Ranking 5 Formula 1 Drivers Most Likely to Lose Their Seats Mid-Season
The mid-point of the Formula One season is traditionally the time when team bosses start to become edgy.
Although the majority of teams are content with their driver line-ups until at least the end of a given year, some feel that the only way to salvage their campaign is to make instant changes, injecting new life into a stuttering season.
But for every new driver who lands a seat in the middle of the season, there is the driver who vacates one.
The reasons for a driver losing his seat halfway through a campaign can range from injury to sponsorship difficulties to performance-related reasons, with some even being portrayed as scapegoats for their team’s failings.
And with just two races, the German and Hungarian grands prix, to go until F1’s summer break, here are five drivers—with criteria based on the driver’s own circumstances and the likelihood of a replacement—who could see the sport turning its back on them in the coming weeks.
Pastor Maldonado’s short-term future at Lotus would in another era have come under scrutiny, with the Venezuelan driver failing to eradicate the careless errors which have defined his Formula One career.
Despite blunders which have seen him crash on his way into the pit lane, however, Maldonado’s personal sponsorship funds will see him rest easy over the summer.
The same can perhaps be said for Adrian Sutil, who has failed to inspire Sauber to a points finish so far this season.
5. Kimi Raikkonen
Kimi Raikkonen's failure to even put up a fight against Fernando Alonso, a fellow world champion, at Ferrari this season must rank among the biggest disappointments of the 2014 campaign.
The 2007 world champion is yet to finish ahead of Alonso and his recent admission to reporters including Autosport's Jonathan Noble and Glenn Freeman that he is likely to retire from Formula One at the end of next season raised fresh questions over his commitment.
Ferrari's decision to hand a test run to Marussia driver Jules Bianchi in place of the injured Raikkonen at Silverstone earlier this week provided a clear indication of the Prancing Horse's future plans—and the team has a history of spitting out world champions.
Raikkonen's previous Ferrari contract was ended a year early, at the end of the 2009 season, to create room for Alonso to join the team, while four-time world champion Alain Prost was sacked by the team during the 1991 campaign after criticising the car.
The last world champion to depart his team mid-season—if we are to discount Raikkonen's premature departure from Lotus at the tail end of last year—was Jacques Villeneuve, who left BMW Sauber after a crash at the 2006 German Grand Prix and was replaced by some kid called Robert Kubica.
4. Marcus Ericsson
Marcus Ericsson is yet to justify his place on the Formula One grid this season.
The Swede has been beaten by Caterham teammate Kamui Kobayashi in three of the four races that both have finished this season, with the Japanese only denied a clean sweep after being hit by Jules Bianchi in Monaco.
It was in the principality that Ericsson scored his and the team’s best result of the season with an 11th place finish, which was more a reflection of his ability to stay out of trouble than an inspired performance.
Despite his lack of pace and mistakes—particularly the one which saw him take Felipe Massa out of qualifying at Monaco—his place in the team is likely to be unharmed for the rest of the season due to the sponsorship money he brings to the team.
But that isn’t to say his position shouldn’t be under review.
3. Esteban Gutierrez
If money were no object, you suspect Sauber would have replaced Esteban Gutierrez by now.
The Swiss team, after all, are spoilt for choice with Giedo van der Garde, Simona de Silvestro and Sergey Sirotkin all connected to Sauber in one way or another.
Yet the Mexican somehow continues to cling on to his seat, despite crashing in free practice, qualifying and race sessions and therefore preventing himself from having a clean weekend.
Gutierrez's retirement in Monaco, which saw him spin after clumsily tagging the wall on the exit of the Rascasse corner while running in a lofty eighth position, was almost a sackable offence given that Jules Bianchi went on to score a potentially decisive couple of points for Marussia in that race.
After nine races, Sauber are still joint-bottom of the constructors' standings and while Gutierrez is there, you fear they might never get off the mark in 2014.
2. Jean-Eric Vergne
Having retired from four of this season's nine races with technical problems, there is no question that Jean-Eric Vergne has been unlucky.
And that bad luck has limited his opportunities to impress with a decent Toro Rosso car, which the Frenchman has guided to the top 10 in each wet qualifying session so far.
But the real problem for Vergne is that he's already had enough opportunities to impress.
Vergne's failure to beat Daniel Ricciardo to the vacancy at Red Bull last year meant he had to annihilate new teammate Daniil Kvyat this season—but the Russian rookie's mature approach has led to him being hailed as Toro Rosso's next star, making Vergne the forgotten man.
The ruthlessness of Red Bull's young driver program—which Vergne benefited from when he was handed a seat for 2012—means the Frenchman is on borrowed time.
And it wouldn't be a huge surprise if Toro Rosso put him out of his misery and made the change before the end of the season.
1. Kamui Kobayashi
Like Caterham teammate Marcus Ericsson, Kamui Kobayashi required sponsorship funds to secure a seat with the team for the 2014 campaign.
Unlike Ericsson, however, Kobayashi’s funds came from his fans as an act of goodwill, making his cause seem more like a charity rather than a career development.
Although the Japanese has performed as admirably as he could have possibly hoped for in such a poor car this season, it would not be unfair to suggest that Caterham would have achieved similar results with a driver with a stronger business proposal.
Carlos Sainz Jr., a member of Red Bull’s driver program, told Spanish publication AS (h/t ESPN F1) that he would welcome a move to Caterham to gain experience and any move would almost certainly spell the end of Kobayashi’s Formula One career.
There are plenty of drivers on the grid who are less deserving of a place than Kobayashi—but it is the Japanese, under Caterham's new management structure, who is the most vulnerable as F1 edges toward its summer break.