Race is on for the last top F1 seat in 2011
Scuderia Ferrari
Race is on for the last top F1 seat in 2011
Posted By: James Allen  |  19 Jul 2010   |  4:22 pm GMT  |  125 comments

This summer is unusual in that we already know the identity of most of the drivers in the top teams’ cars for next year.

Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull will field unchanged driver line ups and the same is likely to be true of Mercedes unless Michael Schumacher has a sudden change of heart and decides to quit at the end of the season. But he has been talking about next year’s car and looks very much as though his thoughts are of racing again in 2011.

This leaves only the seat alongside Robert Kubica at Renault.

Petrov: Sitting in a highly prized seat (Darren Heath)

The team has said that it is up to current incumbent Vitaly Petrov to show that he justifies the seat. So far he has had only one points scoring result in China, although he qualified well in Turkey. But he has made quite a few mistakes. He has the worst qualifying comparison with his team mate on the grid, at 10-0 and the average gap is 0.8 secs.

There is no doubt that the team is suffering from not having an established runner in the second car to allow it to fight Mercedes and Ferrari in the constructors’ championship. Kubica has scored 83 points already, more than Massa and not far behind Rosberg. Even if the second driver had contributed half the number of points of Kubica, the team would be ahead of Mercedes in fourth place.

On top of that running a rookie driver is always a compromise on development and this was certainly a problem over the winter testing period. Williams has a similar problem with fellow GP2 graduate Nico Hulkenberg, who is not matching up to Rubens Barrichello.

There is quite a big gap in performance from Renault back to the next fastest team, which is Force India. So it is very much a case of there being a top five teams and then the rest.

Petrov started the season qualifying 1.7 secs slower than Kubica, but did a strong job in Turkey to qualify 0.4s away. In Canada with the walls lining the track and clearly fearful of making a mistake, he was 1.7s off again, but in the last two races he has been 0.4s away from the Pole, albeit in Silverstone that equated to ten places on the grid.

There is a strong business case for retaining Petrov, as Lopez and Genii are active in the Russian market and it is an untapped resource of new funding into the sport. Lopez’ business model is to offer sponsors joint venture business deals with his own companies and with Renault corporate, so they get far more than just a sticker on a car. The return on investment of such deals is attractive to certain companies, who wouldn’t perhaps normally think of sponsoring an F1 team. The team has such a deal going with Russian car company Lada at the moment.

It is also helpful to Bernie Ecclestone to have a Russian driver as he tries to get a Grand Prix in Russia, possibly as soon as 2012.

Renault is a team on the up. Since the takeover by Gerard Lopez’ Genii group and the arrival of Eric Boullier as team principal, the team has rediscovered its confidence and the technical department has been praised by rivals for the constant updates they are bringing to the car. Lopez plans further investment in the team and it seems a fairly stable platform.

As a result the Petrov seat is attracting quite a bit of attention. Auto Motor und Sport has suggested that Kimi Raikkonen is thinking about a comeback with the team and will decide by the Finnish rally, but I don’t see Raikkonen coming back and I don’t see Lopez wanting to pay him.

Meanwhile Adrian Sutil, Timo Glock and Heikki Kovalainen are also candidates.

Lotus have indicated that they would like to keep Kovalainen. Sutil is faster than Glock and, after a few years of being erratic, is having quite a good season in the Force India, having scored 35 points so far. He also brings some sponsorship money from Medion and is probably about ready to move into a top team if he is ever going to make that move. He’s the one I would go for if I was looking to make a change on sporting grounds.

Lopez told me earlier this year that he wanted to “build the team around Kubica” and anyone coming in would need to establish the terms on which he would be employed.

It is an exciting opportunity and there is likely to be a lot of chat about it, but I see Renault waiting until the end of the season to see how Petrov does. I think they would like it to work with him, but he has a lot of ground to make up.

It is the key seat in the driver silly season, but there is no hurry for Renault.

