Formula One: 2009 Driver Lineup Predictions

Billy AmannCorrespondent IJuly 14, 2008

With David Coulthard retiring at the end of the 2008 Formula One season and several drivers under pressure to perform, I look to the future of the driver lineup in 2009.

We must first look at available slots and who is a tad vulnerable to the chop. It is obvious that Red Bull have an opening, so with the team growing ever more competitive, they will be receiving more CV’s than usual.

Renault aren’t sure to hang onto both drivers, with Honda offering Alonso a hand and Nelson Piquet’s lacklustre first half to the season, it’s questionable to who will be there next year.

Neither Honda drivers are tied up but Jenson Button looks certain to stay. Whereas Barrichello’s good performance of late may swing the pendulum his way, but it still all hangs in the balance of whether Honda can secure Alonso.

Then there will be Torro Rosso and Force India. Vettel could be in with a chance at the Red Bull seat, which would leave a free seat for Torro Rosso. Force India will most likely keep their line up to ensure continuity and stability.

Red Bull will wave goodbye to one of the most experienced drivers in F1 and make way for some fresh talent to grace their garages. Vettel will be looking to jump from Torro Rosso to the First team.

He has impressed the whole paddock and shown the world what he is capable of, finishing fourth in China back in 2007 and consistently getting into the second and third qualifying rounds, even though only finishing four out of nine starts in 2008.

My verdict is to keep an eye on Vettel because I can just see him at Ferrari in three or four years time. He could be the replacement to Raikkonen.

Shaky starts to the season meant Nelson Piquet has had to up his game to assure himself a place at Renault. He started to shine when he twice overtook his experienced former world champion team-mate Alonso twice at the British Grand Prix.

However, that still doesn’t give him a guaranteed seat at his current team. When you take a look at last year, Heikki Kovalainen had the same start. In the second half of the season he outperformed his then team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella, but was still dropped to make way for Piquet.

Alonso could be on the move again. He is being touted by Honda and could make the big move back to England. If he is clever, he will stay at the improving French squad. Next year is a blank canvas for the teams and Renault will be looking to keep Fernando to help develop the new car.

It's been well-publicised that Honda have probably the most experienced drivers on the grid and should look to keep it that way. Jenson Button is currently in talks with the Brackley squad to stay for a little while longer and that looks the case. But Rubens Barrichello’s story is a little different.

If Honda manages to sign Alonso, then Rubens will be looking for a new seat or will consider heading out of F1 like David Coulthard. Should Alonso stay at Renault, Barrichello will most certainly have at least one more year left in the sport.

Sebastian Vettel has had a remarkable start to the season and is said to be the favourite to replace David Coulthard. So this would leave an opening for Torro Rosso. Looking at the current drivers, this could be a slot for Rubens Barrichello if things go pear-shaped at Honda. Or this could be the opportunity for GP2 star Bruno Senna.

Although he is linked with a test role at BMW, it is race seats we are talking about today. He is said to be focusing on his GP2 career, but it's certain to say he will be thinking about Formula 1. But his biggest chance of a race seat lies with Torro Rosso.

The teams and drivers not mentioned are contractually tied to their teams or linked so heavily that the possibility of a move is a distant prospect. Both drivers for Ferrari and McLaren are pretty stable, and so are the two BMW drivers.

Force India will look to keep their lineup, as will Toyota. Nico Rosberg is tied heavily to Williams, and the strong link between the team and Toyota means that Japanese driver Kazuki Nakajima has a seat with the constructor.

Not many movers and shakers, but still an exciting prospect for Red Bull and Torro Rosso. These predictions could be the future, or I could be completely wrong. All we can do is see how this season unfolds and watch the driver market do its thing.

Billy Amann