It’s silly season in the F1 paddock, and with three new teams and bugger-all on the contract front, it’s sillier than ever.
Given that Brawn only kept Barrichello on because they needed the experience in their barely tested car, it’s fair to say he’ll be off next year. While he might be outscoring Jenson at the moment, people see race wins and Button’s got 6-1 over Rubens.
Luckily for the Brazilian, while US F1 have said that they want only American drivers, for the first season they are willing to waive that for on-track experience. Besides, Brazil’s close enough, right?
Personally, I’d see him coupled with Bourdais. He might as well be American, he’s got experience in F1 but he still needs to learn how to hustle the car properly. Rubens can show him the way without a problem, as his drives this year have shown.
Also, US F1 sponsorship from McDonalds. It's a guess, but you read it here first.
But what does that leave for Brawn? A better integrated Mercedes engine and one empty seat. However, they still have links with Bruno Senna, who should bring decent sponsorship and quite a bit of endurance racing experience acquired this year, including Le Mans itself (although not much of it). Brawn’s Ross Fry is confident of his team’s sponsorship until 2012, but won’t tell anyone what it is.
McLaren are definitely holding on to Hamilton (what top team wouldn’t?) but the second seat is not so certain. Kovalainen hasn’t impressed much recently, and has never really shown the form that he promised at the start of ‘08. Instead, possibly at the behest of German giant Mercedes, Rosberg may be looking at a car that he can score decent finishes with.
That leaves Heikki free to switch to Williams, where he should find a team far less focused on a single driver. In the more relaxed environment of this sleeping giant, the charismatic Finn should be better placed to deliver on his early speed. There, he could well end up being paired with Heidfeld.
Consistently overlooked in favour of his supposedly faster team-mate, the German is a reliable finisher and usually gains places in a race. A return to his old team would probably be a relief to Frank Williams and Patrick Head after the somewhat erratic performances of Kazuki Nakajima.
The Japanese driver would appear to have nothing on the horizon, but there is a spare seat going at Toyota (if they’re still there for the season) with the seemingly inevitable departure of Jarno Trulli.
Toyota would appear to be happy with Glock’s improving performance, and so should they. He’s proved himself at least the equal of Trulli over a race distance, even if no-one can match him over a single flying lap, and pairing him with a Japanese driver would be a major coup for the manufacturer.
Ferrari and Red Bull are pretty much set for next year, with both the energy drinks fellows holding their stations and the Scuderia desperately trying to buy Kimi out of his contract. He seems to fancy a crack at rallying anyway, but he’ll see how much he can get out of Ferrari first.
After that, it’s just a matter of announcing what the rest of the world knows already and putting Alonso in his seat.
Toro Rosso are following the trend of their sister team and keeping both their young guns, with Buemi still showing good pace and Alguersuari not far off. After actually testing the car, the Spaniard should be as quick as his Swiss counterpart.
What of BMW? After the success of Brawn and with Peter Sauber’s commitment to his eponymous team, the outfit will probably be present in ‘10 in some other form. The instability gives Kubica a great negotiating position and he will probably use this to engineer himself a single-year contract
However, if he commits himself too fully to that plan and the team goes under, he may find himself as a reserve driver for the season. Another concern for the team itself is the lack of an engine. BMW are withdrawing entirely from the sport including engine supply, so another Cosworth-based team may be on the cards.
Sauber has worked with Cosworth before (1995), so it’s possible. The other seat could be anyone’s guess, with Sauber’s notable talent for spotting young, fast drivers. Remember that it was he who brought both Massa and Raikkonen into F1 from much lower formulae. Nico Hulkenberg in particular is doing well in everything he tries, so I’ll take a punt on him getting it.
Renault are something of a mystery. While they may be keeping Grosjean, the other seat is empty. With a team that has been so focused around Fernando Alonso for so long (even while he was with McLaren, it seems), it’s always going to be a difficult environment to move into, even without the irrepressible Flavio Briatore.
However, it’s one in which Trulli has worked before, and his feel for a car is second to none (helpful for development in the current climate). After his recent outbursts and lack of performance in the car, I doubt Nelson Piquet Jr will ever be seen near a Formula 1 car ever again, and good riddance to him. Anyone who shoots his mouth off so vigorously after being dropped from a team really doesn’t understand what it is to be a top driver.
Further down the grid, Force India have a sure thing with their pairing. Adrian Sutil’s qualifying performance needs to improve to make the most of his race pace, but as soon as the weather is questionable you can be sure he’s one of the fastest.
Fisichella is good and his performance at Spa will certainly help his employment chances with the team, although they could still step up Liuzzi to take his place in the hope of more aggressive drives. If Fisico takes the opportunity to drive for Ferrari at Monza, he could be unemployed for 2010 quicker than he expects.
The newcomers are more uncertain than anything else. With such a lack of testing allowed in the sport and the relatively late announcement of their involvement, the teams face a race against time before they even get to a grid.
Campos have enjoyed success in GP2 and the Asian series thereof, and may bring one of their best drivers into the sport. Seeing as the team (now as Barwa Addax) have second in GP2 with Vitaly Petrov, he’s an obvious choice.
As a Spanish team, there is a temptation to put Pedro de la Rosa as the other driver. He’s already tested this generation of cars for McLaren and will bring a lot of technical knowledge from that team.
Manor GP don’t have such obvious choices. Anthony Davidson is a good, fast driver, desperate for a race seat, and put in some respectable performances with Super Aguri. A safe pair of hands for a new team, possibly.
The other seat is still an unknown. Manor’s drivers in F3 are not experiencing a massive amount of success, and they need to be fast straight away to make up for the lack of testing allowed.
Because I honestly can’t think of anyone, I’ll say Gary Paffett just because of his McLaren test experience and because he was linked to the aborted Prodrive team. He’s still hungry for a drive and has proved adaptable with his various categories of racing while waiting for an F1 seat to pop up.
Overall, the clear winners next year will be Mercedes and Cosworth, with over half the grid being supplied by those two alone. Everything else is anyone’s guess.
Of course, I could be completely wrong on every single one of these guesses. F1 has a habit of changing it’s mind far too rapidly for anyone to keep up with.