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Sutil deserves a good drive. If they want to ‘build a team around’ Kubica, Kobayashi would be a distraction – he’s too quick…!




Too bad marketing plays such a role…but thats how it is. That aside….Heidfeld is the obvious choice.


One question only ?

Does Petrov make sense financially ?

Yes he does and following the Genii model, they want to have a financially self sufficient team in F1, Petrov is, at the moment, the only solution.

He has a good backing, it is more or less on the pace with the rest of rookies and he has demonstrated that sometimes can be quite good.

Without testing, he is one of the best in the paddock.

The talks about Kimi are totally rubbish.

Look at his situation from this angle.

Red Bull is paying his salary to do WRC, no other team can have his services despite being very quick in an F1 car and maybe Reb Bull could bring him to F1 when Webber will finish with Reb Bull in 2012.

Do you get my point now ?


I don’t think Medion would follow Sutil to Renault because HP is already there – and I think has a multi-year deal.

Also, I’m surprised that you say that Sutil is faster than Glock so readily, I would have said the opposite, but its hard to compare.




Its gonna be Sutil at Renault. The Groundhog says so!

James should run a contest on this. WHoever’s right (moi) wins… something cool.


Here’s an interesting one I’ve heard from a well placed source…

Mercedes are currently talking to Kimi about replacing Schumacher next season.

It makes a lot of sense from a business and team point of view. Schumi isn’t delivering this year, he’s really struggling with the new cars, Kimi is quick and with Rosberg their as the team player he can do all the stuff Kimi isn’t interested in including all the German press and PR stuff.

Remember where you heard it first!


Okay lets hypothetically assume that Kimi signs for Renault. How is this thing good for F1? How is this good for Kimi? What can Kimi bring to the sport with this drive?


The artistic style coupled with unmitigated speed that seem to be missing from F1 right now. And, of course, some straight-forward no-nonsense, non-political behaviour.


There are already drivers with speed equal to what Kimi had. Ever heard of Hamilton,Alonso,Vettel ?

And I bet half of F1 fanbase doesn’t mind the politics in F1. That is what keeps the F1 forums and blogs alive.

Kimi would be just another strong contender if he comes back. Nothing more than that !


You are right about Hamilton and Vettel, I think Alonso is just not as fast as these two, but as far as the blogs feeding on the politics of the F1, I would rather see us discussing the sport, not its politics.


James, great blog as always…keep it up;

my question although off topic is, how do you see the wrangle between Allsport and Fota developing, Put yourself in the shoes of a small sponsor, you already pay a fair % of your marketing budget to display your company’s logo on clothing, trucks and inside the garage and then Allsport say, sorry you need to stump up and extra xxx,xxx GBP or your logo wont appear anywhere inside the track….

in the current climate most companies will probably, and quite rightly walk away from the sport, coupled with an expiring concorde agreement…..


It’s funny that it’s never been a problem before. It will be resolved, just some early sabre rattling. There will be much bigger bumps in the road soon.


Kimi at Renault would be very interesting for a number of reasons, but particularly so we could compare him with Kubica. I still rate Kimi as one of the world’s fastest out-and-out drivers and wouldn’t bet on Kubica dominating. But it depends on how motivated Kimi would be…maybe they could give him an ice cream bonus on top of a few million quid?


Potential Flash point in Germany: James What would happen in Germany come the week End if Jenson Button says “The new diffuser is not perfect and so he does not want it on the car” and Lewis Hamilton says “Yes, its not perfect but it makes the car better than the valencia edition we have been driving, I will drive round the problems, I want it on my car”. Will Mclaren then say, JB here is the Old car and LH, here is the new car?


See Whitmarsh comment on this in my latest post on German GP. He addresses it head on


I think it was the team ‘and’ JB that out voted LH on the upgrade issue at Silverstone and it would be illogical for any call of that nature to be made at any race in the future.

