[Updated] The F1 driver market is starting to kick into gear for next season with the logjam over who will drive for Lotus appearing close to clearing.
Although Pastor Maldonado remains tight lipped, it seems that he has signed or is about to sign for Lotus for next year, Venezuelan oil backer PDVSA having reached an agreement with Williams over severance.
“At the moment I don’t have any confirmation. We will see later. I hope to have a clearer idea before the end of the season,” said Maldonado in Abu Dhabi this afternoon.
“There is a lot of speculation. It’s not signed. It’s still quite early.
“I want to be competitive, to have a competitive car and get good results like we did last year.”
Most sponsor contracts have performance clauses in them and with Williams have scored only one point in 2013, which is likely to be short of the baseline expectation. The suggestion is that PDVSA will be able to exit the deal without paying a significant amount of compensation.
Williams is in talks with Felipe Massa among others, while Valtteri Bottas looks set to stay with the team. GP2 championship contender and Mercedes reserve driver Sam Bird’s name is also in the frame, with support from Mercedes, who will supply Williams powertrains next season.
Lotus boss Eric Boullier said in India that either Maldonado or Nico Hulkenberg will occupy the seat next to Romain Grosjean. Hulkenberg’s other option is Force India or staying where he is at Sauber.
He’s had a strong season, but his bodyweight has been cited as a disadvantage next season with the advent of the new hybrid turbo powertrains, which add a lot of weight to the car. Hulkenberg’s signature was dependent on the investment coming in from the Quantum Group, which has turned into a protracted saga. Boullier has been anxious for his board to make a decision so he does not lose the chance to hire the highest quality driver available.
It is conceivable that Hulkenberg will find himself still standing when the game of musical chairs concludes and the music stops..
Meanwhile Max Chilton could be on the move. The Marussia team would like to keep him, but he is also in talks with Force India for whom he has driven in Young Driver tests before making his race debut this year. Also in the frame at Force India is McLaren protege Kevin Magnussen. McLaren could place the Dane alongside Jules Bianchi at Marussia, but would prefer a car further up the grid. Force India is leaving all its options open and has said it will not announce drivers until December.
Paul di Resta is in an anxious position as the Force India seat looks an attractive option to several drivers with budget. His strong relationship was via Mercedes and former motorsport director Norbert Haug, who was replaced in that role by Toto Wolff last Christmas.
The Force India team has always prided itself on taking drivers on merit rather that for budget reasons, although Adrian Sutil brings some funding from Medion and Capri Sun.
Marussia meanwhile, already has Jules Bianchi under contract for next season, a supply of Ferrari powertrains and now some commercial income from the central F1 prize fund thanks to tying up a bilateral agreement with Bernie Ecclestone and CVC last week.