Formula 1: What Now for Nico Hulkenberg, Paul Di Resta and Jules Bianchi?
Kimi Raikkonen will replace Felipe Massa at Ferrari for the 2014 Formula One season after signing a two-year contract.
The deal means Ferrari will have the best driver lineup on the grid next season, and only the second dual-champion lineup since Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost drove together in 1989 for McLaren.
But it also leaves three young hopefuls disappointed and looking to secure their own future for next season.
Nico Hulkenberg, Paul di Resta and Jules Bianchi had all been mentioned as potential replacements for Massa over recent months. Recent years even, such has been the length of the debate over the Brazilian's future.
All three undoubtedly deserve a spot on next year's grid, but where will they end up now that their Ferrari dreams have been crushed?
Nico Hulkenberg's was the name most often spoken of as the ideal replacement for Felipe Massa. As arguably the most talented young (or rather, less experienced) driver available, many fans including me had him down as a shoo-in for the seat.
The extremely well-informed Martin Brundle and Anthony Davidson of Sky Sports thought he'd be the chosen one too. So many will have been shocked to hear he won't be driving the red car next year.
All indications are he won't be at his current team, Sauber, in 2014 either.
But not all is lost.
Raikkonen's departure from Lotus leaves them crying out for a replacement. The team isn't quite financially secure, but if they keep the sometimes-erratic Romain Grosjean (and they will), they'll take a reliable and quick driver ahead of another sponsor-bunny.
With that in mind—and at the risk of sounding like a broken record playing The Ballad of Lotus instead of The Ferrari Symphony—Hulkenberg is the stand-out choice.
But knowing his luck, next year's Lotus will probably be a dog...
Paul Di Resta
Paul di Resta is another very talented young (sorry, that word's losing its meaning in F1—less experienced) driver whose name cropped up in discussions over Massa's future.
It could be said that di Resta himself did more than anyone to put himself into said discussions.
He perhaps isn't as complete a package as Hulkenberg, but he was probably genuinely considered at some stage (if we're to believe tabloids, anyway). Sir Jackie Stewart also tipped him for the seat, but it wasn't to be.
So what now?
Di Resta currently drives for Force India, and he has a contract for 2014. He'll no doubt want the Lotus seat but that will go to Hulkenberg, leaving Paul to spend another year at the Indian outfit.
Jules Bianchi is a product of the Ferrari Driver Academy. It was for that reason that he was seen as an outside bet to replace Massa.
Driving for Marussia in his debut season, Bianchi has shown he has plenty of potential. It would have been great to see a genuine youngster given a shot with a big team, but realistically it was never going to happen.
Ferrari don't do "learn-as-you-drive" deals and Jules is still very much a rookie. He's got a few more years of getting to grips with F1 before he'll be considered for the big time.
On the bright side, he has talent. And (sickeningly, more importantly) he has Ferrari's financial support. That could come in the form of cash or, more likely, a discount on an engine-supply deal.
His current team Marussia have a Ferrari engine supply deal for 2014, and there's little doubt they want to retain his services. Sauber will also have Ferrari engines next year.
After a year spent at the back, Ferrari want to move Bianchi up the grid if possible, so the Sauber seat is more appealing. But it's not a straightforward thing.
Sergey Sirotkin is an 18-year-old who came as part of Sauber's rescue package from a group of Russian investors. He isn't ready for F1 but the team's hands are tied.
If he gets a Super License he'll be in one of the race seats—and Sauber may prefer to team him up with a more experienced driver.
Whether or not Sirotkin will get the license is another matter, but if he does, the affordability and availability of such a driver will determine Bianchi's future.
So it's all a bit uncertain. As it stands, I'd go 55 percent he's in a Sauber for 2014, 40 percent a Marussia and five percent he gets shuffled entirely out by sponsor-bunnies.
This is F1, after all.
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