Formula 1: Predicting the 2014 Grid
The Formula One merry-go-round is in full swing, with dozens of drivers unsure where—or even if—they'll be able to hop back on once it stops.
Last season, we saw a lot of change. Lewis Hamilton's move to Mercedes grabbed most of the headlines, while Nico Hulkenberg hopped to Sauber from Force India, Sergio Perez from Sauber to McLaren and Charles Pic from Marussia to Caterham.
Heikki Kovalainen, Vitaly Petrov, Bruno Senna, Timo Glock, Kamui Kobayashi, Narain Karthikeyan and Pedro de la Rosa vanished from the grid against their wishes, while Michael Schumacher retired.
Adrian Sutil returned, along with five rookies—Jules Bianchi, Max Chilton, Esteban Gutierrez, Giedo van der Garde and Valtteri Bottas.
Of the 24 men (HRT existed back then) who held full-time seats in 2012, only 12 remained in the same place for 2013.
Can we expect the same number of changes this year? Here are my thoughts on who will end up where.
Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo
Vettel will stay, but Mark Webber's retirement leaves a spare seat.
The battle for it is down to two drivers, and Ricciardo looks the more likely winner.
Kimi Raikkonen is the other option (and more attractive to some fans), but will they really go for two top drivers in the same team? Just can't see this one happening.
Fernando Alonso has also been mentioned. The only way that will happen is if Vettel goes the other way to Ferrari.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg
Nice and easy one. This is the best driver pairing on the grid at the moment, both have contracts, and neither has even hinted at wanting to leave.
As you were, gentlemen.
Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg
Alonso will stay at Ferrari. He's contracted until the end of 2016, and the Red Bull talk seems more like mind games than anything else.
Felipe Massa looks set to leave, and Hulkenberg is the standout replacement. He'll be out of Sauber at the end of this year and is looking for a move up the grid.
He should finally get a chance to show what he can do in a competitive car.
Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean
Both drivers are tipped to move on, but I don't think either of them will.
Raikkonen will lose out to Ricciardo for the Red Bull seat, and there isn't really anywhere else for him to go. Alonso wouldn't want him at Ferrari, and it would go against their modern approach of one lead driver and one backup.
McLaren could use him, but there's no sign they have even a passing interest.
Despite the frequent errors (or, rather, moments of brain fade) Grosjean is a very quick and capable driver. More than anything, he probably needs some more confidence—find him that, and Lotus will have a great lineup.
Paul di Resta has been mentioned, but Lotus will likely need Grosjean's sponsor cash more than they need a more consistent driver.
Jenson Button and Sergio Perez
Much like Mercedes, both drivers have contracts and neither looks likely to go elsewhere.
The team will keep its current lineup with an eye toward reassessing its options for 2015.
It'll be hoping for a better car, though.
Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil
Di Resta has made it fairly clear on a number of occasions that he'd quite like a move to a bigger and better team, but no such move has materialised.
The only switch that seems even remotely possible is to replace Grosjean at Lotus, but realistically, it doesn't look like happening. He'll most likely remain in his seat at Force India.
Sutil should also retain his seat. Like di Resta, he wouldn't object to a move up the grid, but he's even less likely than his British teammate to get one.
He's a good driver, though, and brings a decent amount of personal sponsorship to the team via Medion/Lenovo.
They'll probably retain him, but things could change if that sponsor goes elsewhere.
Jean-Eric Vergne and Antonio Felix da Costa
Though Vergne was overlooked for the Red Bull seat in 2014, he should keep his Toro Rosso drive.
A third full season at the Red Bull junior squad is unusual, but his cause is aided by a lack of qualified replacements. Toro Rosso only (normally) take drivers from the Red Bull Junior Team (RBJT) programme.
The only man in there looking ready to step up at the moment is Felix da Costa.
A part of the Junior Team since last year, Felix da Costa is currently competing in the Formula Renault 3.5 series. He doesn't actually have a magnificent record in the lower formulae, but it's enough to warrant a shot at the big time.
A third driver might also appear to take over from Vergne for a few Friday practice sessions. Carlos Sainz Jr. or Daniil Kyvat are the only RBJT options ready for the role.
Jules Bianchi and Sergey Sirotkin
This is the toughest one, and it needs more background.
