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Who will fill the final seats on the F1 grid?
Posted By: James Allen  |  02 Jan 2012   |  6:40 pm GMT  |  120 comments

With a month to go before the start of the new car testing season and two months to the first race there are still two race seats available. Many seats were filled in the weeks leading up to Christmas with Lotus Renault, Toro Rosso and Force India filling in their entry cards.

But what of Williams and HRT?

The contenders for Williams seem quite straight forward; Rubens Barrichello is the choice of the Williams engineers, who rate the Brazilian highly and were pleased with his performances in the closing stages of last season. Meanwhile Adrian Sutil has experience, is fast and brings some sponsorship budget. He had some strong performances in the closing races of the season.

However Auto Motor und Sport in Germany is reporting that Sutil wants only a one year contract to keep his chances open of taking Felipe Massa’s seat at Ferrari in 2013.

Whether those chances are realistic time will tell, but it does seem likely that there will be a seat alongside Fernando Alonso in 2013, with Ferrari likely to want someone who is fast and consistent enough, but who would keep the seat warm in anticipation of a bid for Sebastian Vettel at the end of 2014, when his Red Bull contract expires.

According to AMuS, Sutil’s position makes Barrichello’s Williams candidacy pretty strong, but time will tell. The Brazilian has not always seen eye to eye with team boss Adam Parr. Meanwhile veteran technical boss and team co-founder Patrick Head has stepped down from the board and will henceforth focus his attentions on Williams’ hybrid power business.

HRT has a space to fill alongside Pedro de la Rosa. The team which is becoming increasingly Spanish, appointed Luis Perez Sala as team principal just before Christmas, cutting ties with Colin Kolles. Sala is a former Minardi driver, who has been acting as a consultant since the summer.

It’s clear that the team will need a driver who brings a budget in the seat. Jaime Alguersuari has a father who is a powerful figure in Spanish motorsport circles but whether that could lead to a budget big enough to trump others will have to be seen. Bruno Senna had an unhappy time with the team when Kolles was in charge and it’s not clear whether he would see a return there, even under different management, as a worthwhile step to stay in F1. His name has been linked with Williams too, but not so much in recent weeks. Narain Karthikeyan also has some budget.

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Fernando Goncalves

There was a confirmation on Twitter by Eike Batista, owner of OGX and richest man in Brazil, that Bruno Senna will race for Williams in 2012. If he said, it is pretty much true.


I don’t see why Williams would be put off by Sutil wanting only a one year deal and then signing Barrichello instead. It’s not as though they are going to sign Rubens to a multi-year deal or anything.


If I were Williams, I’d be going for Sutil and a single year contract. Sutil will be keen to be on the free market in 2013, with his eyes on that Ferrari seat (Ferrari need a seat warmer for Vettel in 2014, so Sutil might well do), and Williams need a fast driver in 2012 to score some points and get them higher than 9th in the championship – they need constructors championship money, and a single year contract will do, since they want Valteri Bottas in for 2013 (provided Maldonado will translate his good quali pace into some decent race results and keeps sending those venezuelan checks).

My heart though would like to see Senna in that Williams. It would be fitting.


Bringing the name Senna back into a Williams brings bad omens!


True… But think of it as …unfinished business! 😉


My guess is that the title sponsorship will be QNB. But that the AT&T dropout might conveniiently let Embratel backed Senna into the drive.

I will stop following Williams if they go for Adrian sutil. He’s had plenty of chances to prove himself in F1 and has been throroughly unipressive until put under pressure this year.

I’d rather they kept Rubens than go for Sutil. I still really think Senna has something to offer F1 and it would be a shame to never see him given a full season in a decent car.

I’m really hopeful of Williams turnaround next year, so hope they dont go for Sutil 🙂


I think there is another seat that will become available, one at Caterham.

Personally I believe Williams will keep Rubens and then if the car is better they can get a better driver in 2013, and at least Rubens offers continuity.

I can see Sutil going to Caterham for a year with his Medion money he has and Jamie going to HRT. All the others it looks like the US, DTM or reserve roles.

Personally I’d like to see the big teams all having 3 cars (As well as keeping the lower teams unlike Luca wants) but with young drivers (Under 25) and they do not count towards constructor points and could run with different sponsors etc. This way we get some good up and coming talent instead of the pay drivers. This is the problem at the moment, there is talent out there but they can’t get a seat as the pay drivers get the job.


Hardly makes sense to have just some of the teams have 3 cars. They’d just be blockers for their team mates.

