The F1 2010 Drivers Market: An Update

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The F1 2010 Drivers Market: An Update
(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Since my last article into how the 2010 drivers market was shaping up, BMW's shock pull-out after just four seasons as a constructor, Fernando Alonso's impending move to Ferrari and the official confirmation of the three new teams has thrown the 2010 drivers market wide open.

Starting with last season's champions McLaren, Lewis Hamilton will be staying put.  Any chance of Hamilton leaving after the 'spy-gate' saga in Melbourne has been diminished and McLaren’s return to winning ways in Hungary and general competitiveness will leave them in very good stead for 2010.

His team-mate, however, is a point of much discussion in F1 circles.  The smart money is on 23-year-old Nico Rosberg, a German which would please engine supplier Mercedes, someone who is very media friendly, and above all, quick. 

Rosberg has been 2009's Mr. Consistency, failing to finish in the points only twice.  Add to this the fact that Rosberg and Hamilton are good friends off the circuit having been team-mates in the junior formulae and it seems to be the logical choice for team boss Martin Whitmarsh. 

However, the withdrawal of BMW has placed Robert Kubica on the driver market and this may well have made McLaren think again. 

Kubica is a proven race winner having won in Montreal last year, and showed his ability throughout last season, including leading the championship after Montreal, and being voted many people's driver of the year for 2008. 

However, has his poor 2009 season hampered his chances?  Not so long ago, he was being touted as a future world champion, but his lacklustre performances this season where he has been out-scored and in many ways out-performed by team-mate Nick Heidfeld, have appeared to make him a less viable option for the top teams. 

Of course, there is the other possibility of retaining Heikki Kovalainen, but this is now seeming to be increasingly unlikely, particularly after Martin Whitmarsh told the media that Kovalainen must 'up his game' if he is to continue with McLaren for 2010. 

If the 'silly season' rumours are to be believed, then we could see a McLaren return for either Fernando Alonso or Kimi Raikkonen, but the likelihood of Alonso returning after his acrimonious split at the end of 2007 is hugely unlikely; whilst Kimi Raikkonen's apparent disillusionment with F1 will almost certainly see him in the WRC for 2010. 

My money, therefore, is on a Lewis Hamilton & Nico Rosberg partnership.

At Ferrari, it seems only a matter of when, rather than if Fernando Alonso and Spanish sponsor Santander is confirmed at Ferrari for 2010 and beyond, and thus allowing the drivers market to really take off. 

However, Felipe Massa's freak accident in Hungary may well have forced Ferrari to reconsider its plans for 2010. 

If Massa is not recovered in time for the 2010 season, Ferrari will still wish to have a top level driver in the team as it gears up to challenge for the world championship. 

Current driver Kimi Raikkonen would easily fit the bill, but his impending departure from the team almost certainly would rule him out.

The story this morning however of F3 Euroseries championship leader Jules Bianchi being spotted meeting and greeting the Ferrari team could be a sign that Ferrari is set to use Bianchi alongside Raikkonen for the remainder of 2009 as Michael Schumacher is unfortunately not unavailable; and possibly use him as 'back-up' for 2010 if Massa is not fully recovered. 

However, the likelihood is that Massa will be recovered and fully fit in time for 2010 and will be alongside Fernando Alonso, as Raikkonen departs to the Rallying scene.

Former world champions Renault look set for another season of rebuilding with the confirmed departure of title sponsor ING Direct and the imminent exit of star driver Fernando Alonso to Ferrari.

Whilst having shown they have a strong engine thanks to the Red Bull team, Renault will need to create a stronger aero package for their 2010 challenger. 

On the driver front, recently promoted Romain Grosjean is a sure-fire bet to be with the team for 2010 as he uses the remainder of 2009 to familiarise himself with the team and the car. 

Alongside him, it's almost certain that one-time Renault young driver Robert Kubica will make a 'return' to the team.  Other names that have been linked include Nick Heidfeld and Bruno Senna, but I would expect to see a Kubica-Grosjean line-up for 2010.

With BMW following Honda out of the F1 door in the past few months, we could well be set for the departure of a third manufacturer in Japanese giants Toyota. 

Whilst Max Mosley will be thinking 'I told you so' in regards to his quest to reduce costs, the noises coming out of Toyota and in particular from team boss John Howett are that they will remain in 2010 (particularly after having signed the new Concorde agreement) once their budget has been agreed with the Toyota board. 

The Toyota driver line-up though looks set for change.  It had been expected that the team would keep faith with Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock, but the news over the Valencia Grand Prix weekend is that Trulli is set to leave Toyota after the team would not give him a contract any longer than a year.

Trulli therefore looks set to join either Williams or one of the new teams, whilst Glock seems secure in the other seat.

Alongside Glock, I would expect it to be Heikki Kovalainen, although Toyota have been linked with a whole host of other drivers, including Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubica, Adrian Sutil, Nick Heidfeld, or possibly even a 'promotion' for Kazuki Nakajima.

Talking of Toyota, Williams looks set to end its contract with Toyota for 2010.  A return to Renault is on the cards for the once dominant Williams Renault team.

This will almost certainly see the departure of Kazuki Nakajima, who has scored no points in 2009 and with Nico Rosberg look set to follow Nakajima out of Williams, the team could be set for a wholesale change on the driver front for 2010. 

