Formula 1 Insight

The Silly Season Kicks Off

With the season's midway point passed and the Hockenheim GP looming this weekend, the rumor market is working itself into a frenzy. As many are pointing out, much hinges on Alonso's decision for next year. Will he be at Renault still or will he manage to steal a seat at Ferrari or BMW? McLaren are out of the question, of course, and there seems little point in a move to Red Bull which is merely a customer team for Renault engines. On current form, none of the other teams are likely to be fighting for wins so Fernando's options are limited, to say the least.

Sebastian Vettel
Sebastian Vettel

The most likely outcome is that Alonso will stay at Renault for another year. The Ferrari team looks set and, if Heidfeld confirms his improved form in the coming months, BMW will continue with their present line up. Dr Theissen is saying nothing, as usual, but is obviously pleased with Nick's performance in the British GP. As was the case last year, Fernando will be forced to stick with Uncle Flavio.

That makes two of the top three teams more or less set and McLaren, too, are unlikely to go for a change of driver after only a year of their current pairing. Willi Weber has boldly predicted that Kovalainen will be kicked out in favor of Rosberg, but Norbert Haug's timely assertion that Heikki is a star of the future would seem to shoot that one down. All of the shuffling will take place amongst the lesser teams, therefore.

Nico Rosberg has been talking of his prospects and seems certain that he will continue with Williams through 2009. Naturally, he hopes that they will make a big step forward but is realistic enough to know that a move to another team may be necessary if he is to achieve his championship goal. His recent form has not encouraged team owners to buy out his contract anyway. Nakajima might move to Toyota but that assumes that one of the present incumbents will be dropped - and I suspect that Glock and Trulli have another year before they have to start worrying.

The one seat that we know will be open is Coulthard's at Red Bull. DC has backed Vettel as his replacement and this does seem the obvious choice. Interestingly, the man Vettel replaced at Toro Rosso, Scott Speed, has been giving his opinion of the young German driver.

"I have known Sebastian since he was a boy," 25-year-old Speed said in an interview with the Dutch magazine Formule 1 Race Report.

"He is a good driver and I wish him all the best. As a driver you need to be in the right place at the right moment, and at the moment he has that.

"He has of course been a bit lucky as well. All of his good results he achieved in the rain, and always with the right strategy by the team," Speed added.

One might have expected a jaundiced attitude from Scott but that looks a pretty fair assessment to me. With Webber in the other RBR, we will soon see just how good Vettel is anyway.

Competition for the remaining seats is becoming quite fierce, with newcomers like Bruno Senna and Sebastian Buemi lining up for whatever vacancies appear. Liuzzi is making his availability known and Fisichella must surely be in danger of losing out to a younger man. Honda may be on the look out for fresh blood but which of their drivers do they let go? Chances are about even on that one, I think. Piquet must continue his recent improvement if he is to stand a chance of retaining his place at Renault.

It is early to make definite predictions regarding changes but it looks as though most of the movement will be in the midfield. And that leaves the same old protagonists fighting at the front, business as usual, in fact. If there is anything that can unsettle this status quo (apart from rain, of course), it must be the regulation changes due for next year. Hopefully, one or other of the lesser teams will find a tweak that boosts them to the front unexpectedly. We have three top teams now - with a bit of luck, that could be four or even five...


Dave Spurr
Slightly off topic, but I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Last season and this season especially have been the closest for a long time and that is providing great races and a close Championship, I believe that is down to having such a stable set of rules (especially aero) rules giving little gain for the top teams and more time for the smaller teams to catch up.

"We have three top teams now - with a bit of luck, that could be four or even five..."

Do you not think that a massive rule change (which Coulthard described as "could be considered almost a different formula" recently) for next season could do the exact opposite and bring us back to a single or dual team domination?
Date Added: 16/07/2008

Felipe Leite
My predictions for the driver line-up for 2009:

Ferrari: Kimi and Massa
McLaren: Lewis and Kovalainen
BMW: Kubica and Heidfeld
Renault: Alonso and Piquet
Honda: Button and Barrichello

And now the teams that I think will change drivers:
Red Bull: Webber and Vettel
Toyota: Trulli and Nakajima
Toro Rosso: Bourdais and Senna
Williams: Rosberg and ??? - I believe this would be the best place for Senna, but I have a feeling he will sign with STR. Besides Senna, I don't have a clue of who could join Rosberg here.
Force India: Sutil and ??? - I would say that Fisichella has 30% of chances to have another year before retirement. 70% would split between Chandhok, Pantano, Liuzzi, Glock and diGrassi. The guy is doing an astonishing job at GP2 again and he deserves a chance at F1 IMHO.

And 2010 will be the year where the top teams will change their driver line-up a lot.
Date Added: 16/07/2008

I think it could go either way, Dave, either a re-shuffle or one team emerging with a big advantage. The consensus of opinion is that the big teams will remain at the front, since they have more money to spend on new designs, but history shows that it ain't necessarily so.

It's really impossible to say at this stage - I am just being optimistic when I hope for even more teams battling for honours.
Date Added: 16/07/2008

I would go with those predictions as well, Felipe - they make the most sense. As for Nakajima's empty seat at Williams, how about a straight swap with Glock? That might ease Toyota's conscience a bit. ;)

Force India would be best advised to keep Sutil, promote Liuzzi to the second race seat and take on Chandhok as a test driver. Pantano won't get another chance at F1, no matter how good he is, I think.
Date Added: 16/07/2008

Felipe Leite
Glock going to Williams makes a lot of sense. But we need to remember that Wiliams will get a new major sponsor next year (Saudi Airlines), and with some money they could be a little more independent from Toyota's demands. I wouldn't be surprised if Sir Frank decides to bet on someone else, even outside the GP2/F1 test drivers world.

About Pantano, he could be the first GP2 champion not to get a race drive on F1 in the following year. It's just weird :) And he drove for Jordan before, so if there is one team that knows what the guy is capable of, that would be Force India. I think it's his only chance. But I agree that his chances are almost none anyway.
Date Added: 16/07/2008

I think '10 is going to be the year of multiple driver changes. We'll have a season of the new rules, and lots of key driver contracts run out.
Date Added: 16/07/2008

It's certainly looking that way, Don. It makes sense to hang on to an existing driving team if you're reasonably happy with them and the rules are about to change the game so much.
Date Added: 16/07/2008

Alianora La Canta
Felipe, I don't think Force India would take Giorgio anyway - the previous incarnation sacked him four years ago, hence why he wants a re-entry in the first place. Also, Sutil's vacancy is the only one contractually open, he's doing OK, and if Force India were inclined to replace him, Liuzzi and Chandhok would surely be in the queue before anyone else. Unless Pantano's willing to wait until 2010 for a (test) seat, he won't be getting it at Force India even if they were inclined to take him.

I think 2009 is going to be a pretty stable year as far as the line-up goes, with the really big changes happening in 2010 (or possibly two years of moderate change in 2010-2011).
Date Added: 17/07/2008

Although I have no idea about contracts and stuff I would say Rosberg would be a good match for Hamilton in McLaren. I seem to recall them saying they could not get a hold on him this year so they needed to settle with Kovalanien.
Date Added: 17/07/2008

That's true, Underdog, but since then McLaren have made it clear that they are very happy with Kovalainen's performance and Rosberg has been having a poor season so far. It looks unlikely that McLaren would want a change at the end of the year, therefore.
Date Added: 17/07/2008

Alianora La Canta
Vettel is now confirmed at Red Bull for next year. No major surprise there.
Date Added: 17/07/2008

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