Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez, winners or losers in 2014?
Each offseason, the Formula One driver carousel spins. Some drivers get on or off (entering or exiting the sport), and some just change horses.
This year, in particular, it seems like many drivers have just traded places. In the span of little more than a year, Nico Hulkenberg has gone from Force India to Sauber and back again. In the same time frame, Sergio Perez has been signed and dumped by McLaren, only to be picked up by Force India.
Meanwhile, when Kimi Raikkonen signed a deal to return to Ferrari, it bumped Felipe Massa to Williams and allowed Pastor Maldonado to slide into Raikkonen's old seat at Lotus.
Now, with only seats at perennial back-markers Caterham and Marussia remaining, the carousel is slowing down. As such, it seems an appropriate time to look at the winners and losers from the seat switches in the 2014 driver market.
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After a fantastic 2012 season with Sauber, when he stood on the podium three times and nearly won in Malaysia, Sergio Perez was snapped up by McLaren to replace the Mercedes-bound Lewis Hamilton.
Unfortunately for Perez, McLaren's 2013 car was a disaster. For the first time since 1980, the team went a full season without a podium finish. Perez was not able to replicate his success at Sauber, nor was he able to match his new teammate, Jenson Button.
Still, he showed the fighting spirit that McLaren had been drawn to in the first place, and it seemed his place with the team (backed by Telmex dollars) was secure for 2014. Then, just before the U.S. Grand Prix in November, Perez announced he would not return to McLaren in 2014.
It was the team's choice, not his, and McLaren quickly announced rookie Kevin Magnussen as Perez's replacement. Team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, admitted to Formula1.com that McLaren had wanted to keep Perez. However, he had made a promise to Magnussen that he would also be in F1 in 2014. When Whitmarsh could not find another team to take him, he decided to give Perez's seat to the Dane.
Scrambling as the last remaining competitive seats were filled, Perez finally did find a 2014 drive with Force India. Although he will form a strong pairing with Nico Hulkenberg, Force India is definitely a step (or more) down from McLaren—although that was not apparent at times in 2013.
For that reason, Perez is a loser in the 2014 seat carousel.
After a season when Lotus were unable to pay his salary, a move to any team with a bit of spare cash would have been considered a win for Kimi Raikkonen.
His return to Ferrari was somewhat of a surprise, though. Not only was he dumped from the Scuderia in 2009 to make room for Fernando Alonso (his new 2014 teammate), but the last time Alonso was paired with a driver of similar calibre (2007 at McLaren), it did not go so well.
Still, Raikkonen is heading back to Maranello and, with Ferrari's significant resources, he should have no problem cashing his paycheques. And with the "Iceman" providing a fresh challenge for Alonso, perhaps the new pairing can return Ferrari to world championship glory.
While the move is a win for Raikkonen, it is even more so for F1 fans. It is very rare to have two world champions on the same team and, whether the pairing excels or blows up in Stefano Domenicali's face, it will provide great entertainment.
With Raikkonen's return to Ferrari, Felipe Massa was sent packing after eight seasons in Maranello. At 32 years of age and with nearly 200 Grand Prix races to his name, Massa's experience is still valuable. This is especially true as teams grapple with the significant 2014 rule changes.
It is not a surprise, then, that Williams threw the Brazilian a lifeline. Pairing him with rising star Valtteri Bottas may prove a winning combination as the team seek to recover from a disastrous season with only two top 10 finishes.
Still, this is obviously a step down for Massa. Although he has not won a race since before his life-threatening accident at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, he had a capable car at Ferrari. Aside from Pastor Maldonado's shocking victory at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix, Williams has not won a race since 2004.
While clearly a loss for Massa, the Williams seat allows him to remain in the sport for at least one more season. With a possible shake-up due to the new regulations, he may be able to surprise us with a few more solid results.
Somehow, despite being beaten by his rookie teammate in the Drivers' standings and accusing his former team of deliberately sabotaging his car, Pastor Maldonado got himself a promotion for 2014.
Actually, the reason for his move from back-marking Williams to race-winning Lotus is not really a mystery. Maldonado just flashed his bling (specifically, a PDVSA sponsorship worth up to $50 million per year).
As we just saw, Lotus had trouble paying their drivers in 2013, so whatever cash Maldonado does bring will be most welcome. This is especially true if Lotus's long-awaited funds from Quantum Motorsports never materialize (a scenario which seems increasingly likely).
So, despite team principal Eric Boullier's declaration that the team preferred Nico Hulkenberg for 2014, Maldonado and his Venezuelan oil millions won the day.
While Felipe Massa, Adrian Sutil and Sergio Perez all found race seats after they were ousted by their former teams, Paul Di Resta has been the odd man out all offseason. This is largely due to his lack of funding, as Di Resta has performed well in his three F1 seasons, improving his point total each year.
With only the seats at Caterham and Marussia remaining, it looks like the Scot will be out of F1 in 2014. Originally, it seemed he might end up in IndyCar, replacing his cousin, Dario Franchitti. Now, DTM may be the more likely option.
Either way, it will be a disappointing end to an F1 career that began with a lot of promise. Di Resta was a champion in Formula 3 and DTM before arriving at Force India.
This is certainly not only a loss for Di Resta but also for F1 viewers, who will once again see a talented driver passed over for those with more sponsorship money.
The undisputed winner of the driver carousel for the 2014 season is Daniel Ricciardo. Moving from the struggling Toro Rosso team to four-time defending world champions, Red Bull, the Australian is an instant contender at every race next year.
In June, when Mark Webber surprisingly announced he would retire at the end of the season, the second Red Bull seat instantly became the most sought-after on the grid. While even Ferrari's Fernando Alonso was linked to it, per jamesallenonf1.com, the team chose to promote from within.
The last time a Toro Rosso driver graduated to Red Bull (Sebastian Vettel in 2009), it worked out pretty well for the team.
Although it seems Ricciardo has won the lottery, he did earn the seat, showing improvement in each of his three years in F1 and beating his teammate, Jean-Eric Vergne, in 2013.