The Force India team has three drivers on its books and has said that it will announce which two will be the race drivers on December 15th.
There has been a lot of speculation about which of the three is to be disappointed, but in the press conference yesterday, Bob Fearnley the deputy team principal, said something very interesting,
“I think it is only fair we deal, obviously, with the drivers. We have got three very talented drivers and we need to make sure that the one that is going to be disappointed has the best opportunity to position himself and that’s our priority. Once we are clear with all those programmes, Vijay will announce it.”
This indicates that the team knows its line up and is engaged in helping the one who is not to be retained to find the best possible seat elsewhere, by giving him the next two weeks in which to keep his stock high. After an announcement the disappointed driver’s negotiating position would change.
If that is the case, which driver has clearly the busiest manager at the moment? The signs are from asking around the teams that it’s Adrian Sutil’s manager Manfred Zimmerman who has been wearing out the shoe leather, diving in and out of team offices, having meetings.
Sutil has certainly been pushing hard on track, qualifying and racing ahead of Di Resta in the last two events and was well ahead of the Scotsman in qualifying in Brazil.
“We have two or three options that we are negotiating. We expect to sign a new contract about a week after Sao Paulo,” Zimmerman is quoted as saying this weekend by German news agency SID.
One of those could be Williams, although there are rumours in the paddock that GP3 champion Valtteri Bottas might make the big leap up to a race seat, as Jenson Button did with Williams from F3 in 2000. Bottas has been Williams’ test driver since January 2010 and the young Finn did a good job in the Young Drivers test at Abu Dhabi last week, covering 161 laps over two days with good pace.
It seems that Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg therefore could be set to race for the team next year and in that scenario a new third driver for Friday running would probably be drafted in. The word in Brazil is that this will be Jules Bianchi, currently reserve driver at Ferrari.
Force India is the team which has made the best use of the third driver on Fridays, giving Di Resta a chance to learn the tracks in 2010 ahead of his race debut this year and keeping Hulkenberg sharp and up to date with Friday runs this year ahead of a race return in 2012. It’s been well thought out and has worked well for them. Bianchi needs mileage in an F1 car to prepare him for a race seat somewhere in 2013.