2010 Driver Market Analysis: The First Stone Drops
Following the last entry in my analysis of the 2010 Formula One driver market was the abrupt announcement of BMW's exit from Formula One next season. This development has introduced a shock to the driver market for the 2010 championship.
The decision removes a contender from the Nico Rosberg sweepstakes. The German has stated that his options for next year are his current seat at Williams, McLaren, or BMW-Sauber. Other rumors suggest that Brawn is also an option.
The deep pool of resources and potential for future performance that BMW promised would have been attractive to Rosberg. But a re-branded Sauber team will likely not have the resources to be a top team anytime soon or to even build more competitive cars than Williams is this season. So for Rosberg, it's down to McLaren and Williams, with Brawn potentially in the mix.
A Rosberg move to McLaren has been discussed since the end of the 2007 season, when Fernando Alonso left the team. Officials with Woking have openly admitted to approaching him to fill the seat left vacant at the time by the two-time world champion.
Fueling the rumors of Rosberg's potential move to the silver cars is the fact that Mercedes, who own 40% of McLaren, have openly stated their desire to have German driver on the team. Furthermore, he is known to be a good friend of Lewis Hamilton, suggesting a potential environment of cohesive competition in a pairing of the two. With the driver's contract with Williams expiring after this season, many thought a move to McLaren inevitable.
But Rosberg's market power has now diminished significantly with both the exit of a potential suitor and the arrival of a competitor many feel is a stronger driver, as BMW-Sauber's Robert Kubica is now officially on the market for 2010. While the team will likely survive with Peter Sauber taking back control of the team and Petronas continuing sponsorship, Kubica probably will not want to race for a mid-field team next season, which is what a re-branded Sauber team will likely be.
McLaren have certainly shown in the past that they are more than willing to have two drivers on the team who are potential world champions, if not the two best in all of F1. Kubica is also a friend of Hamilton, who has openly stated that he respects the Pole as a driver more than anyone else on the grid. A Hamilton-Kubica pairing would make a difficulty-refuted case for the best on the grid, and the same indicators that a Hamilton-Rosberg pairing would be cohesive would also be present.
Kubica, however, will have all the same options as Rosberg and more, and he will likely be the preferred driver in all of them. Every team on the grid with the exception of Red Bull and Ferrari- who have their driver pairings under contract for next sesaon- will offer him a seat. Kubica particularly has a past relationship with Renault, having been a part of its driver development program.
Working in Rosberg's favor is the fact that none of these offers will match Kubica's stated ambition, which is to drive for Ferrari. He will surely sign any new contract with this agenda in mind. The fact that Kubica managed to time his current contract with BMW-Sauber to end in 2010- the same year that the contracts of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa with Ferrari end- is telling.
Kubica's Maranello dream may ultimately be the key to Peter Sauber retaining the Polish star for another year. Once Sauber retakes control of the team, he will need to find a new engine supplier.
The team's last supplier prior to BMW taking control of the team was Ferrari, who surely have the capacity to supply another team having supplied two other teams just last year. Sauber's connection to Ferrari may pay off, as not only will it work in his favor for a new engine deal , but it may offer Kubica the connection to Maranello that could lead a race seat.
Predicted Grid for 2010 (By current Constructor Championship Standings)
Brawn Jenson Button and Timo Glock. No changes from the last entry.
Red Bull Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel. Already confirmed.
Ferrari Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa. Massa looks as though he has escaped the accident without a career-ending injury and should be ready to race next season. If Raikkonen ends the year with more performances like his Hungaroring drive, Ferrari will have even less reason to attempt an expensive buyout. Barring him leaving on his own accord, he'll be back with Maranello next season.
Toyota Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen. Kovalainen may be on the way out with McLaren, but he is a good driver and belongs in Formula One. He'll get an offer with a solid team, and the team he picks will be Toyota.
McLaren Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. BMW's departure removes a major player for Rosberg, who will be even more inclined to take the ride with McLaren alongside his mate Hamilton. Immediately, this becomes arguably the strongest driver pairing on the grid.
Williams Nico Hulkenberg and Nick Heidfeld. I've thought about this more since my previous entry, and a return to Williams for Heidfeld makes more sense than a move to Toyota. While Toyota may be based in Germany, Williams is currently outperforming them and seems poised to prosper in an era of decreased cost. Frank Williams will be looking for a veteran to push young star Hulkenberg, and he'll have his man in Quick Nick, who performed admirably for Williams in his previous stint with the team.
In any event, while BMW increases the chances of Kubica leaving the team, it guarantees Heidfeld's departure. Having seen his fellow "long time, no win club" member Mark Webber finally achieve his first grand prix victory recently, Quick Nick is surely getting impatient for his opportunity to win and knows his opportunities to get in a quicker car will only diminish from here. He'll opt for the best opportunity to switch teams that comes his way, and that opportunity will be with Williams.
Renault Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean. The fact Massa will apparently be ready for the 2010 season means Alonso will likely have to wait one more year to move to Maranello. He'll be back for one more glorious ride with Renault while the team grooms young Grosjean.
Sauber Robert Kubica and Sebastien Buemi. Sauber does an engine deal with Ferrari, which gives Kubica an "in" for a ride with the Scuderia in 2011 alongside his mate Alonso. Due to this, Kubica sticks it out for a tough year with Sauber. The re-branded Sauber team will likely identify as Swiss, and they provide an opportunity for an improved race car to the young Swiss driver Buemi from Toro Rosso.
Toro Rosso Jaime Alguersuari and Giancarlo Fisichella. No changes from last entry.
Force India Adrian Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi. No changes from last entry.
USF1 Alexander Wurz and ???. No changes from last entry
Campos Pedro de la Rosa and Lucas di Grassi. No changes from last entry.
Manor ??? and ???. No changes from last entry.
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