It's almost certain that GP2 points leader Nico Hulkenberg will be promoted to the race team, alongside the experience of Jarno Trulli. 

Nick Heidfeld, who has been linked with just about every other team in the pit-lane, has been mooted to return to the team he raced with back in 2005, whilst Bruno Senna, Heikki Kovalainen and Robert Kubica have also been linked with a move to the team.

Three teams I've yet to mention are Red Bull, Brawn GP and Toro Rosso, predominately because I would expect these driver line-ups to remain the same. 

Red Bull are the only team to officially confirm their line-up for 2010 and are almost certain to switch from the fragile Renault engine to Mercedes-Benz power plants for 2010, putting them on a level footing with chief rivals Brawn GP. 

Brawn GP meanwhile, look set to keep Rubens Barrichello alongside championship leader Jenson Button for 2010, despite his mid-season outbursts against the team, after his brilliant victory last time out in Valencia.

Toro Rosso, meanwhile look set to keep youngsters Sebastian Buemi & Jaime Alguersuari at the Faenza-based team, as both have driven amicably this season, considering their inexperience, Alguersuari particularly following his test-less debut in Hungary where he beat slightly more experienced team-mate Buemi, who too has put in some impressive drives this season, notably in China and Australia.

The other current F1 team, Force India, will hope to continue their upward curve and push on to score regular points next season. 

Giancarlo Fisichella though doesn't look set to be part of this process however as he looks set for 'retirement' (although I wouldn't be surprised to see him remain as a third driver at Force India or even Ferrari), with Italian Tonio Liuzzi looking set to end his two-year F1 exile.

Adrian Sutil will probably remain with the team unless he is offered a supposedly bigger drive elsewhere, notably Williams, Toyota or Renault.

Of the three new teams (possibly four should BMW be taken over), Campos GP, run in Madrid by ex-Minardi driver Adrian Campos, will almost certainly run with at least one Spaniard, with McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa the favourite to put his years of testing and Grand Prix know-how to good use. 

His partner is likely to see the first Russian driver in F1 with Vitaly Petrov set to move up from the former Campos GP2 team into the F1 fraternity.

USF1 are another team looking to use its national drivers.  However, thus far it seems USF1 have been unsuccessful in bringing in a desired American. 

Whilst they have a plethora of drivers to pick from, it seems they have been unable to attract a big name driver. 

Danica Patrick, Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal & Jonathon Summerton to name but a few have been touted but all appear to have distanced themselves from a move to USF1 and as a result, I believe that USF1 will have to steer away from American drivers, for the first year at least. 

What the team will require in its first year is a driver with experience, and they don't come more experienced with a good F1 brain than Alexander Wurz or Nick Heidfeld. 

Jacques Villeneuve is another name who has been linked but the chances of Jacques returning seem very small.

Finally, the team will haven't really been hearing a lot about is Sheffield-based Manor GP.  Run by John Booth, the team will be assisted by Wirth Research in the production of its first F1 car, and also look to have pulled off a major coup by signing Virgin as its main sponsor, beating off competition from several other F1 teams, including Brawn.

On the driver front, the team has been linked with ex-Manor GP drivers Lucas di Grassi and Paul di Resta. 

But for such a little team, the smallest on the grid in terms of staff and facilities on the grid, drivers like Anthony Davidson and Nick Heidfeld must be considered for one of the spots in an experience-rookie line-up.

Of course though, all three news teams will be at a major disadvantage.  With no chassis sharing allowed, as well as all three having to use Cosworth V8s from 2006, the new teams will almost certainly spend their first year learning rather than troubling the point scorers.

The Cosworths, which were homologated in 2006, will not be as fuel-efficient as the 2009 spec engines and this in turn with the refueling ban will see the new teams be forced to carry as much as 15kg more weight at the start of race, which will invariably slow the cars.

The final point I'd like to make is an idea for how to get around the testing ban which puts young drivers at a massive disadvantage. 

Why not allow teams (if they wish to) to run a third car on Fridays, much like they did until 2006. 

This car could be driven by any driver they choose, and all of the Friday-only drivers could score points depending on who was quickest amongst them.

This would create another dimension to the otherwise fruitless Friday running, whilst also allowing the teams to give young drivers an opportunity to learn an F1 craft rather than be forced to come in blind like Alguersuari and Grosjean had to. 

Another idea is to follow what Moto GP has done and remain at the circuit for another day and do a full days testing at select Grand Prix during the season on the Monday directly after the event, places such as Silverstone, Monza, Sakhir, and Barcelona.

However, that's for another day.  For 2010, I think the line-ups will look like this:

Brawn Mercedes - Jenson Button / Rubens Barrichello

Red Bull Mercedes - Mark Webber / Sebastian Vettel

McLaren Mercedes - Lewis Hamilton / Nico Rosberg

Ferrari - Felipe Massa / Fernando Alonso

Toyota - Timo Glock / Heikki Kovalainen

Williams Renault - Jarno Trulli / Nico Hulkenberg

Renault - Robert Kubica / Romain Grosjean

Toro Rosso Ferrari - Sebastian Buemi / Jaime Alguersuari

Force India Mercedes - Adrian Sutil / Vitantonio Liuzzi

USF1 Cosworth - Nick Heidfeld / Alexander Wurz

Manor Cosworth - Anthony Davidson / Lucas di Grassi

Campos Cosworth - Pedro de la Rosa / Vitaly Petrov

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