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The second seats at Renault and Sauber
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The second seats at Renault and Sauber
Posted By: James Allen  |  18 Jan 2010   |  8:10 pm GMT  |  64 comments

Both Renault and Sauber are set to launch their cars and announce their drivers on 31 January in Valencia ahead of the first test the next day. There is still a seat available at both teams.

This is unusual and it has to do with the changes of ownership at both teams and the change of circumstances, with manufacturers backing out – completely in BMW’s case and partially in Renault’s. It also reflects the fact that the in the era of the Resource Restriction Agreement, the driver market has changed with teams looking to spend half what they were spending on driver salaries. Some of the top names appear to have accepted this.

There are rumours swirling around today as to who the Sauber seat might go to, with Giancarlo Fisichella and Pedro de la Rosa the two names most commonly heard. However the second Renault seat is shrouded in question marks. The team was recently taken over by Gerard Lopez’ Genii Capital firm and a new team principal Eric Boullier installed.

Kubica with Renault boss Eric Boullier

Kubica with Renault boss Eric Boullier


Renault’s lead driver, Robert Kubica, was signed last Autumn by then team principal Flavio Briatore. His contract was with Renault, but he has stayed with the team following its sale to Genii Capital. He visited the factory recently and is said to have been very positively impressed with the spirit of the team and the state of this year’s programme which is well on schedule, unlike some teams.

The Renault seat is still a good one; last year Fernando Alonso and Nelson Piquet struggled to make a poor car work. Romain Grosjean, whom Renault had nurtured for years, got in the car and had a torrid time, illustrating that it is a huge gamble to hire a rookie in modern F1. This thinking is likely to have been going through the minds of the new Renault management. Renault apparently has a budget, so is not necessarily obliged to hire a pay driver – that would be quite a comedown for the team who won the world title four years ago.

Sauber meanwhile has gambled on the only rookie to shine last year; Kamui Kobayashi and that means that he ideally needs to go for experience in the other seat. But it’s about getting that experience at the right price. A driver with money would be ideal; Sauber didn’t get the Petronas money and is looking for sponsors in a difficult climate.

Peter Sauber took the team back reluctantly when BMW decided to pull out last year and although he is likely to have done very well out of the deal personally having sold at a strong price to BMW and bought back cheaply, he will want the team to pay its own way. Historically he doesn’t like taking pay drivers if he can avoid it, although he has been forced to use them in the past. And he has been trying to find the best driver available who might have some sponsorship backing. There are some out there; Vitaly Petrov seems to have a fair combination of skills and budget.

Sauber is definitely torn; he has approached the experienced drivers, including Jarno Trulli, asking if there is a sponsorship angle, but there was no sponsorship avenue to be pursued with Trulli. De la Rosa has traditionally had some Repsol money and there is no longer a clash with Petronas. Fisichella is well known to the team, if his name is in the frame, one would imagine that perhaps Ferrari has offered Sauber a discount on his £6 million engine bill. Ferrari may well be thinking that it would be advantageous to have Fisichella racing this year as a back up, just in case there turns out to be anything wrong with Felipe Massa, who is returning from injury. This would be worth something to Ferrari, not the full €6 million, but maybe 25% of it.

The one name who ought to be top of both teams’ lists is Nick Heidfeld. He is fast and experienced, but he wants paying. Heidfeld has earned a lot of money at times in his career, especially the recent BMW years. For him to find a seat in the new resource restricted F1, he will have to accept something more modest, perhaps something around €1m with a good results bonus.

Whoever gets the two seats is likely to have accepted reality in this new financial climate.

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64 Comments
  1. Robert McKay says:

    Didn’t Button make some sort of comment recently along the lines of “Pedro is running the first day, then Lewis, then me” with regards to a pre-season test?

    Would rather suggest De La Rosa is sticking with the same role, although maybe not.

