November 2nd, 2012 (F1plus/Carl Leo).- As the Formula 1 grid for 2013 begins to take shape the drivers market is poised to provide a few surprises. The confirmed driver changes have opened up a few sought after seats, but teams are keeping their cards close to their chest regarding the identity of their hot shoes for next year. At this stage of the season it’s worth having a look at what both the confirmed changes mean and what the speculative driver line-ups could be for Melbourne 2013. One thing is certain however, and that is there are far more drivers looking for seats than there are seats available. The next few months will make for interesting viewing for those who follow the sport and tense times for those who participate!
The first and most obvious move to discuss is that of Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes. This has been a major talking point this season and there isn’t much to say that hasn’t been said already. It may seem a strange choice to leave McLaren for the underperforming Mercedes team, but one gets the sense that the new challenge will be just the tonic Lewis Hamilton needs in his career right now. He stands a chance to show everyone that he is not just a quick driver, but a quick driver who can build a team around him and help develop an average car into a title contender. Allied to that is the fact that Ross Brawn at the helm of Mercedes has the capabilities to not only produce a championship winning car, but also manage the development and team strategy throughout the season with aplomb.
Sergio Perez’s move to McLaren will be a major point of interest next year. The young Mexican has landed a number of podiums this year with alternative strategies that have paid off. Originally touted to replace Massa at Ferrari, it seems there was never any doubt that Sergio was in favour amongst the big team bosses. Heikki Kovalainen’s disappointing stint at McLaren should serve as a warning to Perez as he will now have to match both the potential and the expectation of his McLaren team or it won’t be long until questions are asked. Having an off day in a Sauber raises fewer eyebrows than having an off day in a McLaren. As a result Sergio will be experiencing more pressure to perform than ever before.
Further down the field is the newly confirmed switch to Sauber for Nico Hulkenberg. Some might see this as a sideways move given Force India and Sauber’s proximity in the Constructors Championship this year. That’s not entirely correct though, looking back at the drivers who have passed through both those teams it becomes clear that only Sauber drivers have gone onto the bigger teams and this is obviously the end goal for the talented German. Of the previous Sauber drivers, Raikkonen went to McLaren, Massa moved to Ferrari, and as already mentioned Perez has moved to McLaren. Having been linked to the second Ferrari seat before Massa signed his contract extension, Nico may just emulate the Brazilian and find himself having a seat fitting in Maranello before too long.
Sauber have yet to confirm their second driver for 2013 with several drivers being touted for the seat. The first candidate is obviously current Sauber man Kamui Kobayashi, who despite landing his first podium this year seems to be under pressure to retain the seat. Mexican GP2 ace Esteban Gutierrez was considered to be a favourite for the seat but the young Mexican’s debut in first free practice at the Indian GP didn’t really pan out the way he’d hoped with his best time almost one and half seconds off of Kobayashi’s FP1 time. Jaime Alguersuari has also been linked to the seat and could bring a wealth of knowledge regarding Pirelli’s tyres for 2013 to the team having been the Italian tyre company’s test driver this year.
Similarly Force India is yet to announce the driver who’ll line up alongside Paul di Resta in 2013. Having participated in the young drivers test at Magny-Cours for Force India and Ferrari, Jules Bianchi is certainly a strong candidate for the seat. Additionally Adrian Sutil could be an option for the team with Vijay Mallya making noises to the effect that he’d happily welcome the controversial German back into the team. Jaime Alguersuari will also be considered a potential candidate for this seat given his in depth knowledge of the Pirelli rubber for next year and a natural talent that saw him make his Grand Prix debut at the tender age of 19.
Williams is yet to confirm their driver lineup for 2013. The general consensus however is that Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas will be the men lining up for the Grove based squad in Melbourne next year. Despite his erratic performance Maldonado brings in valuable sponsorship cash from the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA, whilst Bottas has impressed both during his stints behind the wheel in Friday practice and with his eagerness to learn the inner workings of the team this year. Bruno Senna unfortunately looks as though he could be out of a seat but this is by no means a foregone conclusion.
Caterham is yet to reveal their driver pairing for next year with the issue of sponsorship cash making for some tough decisions for team boss Tony Fernandes. Heikki Kovalainen is not a pay driver and as such could find himself ousted for a driver who brings valuable sponsorship money. Dutch GP2 driver Giedo van der Garde is one such driver and has already been putting in some miles in Friday practice for the team. Whether or not Vitaly Petrov has his sponsorship cash lined up is another matter altogether and as such predicting next years driver line-up for Caterham is more than a little tricky!
Timo Glock has been confirmed at Marussia for next year but Charles Pic has not. The speculation here is that British GP2 driver Max Chilton will be making the step up to Formula 1 with the team. The young Brit was recently promoted to Marussia reserve driver and will be driving in Friday practice in Abu Dhabi with the hope he can back up his funding with the required speed.
HRT will definitely have Pedro de la Rosa in one of their cars next year and has not yet announced whether or not Narain Karthikeyan will be keeping his seat. Dani Clos fits the bill for this seat perfectly given his Spanish nationality and the fact that he’s already had some time in the car on Fridays. Rest assured though the issue of sponsorship is a major factor in deciding who gets this drive as is the case with most teams outside the top four.