Now that the log jam that was Lewis Hamilton has cleared, the rest of the market has been freed up and I must admit that I am a bit surprised at how much movement there seems to be in the lower ranks. I look through team by team and see what the rumors are versus the realities.
HRT and Marussia are both sort of wild cards. Particularly Charles Pic who is very highly rated and has given Timo Glock a run for his money this season. He is a pure rookie but might be appealing to a midlevel team who is about to lose one of their drivers to a top team.
Both drivers are a bit of a question mark but for their own reasons. Heikki Kovalainen has seen a rebirth at Caterham after getting humiliated alongside Hamilton at McLaren. Caterham’s progress has disappointed and Kovalainen might be looking for a faster ride, one he does deserve from his performances the past couple years. Vitaly Petrov, on the other hand, is a pure pay driver. He has speed, but at both Lotus and now Caterham, he has shown that he is not ready yet to be at the top level. It seems he needs more money to continue at the team.
Who Caterham would replace him with is a bit of a difficult story. Caterham needs money, so they might be willing to take a Senna or Maldonado, should they free up from Williams.
While firmly in the Red Bull purview, the junior team has been an abject failure this year, due in no small part to having two junior drivers, both of whom have experienced peaks and valleys. Daniel Ricciardo seems to be the favored child at the moment, but with Marko, who knows what will happen. These drivers do not have their own backing so it is hard to see them going anywhere in a world so dictated based on finance.
Both seats are up in the air after a disappointing year where the car was there but the drivers were not. Both, however, bring money and that might be a crucial part of the decision making. Who they would get to replace either driver is hard to know because the need for money.
This is where the real issue is. See, both of these drivers are at Force India based on merit. They are both valued commodities and are both looking for the faster rides they feel they deserve further up the grid. Problem is, space is limited. After Sergio Perez’s promotion, I bet these guys are taking a peek at Sauber.
With Sergio Perez gone and Kobayashi rumored to not have a drive for next year (his podium non withstanding) this is getting to be a hot seat. Lets start with Kobayashi, though, because the crowd favorite may be ousted at the end of the year to make room for some more consistent and fast talent. Make no mistake, I really like Kobayashi, but his big skill is now no longer necessary with the end of the Bridgestone era. His qualifying is erratic and speed questionable. There is a reason he was not taken by McLaren. He may, however, find Japanese backing after his performance in Japan, but without that it will be tough for him to stay on the top step of motorsport.
To fill potentially two vacancies, there is both Force India drivers as well as those in GP2. Sauber has a long history of bringing young drivers up, though they may want to fill the other spot with someone with experience, maybe Kovalainen?
Mercedes is all set this year so no need to worry about them.
Grosjean is staying. He just is. He is managed by Boullier’s management company. He is highly regarded and definitely has the speed. First lap incidents are a huge problem, but there is no maliciousness in Grosjean.
Raikkonen, however, is a bit of a question mark. He has an option for next year, but he is stonewalling and refusing to give any hints. Classic Raikkonen. If Raikkonen leaves, Lotus may start looking at Di Resta or Hulkenberg as well. I do not see them getting younger blood as the quality of the cars they build demands some more documented talent.
Felipe Massa is probably going to be at Ferrari next year. He has been on a tear and seems to have finally gotten over his crash two years ago. This is the Massa I remember and it seems foolish to disrupt team dynamics that are already so clear. Hulkenberg and Di Resta are in the rumor mill for that seat but I don’t see it happening, especially after Japan.
McLaren, all set
Red Bull, all set.