  2. Kati says:

    I’m betting on Fisichella for Sauber seat, considering the Ferrari engine deal. However, I’m not sure Nick could get the Renault seat, considering because their new may bring their own ‘promise’ as a second driver, someone young I think. Nick would probably have to get a pay seat in some of the new teams – if they get to race, which wouldn’t be a problem, since he paid for the Jordan seat in 2004.

    1. Peter Freeman says:

      But why on earth Ferrari would want Fisi over Nick is beyond me. I would think Fisi vs Kimi (who they don’t want!) speaks volumes for Fisi! In fact if I were Ferrari I would pay $1 million for Nick at Sauber as a back up insurance as BOTH their drivers are recovering from injury! Nick is underrated and last year proved himself against Kubica.

      1. Kati says:

        I understand you, cus been a Nick fan for some years, but the thing is Peter Sauber has already gotten rid off Nick before, in end 2003. Nick sort of already ‘proved’ what he brings Sauber team and I don’t blame them for wanting to try something new. You must remember that Nick has been in F1 for nine years, and this’d be the tenth and as much as I do think he’s underrated, well, he hasn’t brought the best results. Sauber has already got everything in terms of experience he could’ve got from him.

      2. Peter Freeman says:

        I still think Nick had a very strong year and is on high form and is a better proposition than Fisi. If I were choosing it would be Nick!

  3. James W says:

    I’m willing to put a fair amount of money on Fisichella going to Sauber. As with the arguments you’ve presented above, it seems only logical that he does so, as I personally still have my doubts on Massa lasting the distance. Although that said, he has had some of the finest doctors in the world working around him and buckets of support from Ferrari.

    Renault could go for Heidfield, but will Heidfield except a hefty reduction? I get the impression that he think’s he should get more money than he’ worth. His results have been pretty good over the last few years, although in a car which was at times second best to only Ferrari, he didnt seem to be getting as much out of it compared to Kubica. It’s a shame, because I do like Heidfield, seems like a good bloke with a dry sense of humour.

    Could Renault look for a rookie (such as Petrov) and try and make a profit? That’s what the resource restrictment agreement seems to offer the teams – the chance to make money for the first time in years.

    I’m still interested in the Campos seat and USF1 seats. De la Rosa to Campos, perhaps? Is Wurz still on the cards for USF1?

    Interesting times ahead!

  4. Zaryaan says:

    James,

    Thanks for another great article. Rumours are that Giancarlo Fisichella has visited the Hinwill factory during the Madonna di Campiglio event.

    Can we think of this as a done deal? I think it would be an advantage for Ferrari to try their best to keep him race fit, especially as they don’t want their drivers to end up out of cockpits for prolonged periods of time, especially with what happened to Luca Badoer.

    I see Nick Heidfeld going to pair up with his BMW exile partner Kubica at Renault, he’s a stable driver, not brutally fast, but he’s had some fantastic moments (thinking back to Bahrain 2007, when he overtook then World Champion Alonso who was in a Mclaren). How do you rate him as an overall driver in the scale of things?

    Keep the fantastic articles coming, I really enjoy reading them

  5. Kav says:

    It will be sad if Heidfeld is left without a seat this year. I doubt he will settle for Campos or USF1, he saved his career once by having to go to Jordan when he was younger, but at his age will he really want to do that again? It is better to gamble taking Mercedes reserve role..

    I can understand Sauber not being to hire Heidfeld, they need the money and although he would bring the better results, without the money they won’t last very long!

    Renault should take him, there are no other quality drivers available at the moment. I know Heidfeld isn’t seen as the quickest guy, and his teammates generally are more highly rated, but he always gets the results. He may not be the best out there, but if you want the points, hire Nick! It is great hiring drivers with more potential, but in the mean time Heidfeld is the guy who will bring more points.

  6. Carlm21 says:

    I’d like to see Nick Heidfeld in the Renault and Pedro Dela Rosa at Sauber. Both drivers have the experience and given the car can perform to a decent standard. Kimi’s quotes about Fisichella ageing 10 years in a few races might hamper his chances.