And if some teams need the funds a pay driver brings, then they probably couldn’t afford a 3rd car and would be at an even worse competitive disadvantage.

Michael Grievson

Paying for a seat is definately strange. Is this unique to motorsport? I dont really follow other sports but I’ve never heard of a footballer paying for a place in a premiership team


Let’s put it this way: Motorsports is not only darn expensive, it’s the engineering side that has far more impact than the driver. In a football team however the players and the trainers make the difference, not any gear that is made exclusively for them. You don’t see engineers buying into Formula One teams, do you?


I would really like ot get in touch with Mr Allen personally. Does anyone how to get in contact.


Dear Mr Allen,I have tried this email address however it has not worked.


I would like to see Nick Heidfeld get a seat


I sorta got used to seeing Sutil do crazy things on and off track, it would be a shame for F1 to lose such a star name. Besides, he seems to do well at Monaco (my personal fav); he’s got a decent helmet design and a crazy looking dad (F1 dads thread is needed). In short, he’s a character and he’s got character. Tired of Rubens myself, he should’ve called it a day after 2009, retire with pride and a couple of wins/podiums.

In my world, Schu and Rubens should take over HRT and rename it as Schumacher-Barrichello Racing, they’ll be able to have some fun and their fans will be equally happy. Unless Rubens insists the team should be called Barrichello-Schumacher Racing, I can see it happening.


If Williams want experience.. dump RB and pick up Heidfeld. Its unfortunate Maldonado has the other seat, there are many better drivers, Sutil/Senna/Petrov/Alguersuari all come to mind.


In today’s market, a lot has to do with the new title sponsors, in Williams’s case. They are the ones putting in most of the cash to run the business. Yes the car has to work, and the drivers have to keep it on the tarmac. But in looking at the drivers and what they bring to the table, there is a fair amount of cross over’s, a part from Barrichello, who has said in the past, if it is money – sponsors then he will go get them for the team.

All the other drivers, looking at or mentioned for the Williams seat have conflict in there sponsor packages with the proposed new title sponsor that Williams needs – wants.

In the case of Barrichello, his feed back to the engineers is pretty good, where as the other drivers mention, no so good. Sure they maybe fast, but if you don’t understand why you’re fast, then what good is that for the engineers?

I have been a Williams fan since 1979, and in that time period I have seen a lot of “named” teams disappear from the grid, but would really hate to see that happen to Williams. It is a funny old word F1, just look at Honda – Brawn, stranger things could happen. We will know about Williams once the testing starts and if they’re quick out of the box or not


I can’t believe that Sutil is so arrogant to even consider he would get a Ferrari seat. I just do not see he has enough quality or consistency for the Italians.


With not much testing in season anymore then Barrichello has to have a chance with Williams again this year but Sutil would be my next choice there has he hasn’t done much wrong not to be in Formula One.

As for the others Buemi could go the same way as Neel Jani and never get another chance as for Alguersuari HRT could happen for him. But James i herd that Javier Villa has been linked with the seat any info on that ? As for Senna and Petrov i think they could be on the outside looking in.

Just a question maybe you James or could anyone else be able to tell me did Nelson Piquet ever get near a drive for Ligier Renault in 1992 i know Alain Prost tested for them. Or have i always dreamt this one up would love someone to give me an answer.

Many Thanks



It would be sad to see Rubens just disappear from F1 due to lack of a drive. After all his time it would be best to see him make a planned exit; maybe he should have seen the writing on the wall and announce his retirement before the Brazilian GP where he could have made a proper exit in front of his adoring fans! That said; he is probably still the best driver in the pool left from 2011 without a seat.


I don’t see Ferrari having 2 top drivers in their prime at the same time. Alonso is doing a fantastic job at the moment and building up well for the coming seasons. So it won’t make sense for Ferrari to bring Vettel now and cannibalise Alonso’s championship points. The fact is any okay driver can score good points in a great car (like Webber on 2011 car, Barrichello on the Ferrari and Brawn, Heikki in the McLaren). This is what top teams want, great driver for the championship and a okay or good driver for the points. Occasionally the roles swap we’ve seen that in 2008 with Ferrari, major part of 2010 in Red Bull and 2011 in McLaren. So in my opinion Sutil for Ferrari is a better bet than Vettel, forget what Ferrari says in public about Vettel. They are not about to pursue him, not until 2018 at least, but that’s just me thinking loud…


Does anyone actually know what the situation is with Kubica? Renault’s option on him/contract expired on the 31st Dec 2011. Have Renault released him? Is he a free agent? Has he already signed for Ferrari?