It is a none issue as far as I can see.


Let BobKub get on with it and give Petrov more time I say. Heidfeld would be my pick but from a commercial standpoint it would not make much sense.

James, on another note and OT, I am sad to see the new banner picture you have chosen. That image of Princess Petel is my least favorite of the season by far. Makes me want to put my fist through his face. Not that I would, it just makes me feel that way. Horrible, and I wish he would refrain in future. I really think it pisses a lot of people off when he does this incessantly. Anybody else feel the same way?

Any chance of a change please, James?


No chance of a change, it’s Germany, he’s the one in the spotlight, it’s the right banner for the week!!


Ah! I’m with you now James. I shall watch with interest!


I’d give Bruno a decent seat just to see what he can do . . . the sport owes “a” Senna that much at least.

Maybe we’ll see Webber at Renault next year and Kimi at Red Bull . . . though he won’t like being #2 to Seb.

Zobra Wambleska

Seb would probably like Kimi as his number 2 just about as much as he likes Mark. I think the results might be about the same. In other words Kimi wouldn’t stay number 2 for long.


A Raikkonen – Kubica pairing would be probably the strongest on the grid in 2011. I can`t see it happen however just as Raikkonen-Hamilton team didn`t happen last year, unfortunatelly. Kimster will be on podium in WRC next year and hopefully come back in 2012 or play racing with his kid at home.


…or go for the WDC in rally, at least his co-driver has stated that it’s possible with a 5 year plan. Sadly, I would like to see him in F1 again but I understand if he choose to never come back make a carer i rally instead.


It’s at crucial times like this that I bet the teams rue the day Gastón Mazzacane ever left the sport. God the things that kid could do with a car – he’d have turned that Renault team around…


Depends on how high Renault has set its targets. If they want championships they will need two top notch drivers. They can’t wait for rookies to mature. With good results the money also flows in. They can obtain the services of Kimi if they give him what he wants: allow him to race at the WRC, Citroen will probably not have a full schedule for the coming year for its junior team due to financial difficulties, and give him equal status with Kubica. They will indeed be the ‘dream team’ of F1.


You don’t seem to be awared that it’s Red Bull and not Citroen who is Kimis current employer. Reb Bull also has stated that they are very happy whit him and looking forward to extend his contract and fix him a citroen to the next rally season.


IMHO Renault is the private farm of Robert Kubica. The question is: who wants to be the second? I think that Kimi is not this person. In my opinion they’ll choose Glock or Sutil.


Button would make a great no.2 for Kubica 😉


I feel that Renault have done well this year because they have focused almost exclusively on Kubica… and not 2 drivers. I think Petrov is doing ok, considering he’s a rookie and I think he deserves another year to see if he can improve – if not, then cheerio.

Can’t see Kubica being happy with Heldfeld re-joining him or Kimi… I think Kubica is very happy to, at last, have the resources of a good team mainly focussed on him.

That might change, as James alludes to (in terms of them wishing to get higher in the Constructors)… but for me, it’s nice to see Renault back in the mix and Kubica racing well 🙂


I don’t know why no one is considering Nick Heidfeld. I was very disappointed when I found out no one had agreed to give him a race seat for this season. Kubica and Nick have been team mates for a very long time and I’d love to see Nick racing again!


Having two drivers of equal quality is a luxury few teams can afford. And even those that can are wondering if it is worthwhile.

What Horner did, for whatever reason, with regards to Webber’s wing was dreadful man-management and even worse PR but the team is suffering despite having the fastest car on the grid. It makes good sense to favour one driver.

A major part of the strength of Ferrari in its championship winning phase was its overt (to everyone but Rubens it seemed) monoculture. It was the double diffuser of its day.

If Renault do aspire to bring back the old days then they will probably need to stick with just the one driver. 4/10ths off the pace of a team mate as a best showing is a signal not only to the team management but to the driver himself.