  7. Gareth says:

    I do sincerely hope Heidfeld gets the seat but I believe Fisi will get it.

    I’ll even put my head on the line and say Fisi would do a better job than Heidfeld. For some reason, Fisi does better in a smaller team and Heidfeld hasn’t exactly delivered any results?

    Who knows – Sauber may do a Brawn – James, did BMW give up on 2009 early?

    1. Martin Stanley says:

      Yes, BMW did give up on 2009 early, but also with the knowledge that they wouldn’t be racing in 2010. So consequently, I doubt that there was much progress with the 2010 car. Unlike Honda who gave up early in 2008, but intended to race in the 2009 season so they spent significant resources on developing the 2009 car (Brawn).

  8. Gavin Cameron says:

    James, do you think that Ferrari would put Fisi in the Sauber to keep the seat warm for Jules Bianchi in 2011?

  9. Andy says:

    Peter is a wiley old fox. He’ll get the right driver at the right price.

    Probably will go for fisi due to the discount from maranello.

    James,
    can you bring us up to speed on vitaly petrov. I have to admit to having missed his name in the future prospects.

    1. jose says:

      he is talking to campos. But campos is saying that they all talk about the money they have, but he hasn’t seen a penny of it yet. May be they los the suitcase somewhere.

  10. Anil Parmar says:

    Good article james, I’ve been wondering for a while what’s going on at Sauber. You’d think afer hiring Kobayashi, Sauber would want someone experienced like Heidfeld in the second car. Infact i find it bizarre that a driver of Nick’s calibre hasn’t got a drive yet (or alteast we don’t know of it); he’s quick, consistent and a great overtaker. I’d be gutted if he didn’t have a drive.

  11. Kedar says:

    You’ve got to feel for Nick Heidfeld, After matching his highly rated teammate in Robert Kubica last season and being in contention for the Mclaren or the Mercedes GP seat. It is possible that he may have to pay for his drive or even worse not drive at all.

    1. jose says:

      this is the problem with the drivers without personality. They don’t capture the imagination, and when the going gets tough, they are the first forgotten. And we have too many germans now, it is not going to be of any help now, like it was before.

  12. Malcolm46 says:

    This article clearly addresses where we are today, bankers and sports stars have less ability to demand crazy salaries. If you love to do something, you do it at any cost, so people like Heidfeld should wake up and get real, because for sure I’d take the Sauber drive for ‘only’ £1million a year!!

    James in the article you say “the state of this year’s [Renault] programme which is well on schedule, unlike some teams” – like which teams?!!?

    1. monktonnik says:

      Even if it meant a pay cut of several million?

      I could see why you wouldn’t want to devalue yourself, even if the market has dropped.

      I don’t actually know what his salary is, but wouldn’t he be able to get more in another formula?

  13. F1fan says:

    James, Kubica didn’t sign a contract with Briatore but with Bob Bell.

  14. Dale says:

    Is there a more boring driver than Heidfeld :?: I don’t think so, he’s had his chance and done nothing…….
    Anthony Davidson is available and I bet he’d race for a pittance :!:
    It’d be good to have another Englishman in the field :)

    1. jose says:

      another?! just for being british? Wouldn’t it be better a fast driver, with personality, who cares where he is from?
      Would you like a formula with just british and germans on the track?
      This is a WORLD championship.

      1. F1ART says:

        That Latin response again!
        I’m sure you are Jose?

      2. jose says:

        you got it.
        And now there is another “latin” driving the bmw sauber. No that i care where he is from, but just letting you know. because i know that you are going to be thrilled.

  15. Tom Adams says:

    James, what do you think Villeneuve’s chances are for the second Renault seat?

    1. Buck says:

      Villeneuve sure was sniffing around last year, and it was reported that he was in “intensive training”, in Austria I think, and stated something like “I wouldn’t be training for nothing”, for whatever that’s worth.

      As he has pointed out himself, he could bring experience to a team that could be quite valuable with limited testing, and as both a former F1 champ and Indy 500 champ he would still have some cachet (that’s French, like Jacques ;)), particularly in North America, so maybe USF1 is a possibility? Or Renault because he’s French (Canadian)?