I think Adrian Sutil deserves a seat in F1, & Williams should hire him. But his Ferrari dreams look a bit too optimistic, unless he cherishes a No.2 driver tag.

Barrichello may be good for engineers, but he has had a long long stay on the grid, and should have retired gracefully at the end of last season.

Jaime Alguersuari looks to be a decent bet for the vacant HRT seat.


the williams team/brand find themselves in a very shaky postion for the start of this season. the loss of att money along with personel departures, i would think that retaining rubens and his sponsors would be first and foremost. as all teams need, a decent budget for chassie design to start off with makes the drivers job a bit easier.


Hopefully Sutil will end up at Williams. He deserves the chance.

James, have you ever read Senna versus Prost by Malcolm Folley?

I’m currently reading it and am half way through it. It is very interesting.


Yes, very interesting


It’s a shame that Williams seem to have been forced(for financial reasons) to “waste” a seat on Maldonado next year. I do think they need at least one experienced driver to help them improve but maybe it’s time for some new perspective so perhaps Sutil would be a good option especially if he can bring some much needed funds too, although pay drivers don’t usually pay(off!). Williams are up a bit of a “Gum Tree” as they need to stop the rot quickly or they will sink without a trace.


Sutil is not renowned for his feedback.


Happy New Year James and all the readers here!

FI has steadily progressed up the grid in the past few years with Sutil driving for them all these years. James, what do the engineers have to say about Sutil’s setup skills, technical feedback and ability to develop the car?


Hi James,

Last time I looked the FIA entry list showed Williams as AT&T Williams. Their website has changed;it was it is currently and the logo on the home page has changed to a plain AT&T free Williams logo.

Have you heard anything about the Williams sponsorship deal with AT&T or do you think that it is just a temporary change before the launch their new car?


I think Sutil offering himself as a short-term, fit for Ferrari is pretty wise, but perhaps he should do that through a reserve driver role for them. That frees up the Williams seat for someone else.

I like Barrichello, Trulli, and de la Rosa, but I would not like to see a younger driver miss out if they have shown some potential.

So, all three should step aside for the likes of Alguersuari, d’Ambrosio, and Senna.


Like many, I’m surprised at the mention of Sutil to Ferrari for 2013. I wonder whether this is being driven purely from Sutil’s managment? I would guess so.

Massa is lucky to be at Maranello for 2012, let alone have a drive in 2013. I can certainly imagine Vettel going to Ferrari, with maybe 1 or 2 more titles under his belt, and potentially Hamilton at Red Bull. On this basis, a decent number 2 driver would work well for a couple of seasons. All the talk about Kubica and Ferrari has gone quiet?

Back on topic, whether it is Barrichello or Sutil, Williams will continue to struggle next year. For someone like me who started watching F1 in the mid-80s, it is sad to see such a great name go down so far, but maybe that’s the price for keeping your independence for so long…


It’s a crying shame that such young drivers, with tallent, such as Sutil, Algusuari, Senna and Buemi have been ousted onto the discard pile like this, fighting out for seats which wont bare any fruit this year anyway. I realise that it’s the nature of the sport, but it still isnt right. The likes of Trulli, Barrichello and De la Rosa are holding on to seats which is bloking the ever growing pool of tallent beneath them. (Yes, Schumacher should be on that list too…!)

The sport needs revamping to prevent this somehow.


If the older drivers have greater talent than the younger ones, and are more reliable, why on earth should the young’uns get the seat simply due to being young?

Its complete lunacy as far as im concerned.


Yes, that’s fair enough. But really, how much have the likes of Barrichello, Trulli and De la Rosa bought to the sport in the last couple of years?

Granted Barrichello and Trulli have been driving fairly substandard cars, but their presence is becoming annoying. They’re constantly whinging and unhappy. They seem to be putting up with it, in hope that they may get one last chance with a team further up the midfield.

De la Rosa mean while was dropped by a team in 2010 because due to underperforming and being beaten by a younger and clearly more tallented team mate.

Meanwhile, there are drivers from the 2011 chop that have been left without a seat, without mentioning the GP2/F2 hopefuls.

I feel that more tallented younger drivers are going to waste because of drivers from yesteryear failing to call time on themselves.


A question for James :

What kind of contract is Adrian Newey on at Red Bull ?

Sebastian has a real interest in F1 history and that must make a move to Ferrari a possibility.

But I can’t imagine him going to another team, even Ferrari, unless Adrian went there as well.

Could we see Ferrari opening a MKTO ?

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