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Posted By: Matt Meadows  |  08 Oct 2012   |  9:48 pm GMT  |  16 comments

In a period where the Hamilton/Mercedes/Schumacher affair has dominated the Formula 1 paddock’s attention, the wider repercussions in the driver market could open up a wealth of possibilities, led by Caterham and the possibility of two available race seats in 2013.

Heikki Kovalainen said during the Japanese weekend that he was in talks with Caterham owner Tony Fernandes, and that despite apparent recent friction between the Malaysian and the Finn’s management, he was still hopeful of a fresh deal. Nonetheless the presence of a surge of talented and well-backed young drivers who are eager to break into the sport means Caterham, along with numerous other teams, are not short on options. Last weekend at Suzuka Kovalainen demoted to the pit wall for the third time in 2012, as Giedo van der Garde took his place in Friday’s first practice.

The situation is similar for Vitaly Petrov. The Russian signed a late deal with the team for just the 2012 season and with recent revelations showing that his funding will not carry through to 2013, he could see himself cast aside for those that have the backing available. In a recent interview, Petrov’s manager Oksana Kosachenko was asked whether he will be in a race seat next year, to which she replied, “If there’s no money, then there’s no drive. I’m not prepared to hold talks all winter like last time.”

If there is to be a seat available at Caterham then they have a number of drivers to call on. They have taken on the services of many young drivers in recent years with Luis Razia and van der Garde, from GP2, and Alexander Rossi, World Series by Renault, having all driven for the team in the past twelve months during FP1 sessions.

Further up the grid and Force India duo Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg have both had their eye on Felipe Massa’s Ferrari seat but, with the Brazilian looking increasingly safe for another year, speculation has now turned to whether the latter might still be on the move, with a Sauber switch touted. So if one is to leave, a replacement must be found and Force India have certainly built their recent success on identifying young, hungry drivers to step up.

In the recent young driver tests at Magny-Cours, Caterham’s Razia spent two days in the Force India. If van der Garde was to take any available race seat at Caterham, then Razia is free to do the same at Force India. However, Razia’s main competition could come from Force India third driver, Jules Bianchi. The 23-year old Frenchman also took part in the young driver test, but in both Force India and Ferrari machinery and was very fast throughout.

Another option could be the team’s former driver Adrian Sutil, who has been out of the sport for a year after he could not find a race seat in 2012, his trial and subsequent conviction for GBH over the winter having likely counted against him.

An interesting situation is also occurring at Williams. Pastor Maldonado had a nervous wait to see the results of the Venezuelan Presidential election, but the return of the long-standing Hugo Chavez to office is likely to mean that the country’s maiden F1 winner retains his state oil backing.

Williams has had a very strong car all year and very little to show for it in terms of points. Maldonado’s win in Spain was not through luck and the fact that he had not scored a point since prior to Japan had not gone unnoticed.

The same can be said for Bruno Senna who has had a couple of strong races, but has more often than not found himself out of the points after poor qualifying performances. The Brazilian has also made a lot of mistakes this year, particularly in qualifying where he has only made it through to the top ten shootout once. Should at least one free seat become available then that would most likely be taken by reserve driver Valtteri Bottas.

At Sauber, Sergio Perez’s move to McLaren opens the door for a list of potential candidates, including Kovalainen. Michael Schumacher’s announcement of his retirement takes him out of the equation, making Esteban Gutierrez the most likely replacement. The young Mexican, like Perez, is backed by Telmex and after two very strong years in GP2 the 21-year old would be ready for a chance in a race seat.

The list of emerging talent could be continued with Britons James Calado and Max Chilton, who have both impressed in GP2 in 2012. Calado had a very impressive debut season in the category, driving for the Lotus ART team and backed by the Racing Steps Foundation. It is most likely that he will compete in GP2 again in 2013 and he will head in to the series as Championship favourite. Chilton, however, already has his foot in the door after recently being announced as the third driver for Marussia.

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16 Comments
  1. Craeas says:

    I would love to see hiekki in a competitive car again to see how much he has improved. Bet he would too ;)

    1. CTP says:

      he’s improved so much that he’s now as good as petrov…

  2. JP says:

    Hi James,
    Interestingly you haven’t mentioned anything about Jaime Alguersuari.
    He says he will definitely be racing next year.
    Surely you must have info about this?
    Has he made you promise not to tell? :)

    Cheers
    JP

  3. Nik says:

    It’s a shame that ‘pay to drive’ appears to have become more prolific. We’re in danger of a grid governed by the cheque book rather than the talent.