In those circumstances Petrov is a pretty good buy given what he brings to Renault. But there’s more.

It has always been a good career move to help out Bernie. With his stated desire (although you never know with him) to venture into Russia, he needs to pander to jingoism. And that means Petrov. Bernie has never shown himself to be reluctant to support, and not only financially, what he sees as a deserving cause.

One driver teams are bad for the sport but they’ve always been here. All Ferrari did was to abandon any pretence. The situation at McLaren is unique in 2010: a car capable of winning the WCC, two drivers aiming at the WDC and equal support.

In the glorious Honda years at Williams they wanted Mansell to back up Piquet, to do some testing and not get in the way. They, like many others, including me and an awful lot of F1 fans, underestimated his ability.

It is ironic that the whinging nickname became a permanent fixture when he complained that he was being given less powerful engines than his team mate. Honda’s confession some time later that they ‘tailored’ each engine to the individual driver’s needs, somehow suggesting that Mansell drove better with lower bhp, showed that major sponsors did more than just supply the drinks at the Paddock Club.

Williams was ridiculed at the time for managing to lose the WDC despite the skills of their drivers and having the fastest car on the grid. There is little doubt that when motivated, Piquet was one of the greats. Yet the team blew it.

At Silverstone in 87 both Williams cars lapped the field up to, I seem to remember, 4th. Williams’ lack of compliance with Honda’s desire to favour Piquet meant they lost the engine as well. It was a lesson well learnt by other teams.

Petrov is the perfect number 2 in the current F1 climate. If there is a Russian GP then sponsors will be queuing to rent a space on the Renault and Petov’s overalls when the circus comes to town. All he needs to do is ensure that he doesn’t get too close to his team mate. 4/10ths probably needs a bit of improvement. Say half that and everyone’s happy. Including, I reckon, the driver himself

Mind you, I can see a seat going spare at Red Bull next season. Contracts in F1 are signed more in hope than expectation. Petrov would be perfect for them.


I think there is a problem in F1 now that teams expect drivers to come into F1 and instantly perform like Hamilton did in 2007. Hamilton was a once in a generation find, and now teams seem intent on finding the next gold driver rather than nurturing them along.

Even Schumacher needed a season or two of nurturing before he really found his form. Teams need to take more care and be more patient with young drivers.


And that really is the problem, isn’t it? Look at the pedigree of guys like Hulkenberg, Grosjean, or even Petrov and it’s not like these guys can’t drive. However, they’ve all struggled to make the immediate impression that the upper-tier teams are wanting to see. We all need to remember what Sebastian Vettel’s first season looked like up until the Valencia round when Toro Rosso started to turn things around…

It’s for this reason that we need the Toro Rossos, Virgins, and HRTs of the world to get these guys into the sport for more than a half season without worrying about losing their seats. It’s hard to focus on driving when you’re always looking in the rear-view mirror!


If it’s a 2nd driver they want, the are surely looking for what Petrov lacks, which is consistency and beeing able to help with development. Nick Heidfeldt could be a good partner, but this time around it will be on Robert Kubica’s terms(not competing with a german driver in a german team).


Can unsigned drivers pick teams based on the potential speed of a future car’s development? Do teams who are wooing drivers show them specs of the new car, or is it all a guessing game?

After Raikkonen’s statement last year that he would only sign to a championship contending team, surely he and his management, were they in a position to ask for such, would want some proof that McLaren’s new car would be fast.

On an unrelated note, that page that shows up saying “you’re posting too fast, slow down.” is annoying since you lose your post, and because this is an F1 site. Speeding should be the rule!


I *always copy my text before posting here just for that reason.


Yes, a lesson hard learned. 🙂

Zobra Wambleska

Yeah, what’s with that? I can’t even figure out what it means.


I don’t think kimi is the one who is interested in the REnault seat, its always been the other way around. Lopez wanted to sound out kimi, but kimi has always publically said he would not return unless its a top team.

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