      I wonder if Schumacher’s return is helping JV’s cause? He’s is 3 years younger than Michael, has been out about the same amount, and has beaten Schumi,(true, he had a great car then, but how many drivers win championships without one?). But after his grande debut (that’s French again) onto the F1 scene in his first two seasons he sure took a nose dive. It may have been self inflicted by his switch to BAR but none the less it was often pretty ugly to watch.

      Maybe he’s fooling himself by trying to come back or maybe he really was the victim of bad circumstances (he sure complained about the rules while he was faltering)…who can say? But if he could be fast again it would be fun to have another WDC on the grid. And he’s French.

  16. monktonnik says:

    I know it is a sign of the times, but it is really bad for Nick Heidfeld.

    He is a good driver, and has outperformed Kubica at times. Surely he is worth more than 1 million euros?

    I can’t help feeling that his problem is one of sponsorhip, in that he isn’t that attractive to sponsors, and therefore doesn’t seem as attractive as Kubica, or Trulli for example.

  17. Renault should consider quick Nick to partner Kubica as it’s as strong a partnership as they are likely to get. Would it be too much to hope for Anthony Davidson to be behind the wheel of the second Sauber? He has had alot of testing experience with B.A.R/Honda and in these current times of testing bans he would surely bring more test experience to the table than the likes of Sato. It will be a shame if it’s a lack of sponsorship that denies him a race seat.

  18. Richard Bell says:

    It would be sad if Heidfeld was left without a seat, you’re guaranteed to get many points with Nick and he has a huge amount of experience, something USF1 are looking for. I’m sure I read somewhere they weren’t allowed to use the F1 name but it hasn’t been dropped, did imagine it?
    Considering how many new teams are joining and the other vacated seats available, it would be a travesty if Anthony Davidson is overlooked – again!!

  19. Paul says:

    It certainly looks like it is Fisi to Sauber and Heidfeld to Renault.

    Renault simply don’t have any other choice than Heidfeld. Sato and Petrov are the most likely alternatives, but neither are as good or experienced as Nick. If they go with Petrov it will be because they need cash.

    For Nick to be struggling to get a drive is such a shame. He has gone toe to toe with Kubica and beaten him fair and square several teams. I’m not convinced he would have the same opportunity to do that at Renault as Kubica is very much their star. And I’m fairly sure Heidfeld would have beaten Rosberg comfortably at Mercedes if Michael didn’t come back.

  20. Marcin says:

    Hi James.
    Everyone seems to be talking about Redbull, Mercedes, Ferrari etc but I think Renault will suprise us in 2010. Experienced team and its management, good driver, money and the engine that seemed to be really good in 2009, why not expect some strong podiums, even a win. Do you think Renault with all these new components will move up the board?

  21. James says:

    This is a strange run-up to a new season, with all these seats still up for grabs (if all the teams make it to the start).
    After Pantano was shunned another chance in F1, is there now a possibility of him getting a drive? Or is he considered too old now?

    1. James says:

      Wait! I’ve just remembered how much he crashed in F1. There was a rash of rookie drivers being dropped after one season in the early 2000′s. Most “great” F1 drivers started with mediocre or poor seasons. Imagine if Hakkinen had been dropped after one season. I’d like to think that with a lot more teams out there, rookies will be given the chance to develop, but then sponsors want results, and there are an awful lot of really promising young drivers out there.

  22. jose arellano says:

    how about anthony davidson for renault ??

    i wouldnt like heidfield to partner kubica again, we need another point of comparision

    1. monktonnik says:

      I would prefer Sato.

  23. Carl Brooks says:

    Ferrari must be offering some serious incentives for Fisi to be considered, after the terrible display at the end of 2009. In my opinion Heidfeld stands head and shoulders above the available drivers with experience, and he is familiar with current operation.

