive as fast as the best of them – but also that he’s going to crash an awful lot of cars in the process. A lot hinges on whether he can calm down in the remainder of 2012 – if not, Charles Pic would be my pick (pardon the pun) for the second Lotus seat.
Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez
In my view, Perez is going to be one of the greats like Senna or Fangio. The things he does with that Sauber are reminiscent of what Colin McRae used to do with the wee Vauxhall Nova. Unfortunately, though, there is nowhere he can go at present to realise that potential – but perhaps he doesn’t need to. Sauber have proven this year that they can build a very competitive car on a tight budget, and with more sponsorship coming from one-time world’s richest man Carlos Slim Helu, who’s to say the Swiss team won’t be able to push even further up the grid next year? In fact, if I was Slim and was looking to win something in motor sport, all I’d do is give Peter and Monisha a blank cheque, tell them to continue doing exactly what they have been doing, and ask them to put a few Telmex stickers on the car.
A boost in income would of course be helped by another Mexican driver – enter reserve driver and GP2 runner Esteban Gutierrez. Sadly, I think fans’ favourite Kamui Kobayashi has found his level at the edges of the top ten – and unless one has a very sizeable budget, finding your level just doesn’t cut it any more in F1. I reckon it will be back to Toyota for him next year to replace Kazuki Nakajima in the team’s lead Le Mans car – just in time to give the team their maiden 24 hour win in 2014.
Pastor Maldonado and Valteri Bottas
With the amount of sponsorship Maldonado brings in, keeping him is a no-brainer. Furthermore, in my view he is actually a very, very quick driver – at least up there with Perez and Grosjean. If he can learn to screw the nut he will be a huge asset as the Grove team continues their rebuilding efforts.
Much like Kobayashi, I reckon Bruno Senna has found his level as an occasional points scorer, and without the budget equal to a medium-sized country’s GDP…you know the rest. Bottas has been due a drive in the Williams for a while, and all the signs are that he is a shoe-in to replace Senna.
Nico Hulkenberg and Jaime Alguersuari
If Paul di Resta has been one of the quiet revelations of 2012, this reflects very well indeed on Nico Hulkenberg, who has kept the Scot honest all year long and has turned in an equally consistent set of performances. After being rather unfortunately turfed out of Williams, it’s great to see Hulkenberg get another crack at the whip this year – a similar performance next season could put him in the box seats for 2014. Alguersuari made a cryptic announcement the other week about having his future sorted, and unless he’s off to Caterham, there are no other obvious holes in the driver Swiss cheese for him to slot through. Force India have a history of bringing drivers back from the brink as well, as with Vitantonio Liuzzi in 2009.
Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne
It has already been widely stated that STR is going to give both Ricciardo and Vergne another season, which is fair enough given that they’ve only just arrived on the scene. However, I can’t help but feel that by doing so, STR will just end up with another Buemi-Alguersuari-type situation, where they have two evenly-matched drivers on their books and nothing to compare them to. And if last time round is anything to go by, it’s the drivers that will lose out most in such a situation.
Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov
Kovalainen is (a) integral to the development of Catherham and (b) has nowhere else to go, even if he wanted to. There are suggestions that Vitaly Petrov has (or at least his sponsors have) run out of money, in which case the driver that comes in will depend on whether the team chooses to go for someone with pedigree or with a big bank balance. If it’s the former, I suggest Jerome d’Ambrosio. If it’s the latter, then take your pick…
Timo Glock and Charles Pic
Marussia have come on strong in the second half of 2012, challenging Caterham for the mantle of ‘best of the rest’. In Glock and Pic, they have also quietly acquired themselves a very competitive driver pairing. With a little more car development over the winter, I tip them to be the surprise package for 2013 – in a ‘getting points’ way, not a ‘winning stuff’ way, you’ll understand…
Err…I really have no idea on this one, to be honest. If the aim is to develop the car so that it at least resembles something competitive, then keeping Pedro de la Rosa on board would be a smart move. As for the other driver, if past season are anything to go by, that will be entirely contingent on cash flow and decided a fortnight before the start of the season. What’s Sakon Yamamoto up to these days?