Sauber are currently in a very uncertain situation, and there's a chance they won't even exist next season. They have significant debts and (reported by German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, via motorsport.com) owe money to (among others) tyre supplier Pirelli, engine supplier Ferrari and their drivers.
They've acquired some new investors who didn't get a stake in the team, but who will seemingly be calling plenty of shots.
Looking at the companies involved, two are pretty much the Russian government while the other is the National Institute of Aviation Technologies (NIAT). Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to sign off on the deal (again, reported by motorsport.com) and hasn't done so yet.
But let's assume all goes well.
As part of the deal, one seat will probably go to 17-year-old (18 soon) Sergey Sirotkin, son of the director general of NIAT. The team seems adamant he'll be driving for it next season.
Thing is, he needs an FIA Super Licence first. Looking at his record, he shouldn't get one. He's a long way from being ready and should have to spend a few seasons honing his skills in lower formulae first.
But questionable drivers have gotten the licence before, so they'll probably find a way.
Putting Sirotkin aside for a moment, Sauber currently have no engine supply contract for 2014. Perhaps against my better judgement, let's keep the team with Ferrari, which opens the door for Jules Bianchi to move up.
Bianchi has done enough in his debut season at Marussia to deserve a chance at a bigger team, and his Ferrari backing will be enough to secure that.
Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas
Maldonado is a very quick driver, and it helps that he brings a huge wad of cash from Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.
He doesn't seem to have options to go elsewhere, and the team don't have options on better drivers. A fourth year together is good for both parties.
Bottas doesn't have a country funding him, but he deserves to stay, too. Williams picked him ahead of Bruno Senna for 2013 despite the Brazilian having a bigger sponsor package, and it appears to have been a good decision.
He hasn't yet scored, but that's down to the car rather than the driver. The young Finn has plenty of potential, and his (smaller) sponsor package won't hurt either.
Max Chilton and Kevin Magnussen
Chilton hasn't seemed at all impressive so far, but it's harsh to judge a driver on his rookie season.
And (assuming Bianchi is as good as he seems) against a lesser teammate it might not have shown up as much. He has significant financial backing and the team apparently want to keep him, so I can see him being retained.
Bianchi (hopefully) moving up the grid leaves a space that could be filled by young Kevin Magnussen.
Magnussen is the current leader of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, and is very highly rated by McLaren. He's part of their young driver programme, and they want him to have a race seat next year.
As luck would have it, they have a technological partnership with Marussia, who will no doubt be looking for a driver who can help pay his way.
A few pennies from McLaren should make this happen.
Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde
Charles Pic has a contract with Caterham for 2014. No doubt his sponsors have one, too, and as he's comfortably outperformed his rookie teammate in 2013, he should be safe.
Van der Garde hasn't been awful, but he hasn't been especially good, either. The gap to Pic appears to have closed as he's got settled into the sport, which should work a little bit in his favour.
But really, his presence next year will come down to the same thing that got him into F1 in the first place—sponsor money.
If he can raise the right amount, he'll stay. If not, it could be anyone—but he remains the most likely driver to fill the seat.
No Room at the Inn
With the dawning of each new F1 season, there are inevitably drivers who don't make it onto the new grid.
If Felipe Massa leaves Ferrari, I can't see him dropping down the grid. Even if he wanted to, the sad state of modern F1 means he'd probably have to buy himself a seat.
With the influx of Russian cash (if it ever arrives), Esteban Gutierrez and his Latin American sponsors will likely depart from Sauber. He might be able to buy a lesser seat, but don't count on it.
Other drivers perhaps deserve a shot—certainly more than a few of those who'll be on the grid—but won't get it.
A fine example is the exceptionally talented Robin Frijns, who—despite winning the Formula Renault 3.5 title in 2012—was incredibly dropped by his GP2 team last month due to a lack of sponsorship.
He seems an interesting character, too, having said in the past (he's turned down the Red Bull Junior Team twice), via De Telegraaf (h/t GrandPrix247.com), that a young driver at Red Bull is treated "like a dog."
James Calado is another name often mentioned, mostly regarding a Force India seat. He's their current reserve driver and is managed by the well-connected Nicolas Todt, but unless he can acquire a massive sponsor budget, Sutil looks a better option right now.
Elsewhere, former drivers will be hoping for a return. Kovalainen, Kobayashi and Co. won't have given up just yet.
Hopefully, we'll find out more in the coming months.
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