Formula One: Which Driver Will Go Where In 2009?
Both Ferrari and Renault have enquired about the status of BMW's hotshot Robert Kubica for 2009. Having beheld his exceptional performances in the opening races of 2008, it's only natural that these high-flying teams should want to sign up the young Pole for future years.
Of course, it's ridiculously early to be starting "silly season" discussions like these. But since the rumours have already started, it's only fair of us to join in by speculating wildly about who might end up where in 2009! Here are my predictions about who the top eight teams might sign up for next year...
Räikkönen will most likely stay put, for 2009 at least. However, there are rumours that he'll retire after next year. As for Massa, his future at Ferrari was in doubt two or three races ago—the F1 world has little patience these days, and if you underperform in two consecutive races, then rumours will fly about the instability of your job.
Nevertheless, Massa has won two of the last three races, and if he keeps that up it's hard to see Ferrari wanting to replace him. Nevertheless, as we've already noted, the Scuderia seem to have their eye on Kubica. And what about Alonso?
Hamilton will likely be at McLaren for several decades yet. As for Heikki—if he keeps up his Turkish qualifying pace, I can't see why McLaren would look elsewhere. But don't forget the Finn was McLaren's third choice after Rosberg and Sutil last winter—if Ron Dennis can get his hands on Rosberg, then don't be surprised to see Heikki leaving.
As we've seen, Kubica is a popular young driver—but BMW will surely want to hold onto him if they can. Heidfeld has proved himself to be solid, but has been underperforming relative to the Pole recently. It's rumoured that the Hinwil outfit have a long-term option on Sebastian Vettel, so perhaps they will exercise that and sign him for 2009.
On the other hand, if Mark Webber keeps up his excellent recent form, perhaps BMW will be knocking on his door. Or perhaps BMW will spring a surprise and sign former champion Fernando Alonso?
Unless Alonso goes to Ferrari or BMW, he's likely to stay at Renault for 2009. Nelson Piquet Jr. needs to up his game in order to keep his seat for next year, but given his talent in GP2, there's every reason to believe that he will do just that.
If not, young talent Romain Grosjean will be waiting in the wings to replace him. But if Piquet doesn't become better, Renault should be wary of fielding an unexperienced rookie for the third year in a row. Takuma Sato is also testing for Renault soon - if he impresses, he could be in the frame for a 2009 seat.
If Frank Williams can hold onto Nico Rosberg, then he will - it's as simple as that. As things stand, Kazuki Nakajima is doing a relatively good job in the second seat - better than some of his fellow rookies, at least - but should Williams fancy a change, they have the highly-rated young German Nico Hulkenberg ready and waiting for a 2009 seat.
Mark Webber wants to stay at Red Bull next year, and with their car looking quick and reliable, it's easy to see why. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Coulthard will retire at the end of this year. Red Bull have a host of Sebastians to choose from for this seat. They could try and nab Vettel or Bourdais from Toro Rosso, or perhaps they will give young Swiss driver Sebastian Buemi a seat.
Jarno Trulli still looks fast, and recently his race pace has been matching his almost unmatched qualifying pace. Don't be surprised to see him stick around in 2009. My hunch is that Toyota will stick with Glock too, so long as he delivers some good results in the remainder of this year. If not, Toyota might try to sign Nakajima - after all, having a Japanese driver would go down well with the bosses of Toyota.
Jenson Button has shown admirable loyalty to Honda, and it looks like he'll still be there in 2009 hoping that they finally deliver a fast car. Barrichello should retire at the end of this year, so who will replace him? Difficult to say.
I've already mentioned more names than there are seats, and I'd guess that whoever doesn't get a seat in the above seven teams will be in contention for a drive at Honda. Ex-Super Aguri racers Sato and Davidson will be in prime position, since they've both had close links with Honda in the past.
That's quite enough "Silly Season" for the time being. What do you think? Do you agree? Or will there be more shocks and surprises in the 2009 lineup?
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