    1. Robert McKay says:

      To be fair to Fisi he impressed as much in the Force India as he disappointed in the Ferrari.

      Given pre-season testing time and not being thrown in as a reserve there’s no reason to think he couldn’t do a decent job at Sauber.

  24. Zobra Wambleska says:

    James,

    I thought the drivers salaries were exempt from the cost figures, or was that just in the FIA version?

  25. Robert McArthur says:

    Heidfeld seems the natural choice for both teams but more so Renault due to his previous successful partnership with Kubica.

    If I was Sauber and I had the chance I’d be all over Fisichella. It’d be worth the risk especially for a possible engine discount. After all, lightning couldn’t strike twice could it?

  26. Henry Manney says:

    Slow news day, eh ?

  27. DRS says:

    Can I have one of the seats? I can “deal” with a “paltry” one million. I’ll find out how to get by. Haha. ;)

  28. jose says:

    gp update and the spanish media, say the same. Fisico has gone from maddona de campiglio, to the sauber factory, to sign the contract last thursday.

  29. Ed says:

    James,

    Is Heidfelds performance last year the hold up to him landing a seat? I am surprised he hasn’t already been snapped up by Sauber or Renault.

  30. Spencer says:

    It’s awful to say but. I had forgoten the Heidfeld was still without a 2010 drive. All this talk of MS at Merc and FA in Red, not to mention the McLaren pairing has overshadowed some genuine F1 tallent. It would be strange see the old BMW pairing both at Renault!

    Sauber really shouldn’t let this opportunity slip, although I would be really pleased to see DLR back on the grid. Possibly a big loss to McLaren for his testing experiance, but who can blame a test driver jumping ship for a genuine drive in these balmy no testing times.

  31. George says:

    Nice article James. I think Heidfeld has to be Sauber’s other driver next year; he has experience, knows the team and has possibly been involved in the development of the new car already, surely Peter Sauber wouldn’t throw all that away for what is no doubt a modest wage by driver’s standards.

    As far as the other possibilities are concerned, I like de la Rosa but has been out of F1 racing for too long I think, and Fisi doesn’t cut the mustard as a number one driver. I think Petrov would make a better fit for Renault, but he’s more likely to go to Campos, having been one of their GP2 drivers for a couple of years.

  32. Lochy says:

    No mention of Takuma Sato to Renault? He is right up there in the running with Heidfeld for that seat, and would be a much better choice in my opinion.

  33. Silverstoned says:

    James, do you reckon Kubica has reason to feel content about where he has ended up?
    Was it a case of being locked into a contract early on?

  34. Trent says:

    Peter Sauber said recently that they would go for someone experienced and it would be quite a shock to everyone.

    Could it be…Villeneuve?

    He didn’t leave the team on good terms, but anything is possible.

  35. Hugo says:

    I read many times ppl saying that Heildfeld deserves a seat,but what has he done honestly to get one? and on top of that get paid a lot?
    I would take Fisi instead of him, neither of them is looked for their speed,they can bring to any team experience and some set up knowledge,but Fisi at least knows how to win a race.

  36. Tom - Australia says:

    I’m willing to bet Quick Nick will end up alongside Kubica.

    Speaking of gambling; has anyone laid a bet on 2010 WDC yet? I’ve got 100 riding on Vettel at 7:1.

    1. Freespeech says:

      Wouldn’t have thought Kubica would be too keen in that and neither would the team’s sponsors as he has to be the most boring drier in F1 at present (well up till last year at least).

  37. Penfold says:

    James

    What about Anthony Davidson? Everything seems to have gone quiet with him. He seems to have some contacts with Brawn and i find it really surprising that he hasn’t even really been mentioned. Are his struggles due to a lack of sponsors he would bring to a team?

    1. Ash says:

      AD came out around Christmas and said that if he had £5million behind him (which is what sponsership would bring) he would be in F1 next season.