    Regarding Caterham, I’d be wary of ditching Kovalainen. To me, he’s out driven the car on a number of occasions and Caterham seriously need development. Having effectively two rookie drivers would not be a shrewd move, looking broadly overview.

    That said, I’d like to see Heikki with a more competitive drive. Ok, he didn’t dazzle at McLaren but he seems re energized since being at Caterham. Give him a better car and I’d say he’d be nose to nose with the likes of DiResta etc.

    Petrov hasn’t really shone in my eyes but perhaps that’s a little unfair, since the Caterham hasn’t really shone at all.

    What about Torro Rosso? I wouldn’t say either of their drivers have been consistently memorable (other than annoying a few other drivers). Maybe a better driver would see them further up the score sheet.

    Senna? He’s a frustrating driver. Moments of great pace followed by many moments of mediocrity. I’d still like to see him on the grid for another year, even if to see a ‘Senna’ in F1. (relatively pointless but true none the less)

    Ferrari – Surely it’s going to be Alonso / Massa next year. Massa may be strictly No2 these days but there really isn’t anyone who is going to step into his place and get better results, at the moment.

    Interesting times.. Interesting times.

  4. Ross says:

    What about jaime alguersuari? He’s hinted in his column he’s coming back next year

  5. kp says:

    ‘…. money over talent as the dictating factor in decision making.’

    Money follows talent. And, at the top level, when that talent fails to materialise the money leaves it, and leaves it quickly. Think Hamilton!

    Perez is seriously talented. And he carries money. But if he doesn’t perform he too, as with Hamilton, will be out!

    Strange to see how long it took the press to own up to such realities!

  6. madmax says:

    Adrian Sutil should be still in F1 and the sport should have tried to do more to keep their biggest draw Schumacher. http://pitpass.com/47433-Why-Michael-Schumacher-may-be-F1s-most-valuable-driver

    Was fascinating to see a man who raced Senna and Prost and who is arguably the greatest of all time coming back into form. But what does the sport let happen? Force him into retirement.

  7. James Atkinson says:

    Interesting article JA could you do a follow up on sponsorship and expand on the dollars that a driver brings to a team. There’s always a financial angle as well as how well someone can drive.

    Cheers

    Another JA

  8. jpinx says:

    Will Grosjean keep his seat, or will someone have the gonads to boot him out of F1 and allow some equally talented but better controlled guy in?

  9. Alex Sun says:

    Рetrov VS Kovalainen. Who is faster?
    http://racetime.ru/index.php?id=3787
    I think that Vitaly Petrov also Good and Stable pilot, only in the last two races, he had technical problemms. If you remove the side of commerce, I think Vitaly is worth a cool car.

  10. Sasquatsch says:

    As Joe Saward pointed out in his Blog article about pay drivers (http://joesaward.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/the-value-or-lack-of-it-of-f1-pay-drivers/) choosing money over talent is not always a good idea, because the more talented drivers most likely will generate more prize money than the pay drivers will bring to the team as backing. Especially the 10th place in the championship is worth $17.6 million more than 11th place.

  11. Jota MG says:

    You do forget the best young driver at the moment, António Félix da Costa….

  12. riccardo is simply an excellent driver that is closed down by the performance of the car he has to drive. watch him closely…he has stayed out of trouble and driven some great races. there is only so much anyone can do with a car that pauses at every tree to lift a leg!!!

  13. john g says:

    Don’t you mean that Maldonado’s win *was* by luck? ;) As his subsequent results have clearly shown…

    Anyway, I think heidfeld has more chance of an F1 drive than Sutil – he’s damaged goods now and there’s no reason to think about him, he wasn’t every anything special.

  14. terry says:

    The driver line up with out contracts for next year could be even greater.
    Because of Vijay Mallya and his financial problems with King Fisher airlines and warrant for arrest in India after he bounce a $2 million dollar check in India to airport he owe money to.
    Their might not be a Force india team next year.
    Terry

  15. McHarg123 says:

    It’s going to be one of those years when we see the whole grid mixed up. Great to see.

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