F1 2012: Will HRT Look Beyond F1 for Their Second Driver?

Neil JamesFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2012

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 25:  Vitantonio Liuzzi of Italy and Hispania Racing Team drives during practice for the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 25, 2011 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

While the battle for the free (or rather expensive, it seems) seat at Williams has dominated F1 news over the past few weeks, the small matter of the other available drive for 2012 still rumbles on.

The final resort, the last chance saloon, the tin of dog food for a starving man—the second slot at HRT.

The team has all but written off its 2012 chances, and it's clear that any driver coming in will have to deal with an uncompetitive car.  And not just deal with it—they'll also have to pay to drive it.

But such is the lure of F1 that a string of suitors are queuing up to offer their services.  A staggering 11 men who drove in 2011 are without a confirmed seat for the coming year.

Though sponsorship will trump talent when the final decision is made, HRT would prefer a known quantity ahead of a stab in the dark.  On paper, their choice would almost certainly be one of the 11—but as we all know, the cars don't handle especially well on paper.

Pride, intelligence or a mixture of both will keep Adrian Sutil, Rubens Barrichello and Nick Heidfeld away, before the issue of sponsorship is even considered.

Vitaly Petrov could possibly be included with the trio.  At this stage of his career, taking a giant leap backward may not appeal to him—or his sponsors. 

Money rules out two more names.  Toro Rosso reject Sebastien Buemi's financial backing was from Red Bull, and they won't follow him to a new team.  Jerome d'Ambrosio also appears to lack the financial clout.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 27:  Jaime Alguersuari of Spain and Scuderia Toro Rosso prepares to drive during the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 27, 2011 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Imag
Peter Fox/Getty Images

He recently complained about a lack of sponsorship, having lost his Marussia seat to Charles Pic—who, allegedly, had a better sponsor package than he did, according to crash.net.

Following his release from Toro Rosso, the reasonably well-regarded Jaime Alguersuari's name was mentioned in connection with the seat, but HRT shot down the rumours. 

Alguersuari would make more sense than anyone given the team's desire to become more Spanish, but it seems he, like Buemi, left his sponsorship behind at Toro Rosso.

Karun Chandhok has admitted he's unlikely to find a seat in F1 for 2012 and has set his sights on the World Endurance Series and i1 Super Series (via topspeed.in).

Which leaves just three men realistically still in the hunt—Vitantonio Liuzzi, Bruno Senna and Narain Karthikeyan.

2011 driver Liuzzi has a multiyear contract and wishes to remain with the team, but the deal was signed with the old management, and now HRT doesn't appear overly keen on retaining the Italian.  His name will stay in the mix until the decision is made, but one expects other drivers are ahead in the hunt.

Karthikeyan has never really set the world alight with his driving and was removed from his 2011 HRT seat after Red Bull paid them to take on Daniel Ricciardo.

It's possible the explosion of interest in F1 from India and the potential backing of the Tata Group—a multi-headed behemoth which quite literally makes everything—could place him back in the team for the start of 2012.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 24:  (EDITORS NOTE: THIS BLACK AND WHITE IMAGE WAS CREATED FROM ORIGINAL COLOUR FILE) Bruno Senna of Brazil and Renault attends the drivers press conference during previews to the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodr
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

He tests cars for Tata's road car division.  But it remains to be seen whether they'll buy him a seat in F1.

And finally, Senna—the jury is still out on his talent, but he's at least the equal of the other front-runners.  It won't harm his chances that Renault acquired four new sponsors when he joined in 2011.

Though his name has been mentioned a lot in connection to HRT, some doubts remain over whether he, like Petrov, would take such a step backwards.  If he and his sponsors will, he'd be my favourite for the drive.

But would I say he's likely to get it?  No.

So despite taking one of the out-of-work 2011 drivers being the best option at first glance, each comes with his own problems.

Only three of the 11 could be considered to be in the hunt, and even this trio looks shaky.  There's a strong possibility HRT will look to the lower formulae for Pedro de la Rosa's teammate.

If anyone down there is desperate enough—and rich enough—that is.