2011 F1 Season: the Funny Driver Market that Never Was

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2011 F1 Season: the Funny Driver Market that Never Was
Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Schumacher will stay for 2011

The 2010 driver market was thrown completely out of control after Alonso joined Ferrari, Button quit Brawn GP, and Michael Schumacher made a dramatic comeback when he joined the revived Mercedes GP team.

This year things were heating up as there were talks of Kimi Raikkonen making a return to the sport he quit at the end of last season, Webber retiring, and Kubica joining Ferrari.

Till last week, there were speculations regarding seats in various teams like Force India, Sauber, Williams, Toro Rosso, and Lotus. But now the only two vacant seats of any interest are of that of Williams and Renault. Force India and Toro Rosso have just confirmed their existing lineup, while Lotus, who apart from signing a technical deal with Red Bull will also get Renault engines to leap frog it toward the mid-pack, will also most likely retain its current lineup.

While there is still talk of Schumacher retiring, all signs points to the fact that it is not certain that he will be with Mercedes for 2012, but for the next season he will be with the team alongside Rosberg.

Nick Heidfeld will once again be jobless unless he can pull something dramatic out of the last four races of the year with Sauber, as the team has retained Kamui Kobayashi and signed young Mexican Sergio Pérez, who apart from having the backing of Telmex, has also been signed by Ferrari for its young driver program, joining the likes of Jules Bianchi and Mirko Bortolotti.

Though both Renault and Williams are yet to retain rookies Vitaly Petrov and Nico Hülkenberg, Petrov, despite being totally outmatched by Kubica and also not showing the consistency which is expected from him, could retain his seat because Russia is a big market for Renault and Petrov has some major backers with him.

Williams will lose four sponsors at the end of the year. With the current GP2 champion Pastor Maldonado backed by the Venezuelan government, he may replace the Hulk at the Williams for the coming season.

While everyone expected Toro Rosso to confirm the lineup, the decision of Force India’s is highly surprising, as Liuzzi has totally underperformed this season compared to his teammate Sutil.

Sutil was linked to the Sauber seat, but now his best bet on a better seat is Renault, which fellow Germans Heidfeld and Glock are also clamoring for along with Petrov. While Williams could have a vacancy, it would not be a great difference for Sutil from his current seat in Force India. Maybe a good 2011 could earn him a seat with Mercedes for 2012.

Paul di Resta is one of the most unlucky drivers. He is such a talented driver yet he still struggles to find a F1 seat. Despite being backed by Mercedes, everyone expected him to drive for Force India for the next season. But with them retaining their current drivers, di Resta could become a test driver for Mercedes or just leave the sport all together and focus on sports car racing.

Another driver who has done a decent job is Karun Chandhok, who already has lost his HRT seat. With Force India not too keen on him, his best bet will be Lotus, but that too now sounds very remote. He will most likely miss the inaugural Indian GP.

Renault has the most coveted seat as of now, but all things could turn if Webber wins the 2010 F1 World Championship and just decides to retire. Anything can happen in the driver’s market, as we have seen in the last few years.

But my money is on Petrov retaining his seat while Maldonado could edge out Hulk from the Williams team, but then again, F1 is a crazy world. It’s safer to confirm the lineup at the start of 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix.  

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