      It seems that he spoke to a few teams but they need money and he doesn’t have any to offer…

  38. Pawel says:

    Heidfeld deserved a seat for 2010. Although he is considered as boring drivier just let me recall his great double-overtaking in Malaysia 2008 and double double-overtaking in Silverstone 2008. However on the other hand I can understand Peter Sauber looking for a new driver as it was Kubica to help BMW-Sauber to develop a car for season 2008 as first tests were disappointing after computer simulations. That’s why Renault made good choice with hiring Kubica. Unfortunately both Heidfeld and Raikkonen might be out of F1 as they are perceived as not pro-developing-car team members. (and too expensive in current global economic circumstances)

  39. Matthew says:

    Very interesting post, James.

    I would love to see Ant in a race seat but he just doesn’t seem to have the aura and glamour of an F1 driver. I think he live in a semi near the Brawn factory?

  40. Lewis Jones says:

    Seems like Nick’s best chance of getting the Mercedes drive is to hope that Schumi’s comeback does a ‘Mansell 95′ and he quits after a few races if the car isn’t up to snuff. Admittedly, that doesn’t seem likely, but I still think that the Macca and the Ferrari might both be quicker out of the box than Ross’ new charger, at least in the first few races…..will Schumi have the hunger to develop a car, especially if Red Bull has a trick or two up its sleeve as well??

  41. Mac says:

    Really don’t see why Fisi deserves a seat in F1. Sure he’s a lovely bloke but he’s past his best and his best was never that *consistently* good in the first place. Better to give a younger driver a chance . . . even Ant . . . not a rookie, but still with time on his side.

  42. Alexis says:

    Kobayashi comes with Panasonic money doesn’t he?

  43. Richard says:

    Heidfeld has never impressed me but in the current situation, with a number of seats still up for grabs, I can’t imagine that he won’t get one.

    Quite a few people have thrown Anthony Davidson’s name into the frame. He has had a number of chances but has never really delivered in races, although he often headed the testing/ practive time sheets. He has never had the chance to race in a competetive car so maybe he is worth consideration.

    There ought to be countless British drivers coming up through the ranks as I believe that no other country has the amount of racing opportunities for driver development. Can’t offer any immediate suggestions for F1 race seats though!

  44. Gary says:

    Davidson hasn’t had a fair crack. He showed plenty of ability while with Super Aguri that has put him on team’s list but the money isn’t there.

    There are a number of British drivers Paffet, Di Resta, Turvey and the best candidate Adam Carroll but they don’t get financial backing. The Renault and Red Bull driver development schemes seem to avoid British drivers and the Mercedes boys seem to get a raw deal too. Worse still are the British companies, like RBS and Virgin who don’t seem to be bothered that they don’t have a British driver in the team they are sponsoring.

    Looking from a far I find it strange that a team won’t always put the best driver they can afford in their car. I suppose it is the question do we take the money but stay at the back of the grid or not take the money and hope to raise money by being further up the grid!

  45. m77t says:

    If renault don’t sign Nick then they’re missing out! look at the wonders that pairing did at BMW (even in last year’s disasterous car…)

  46. bill says:

    James, Is robert kubica going to be testing by himself for the whole 3 days in valencia next month, would it give him some advantage over his rivals?. With refuelling ban, the cars balance and handling will be constantly changing over a race distance which is something the drivers will have to get used to fast because there isn’t a lot of testing time available before the season starts.Few extra days in a new car can make a huge difference, can it?

    1. James Allen says:

      Well he will have more time, yes, but then there is only one opinion to work on. Time is very precious, though and RK is supposed to be pretty hot on the technical side

      1. bill says:

        Thanks, so the progress renualt makes in the next tests will tell us a lot about technical side of robert and his ability to push the car development in the right direction.
        I always wondered what was the situation like at bmwsauber in 08, given the huge handling problems they had in the beginning of pre season tests and how they managed to solve them before melbourne, most testing duties were carried by robert. I also got the impression that f108 pace begun to drop compared to its rivals right after nick got significantly more tesing time than robert, sometime before french gp. I guess we will see how good he is with the enginneers

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