Monaco used to be the first indication we'd receive of who might be going where for the following season. However, with this year's championship standings being so topsy-turvy, trying to guess which team will remain or become competitive next season become almost impossible. With teams still debating over their participation in next year's championship, the driver market is on hold.
Here's my take, however, should all current teams reenter.
If you start from the top, it’s hard to see Brawn GP or Red Bull wanting to alter their driver lineups. Rubens Barrichello, who will be 38 next season, has reiterated this year that he is a top F1 driver and it wouldn't be surprising to see Ross Brawn offer him a new deal. His teammate, Jenson Button, will definitely remain thanks to his patience finally being rewarded by Brawn GP's stunning car.
At Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel will stay put. His cast-iron two-year deal with Red Bull, despite however much Ferrari, Mclaren, BMW, and others try to solder them off, Red Bull's handcuffs will not be broken.
Mark Webber also looks set to remain. Whilst not putting his teammate in the shade like he has done in the past, Webber has driven brilliantly all year and deserves his place.
Last year's title challengers, Ferrari and McLaren, could be set for changes, both in the driver department and the technical department.
Ferrari’s driver decision will rest upon Kimi Raikkonen’s decision to stay or not. If he does leave, expect Fernando Alonso in the Scuderia next year alongside Massa. Off the track, Ferrari look set for a major reshuffle backstage.
Rumoured moves for Toro Rosso’s Giorgio Ascanelli and the former Jordan and Toyota technical boss Mike Gascoyne have been mooted, as Ferrari look to get over their woes from their terrible start to the year.
McLaren, on the other hand, should keep faith with Hamilton and Kovalainen. Despite the espionage scandal of ’07 and the lie-gate scandal of earlier this year, Hamilton will stay with McLaren, whilst Kovalainen should remain as he, like Hamilton, hasn’t been able to show his true ability.
Whilst McLaren could go with Rosberg or Kubica, the team will surely look at consistency to take the team forward, rather than a sudden outright change that could damage the team dynamics. That said, having a German driver in Rosberg in a Mercedes-powered car is something with which Norbert Haug would certainly be pleased. Behind the scenes, replacing former team member and stalwart Dave Ryan could be tough, whilst this year’s lacklustre could see changes to its technical lineup.
Toyota are another team that should keep faith with its current lineup of Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock. Trulli's wealth of experience and ability should keep him with the team, whilst Timo Glock’s impressive drives this year, notably in Malaysia and China, will surely see him remain with the team. The only thing that could change this could be pressure from Toyota to place a Japanese driver in the team. It would be foolish to rule out the possibility of seeing Kamui Kobayashi or Kazuki Nakajima in the car next year.
Down at Enstone, rumours of a pull-out are always not too far away, with the latest story seeing a possible buyout of the team by Flavio Briatore. Should Renault remain in F1, keeping Fernando Alonso could all depend on the situation at Maranello.
Should Ferrari have a driver available, don’t be surprised to see Alonso at Ferrari in 2010. If not, expect another year in the Renault with a move to Ferrari in 2011.
Alongside Alonso (should he stay put), Frenchman Romain Grosjean could step up from GP2 should his imperious form continue throughout the season. If Alonso leaves, though, Renault’s hopes of bagging a top driver following their disappointing season seems doubtful.
With drivers like Kubica not looking likely to leave BMW, and with other big name drivers such as Button and Vettel already under contract elsewhere, Nelson Piquet could survive another day of execution, although that seems unlikely. Briatore could, therefore, turn to the fast but erratic Takuma Sato, Force India’s Adrian Sutil, Bruno Senna, or Nick Heidfeld.
Talking of Nick Heidfeld, the news coming out of the BMW camp seem to suggest that he could be one of the casualties of the team’s miserable season, with Nico Rosberg or Bruno Senna touted as possible replacements.
Robert Kubica, on the other hand, looks set to remain with the team despite still being aggravated at the team’s decision to stop development on the 2008 car. He does have a way out of his contract, but where could he feasibly go?
Williams’ 2010 drive lineup depends on whether Nico Rosberg stays with the team or looks elsewhere for the race-winning machinery that he craves. Should he leave, current test driver and GP2 star Nico Hulkenberg will almost certainly be his replacement. The Toyota engine deal could see Kazuki Nakajima or Kamui Kobayashi as the other driver, unless Toyota elects to relax that part of the deal.
With Giancarlo Fisichella rumoured to be considering retirement, Tonio Liuzzi looks set to make a return to F1. The Force India test driver is believed to have a race contract for 2010 and 2011, and looks set to fill the void left by his fellow Italian. Whether or not other teams have liked Adrian Sutil will also affect the team. His impressive performances at Monaco in 2008 and China this year will have caught the eye of some, but has it been enough to make him a viable option?
Toro Rosso looks set for its next batch of Red Bull youngsters. Sebastien Bourdais is almost certain to leave the team, possibly before the end of the season; and with Sebastian Buemi showing that he’s not just hear to make up the numbers, he’ll almost certainly remain. Jaime Alguersuari or Brendon Hartley would be top of the list as Bourdais’ replacement.
Of the new teams, whom do I expect?
Bernie Ecclestone would surely love to have the prestigous name of Aston Martin in F1, so I would expect them to be one of the lucky three. USF1 (or USGPE) appear to be a dead-cert. If Peter Windsor has had this project in the pipeline since 2005, then, surely, they are the best prepared outfit of the lot.
It is possible that their entry depends on Formula 1 returning to the US and, with Indianapolis looking distinctly improbable, that hope seems forlorn. Finally, Campos Meta 1 would be the final one I expect to be joining the F1 party. Adrian Campos and his team were the first to submit an entry and have the necessary funds and connections to make the team a fully fledged outfit.
Other than those three, the Alexander Wurz-led team, Superfund, appear to be talking the talk and seem well set.
Litespeed GP hope to make a sudden jump from F3 to F1, but that seems unlikely.
Epsilon Euskadi have their fingers in many other pies and so may be overlooked.
Lola F1 and March Racing Organisation appear to have the facilities and the know-how, but will they be given another bite of the cherry?
Experienced F1 drivers such as Christian Klien, Pedro De La Rosa, or Anthony Davidson could be well placed for drives.
All in all, we’re looking at an intriguing 2010 drivers market!