In a surprise move, McLaren has decided to part ways with Sergio Perez after only one season, according to James Allen. With seats on the 2014 F1 grid filling up quickly, we are about to witness a high-priced bidding war—in reverse.
Ordinarily, when an F1 bidding war does occur, it is the teams battling for the services of a highly-touted driver. For example, this year, Lotus bid $0 for Kimi Raikkonen, while Ferrari presumably bid somewhat more than $0. As a result, the Iceman is taking his talents to Maranello for 2014.
With Williams selecting Felipe Massa over Pastor Maldonado to partner with Valtteri Bottas next season, there are now two drivers with a lot of money behind them bidding for the best remaining 2014 drives.
Maldonado is backed by PDVSA, the state-owned company which controls Venezuela's petroleum industry. Perez is sponsored by Telmex, the largest phone company in Mexico, which is owned by Carlos Slim, who Forbes named the richest man in the world.
In other words, both drivers have tons of cash to entice a team to sign them (per Grand Prix 247, the PDVSA sponsorship is worth approximately $50 million each season). Lotus has the most attractive seat remaining, although team principal Eric Boullier made it clear to ESPN F1 that the team prefers Nico Hulkenberg.
After that, both Force India seats are available, along with Hulkenberg's place at Sauber. The Swiss team has had financial troubles this season, so they would likely welcome a second driver with money to partner with Sergey Sirotkin and his Russian funding. Perez just left Sauber after the 2012 season for McLaren, so he knows the team well. But would he want to go back, and would Sauber take him?
Maldonado won the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix with Williams, but the team's form dropped off a cliff this year. In fact, they have only scored one point, for the Venezuelan's 10th-place finish in Hungary. Lotus, as probable 2014 championship challengers, would be the ideal landing spot for Maldonado, if they don't sign Hulkenberg.
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Or maybe both drivers will end up at Force India, if Lotus gets their man, Sauber decides to keep Esteban Gutierrez or look elsewhere, and team owner Vijay Mallya's financial problems continue. Beyond that, only perennial back-markers Caterham and Marussia still have openings. As proven drivers, neither Maldonado, nor Perez, would likely be interested in those seats.
The dominoes are sure to fall in the next couple weeks, as the 2013 season draws to a close. Once Lotus makes a decision on Hulkenberg, all that will remain is to see which teams are willing to open up their bank accounts and allow PDVSA or Telmex to make a giant deposit.
Follow Matthew Walthert @TheParadeLapF1