So where are we now?

By on Saturday, January 7, 2012

The festive period is usually a quiet one in Formula One, barring 2009 when the return of Michael Schumacher was confirmed two days before Christmas. The last two weeks have produced little in the way of news as most of the players are away on holiday. Nevertheless, there are always rumours as the first day of testing draws ever closer.

It’s also unusual that so many drivers have been confirmed already, with just a space at Williams and HRT still open.

Will Rubens still be part of the team? ©Williams F1

Who will get the nod at Williams...

The Williams seat naturally provokes the greatest interest. Williams had a terrible season in 2011, finishing 9th in the championship after collecting just a handful of points. The team has been on a gradual decline since 2003, although there is hope that rekindling the partnership with Renault, combined with an extensive overhaul of the technical team, will elevate Williams back into the midfield battle from which they were missing in 2011.

There appears to be three candidates for the Williams drive, with strong rumours pointing towards a battle between the Brazilian duo of Bruno Senna and Rubens Barrichello. It is understood that Adam Parr, the chairman, is keen to appoint Senna because of his wealthy backing and the impression that the Senna name will bring publicity to the team. However, after such an appalling season, many team members are keen to retain Rubens Barrichello, for he is a known quantity and his experience would help the flailing team. Adrian Sutil remains an outsider, although his sponsorship would not be as great as Senna’s, while it is understood that he would only sign a one year contract with a view to better drives becoming available in 2013. Williams has already signed Pastor Maldonado for this season, with Valtteri Bottas as test driver in an increased capacity – 15 Friday sessions this year. The spare seat at Williams may not be decided until testing kicks off, as the team is still negotiating with Qtel for financial backing, after their relationship with AT&T ended after five seasons. The financial situation at Williams is still precarious, especially following their poor 2011 season which will leave them with a lower income courtesy of only 9th in the championship.

Sebastien Buemi. Photo credit: Red Bull GEPA

Buemi still in the frame at Red Bull...

As rumours continue to link Jaime Alguersuari with HRT, Sebastien Buemi has been signed as Red Bull’s reserve driver. Buemi, 23, has been part of Red Bull since 2004 and raced for Toro Rosso from 2009 until 2011. It’s a logical move from Red Bull, who would need a replacement for Sebastian Vettel or Mark Webber should an untimely situation arise. With the hotly anticipated battle between Jean Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo set to commence, Red Bull would not want to have to promote either of the two this season, as it would upset their rivalry and have a detrimental effect on the team. Buemi is a safe pair of hands although many feel that he lacks the talent to become a superstar driver. Nevertheless, Buemi’s presence at Red Bull will still act as a reminder to Vergne and Ricciardo that it simply isn’t a matter of their battle at Toro Rosso resulting in a Red Bull seat in 2013.

Hamilton's future will be a talking point this year

2013 starting to take shape...

Attention will soon turn to the 2013 Silly Season, with several front runners out of contract at the end of the season. Mark Webber has operated on a yearly renewal for several seasons and Christian Horner will be keen to maintain a stable team where Vettel is the de facto leader, so long as Webber is strong enough to ensure the Constructors Championship. Webber’s retirement at the end of 2012 isn’t a foregone conclusion, although he will require a better showing after a slightly disappointing 2011. The early part of the season could be when Lewis Hamilton’s future is decided. The much criticised Brit is managed by XIX, who have come under fire by not putting Hamilton’s racing future first. Hamilton, 27, will start his 6th season with McLaren in March and if the team cannot provide him with a championship winning car for a fourth season, he will be looking around at other teams. Few will provide him with alternatives, especially with McLaren’s main rivals possessing the likes of Vettel and Fernando Alonso. Hamilton is likely to remain with McLaren, although XIX will undoubtedly try and generate interest in the 2008 champion. Felipe Massa needs a miracle to stay with Ferrari into 2013 as it is unlikely that his contract will be renewed. Luca di Montzemolo has given a list of drivers whom he admires, although the main candidates include Sergio Perez, Robert Kubica and Jules Bianchi. The latter of the trio is set to be given Friday running at Force India in order to continue the development of his career.

And finally, some circuits not on track...

As well as driver rumours, a few circuits are in danger ahead of 2012. Valencia has asked Bernie Ecclestone for a renegotiation in their deal which will not disappoint too many fans. What may disappoint fans however is that the French Grand Prix is set to return to 2013, sharing with the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps. Paul Ricard will host races in odd numbered year, with Spa the setting in even numbered years. The situation in Bahrain is still unresolved as troubles continue, with just over three months until the scheduled return of the event.

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