The silliest of silly seasons (although we seem to say that on an annual basis) looks to be far from over, despite the 2013 season winding to a close in just five weeks’ time. Only four teams have both drivers tied down for 2014 as several outfits wait on the financial picture to become clear. Ahead of this weekend’s Indian Grand Prix, here’s how the situation looks.
Infiniti Red Bull Racing
Mark Webber has opted to call time on his Formula 1 career, meaning that Red Bull will field a new driver for the first time in five years. Webber’s compatriot Daniel Ricciardo will join reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel at the Milton Keynes based team.
Felipe Massa will leave Ferrari after eight seasons and he will be replaced by his former team-mate Kimi Räikkönen. Fernando Alonso’s name continues to be linked to McLaren, but the Spaniard has a contract with Ferrari until 2016. For now, it’s fire and ice at the Scuderia.
Mercedes AMG Petronas
The Silver Arrows will retain Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg for a second consecutive season; both drivers have pushed the other hard all season and Mercedes is hoping that the new engine regulations for 2014 will boost them to the front.
With the Iceman returning to Ferrari, Lotus has a vacancy alongside Romain Grosjean. The French driver has yet to be officially confirmed but he brings some sponsorship and his upward trajectory since the mid-season suggests he is aptly placed to lead the team. The financial situation could decide who drives alongside Grosjean: if the proposed deal with Quantum Motorsports is confirmed, then many expect Hülkenberg to fill the void, but if there is an urgent need for money, Massa could be in black and gold in 2014.
McLaren’s woeful 2013 is largely down to the car, but the finger has also been pointed at the team’s drivers. Jenson Button’s position is thought to be safe and Sergio Pérez will probably be retained. But the team continues to flirt with Alonso and has repeated its desire to see Formula Renault 3.5 Series champion Kevin Magnussen make his Formula 1 debut. The partnership with Honda means there is less of a need for sponsorship; December announcement of new title sponsor could be revealing.
Sahara Force India
The Indian team, based in a field in Silverstone, has not fielded the same line up in consecutive seasons since 2008-9. Current drivers Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil are likely to be retained, although di Resta’s manager has recently hinted that his client’s position at the team is not yet secure. Reserve driver James Calado is a contender, although Force India may opt for experience heading into Formula 1’s new era
Sauber’s deal with Russian investors means that Sergey Sirotkin – who finished his rookie FR3.5 season in ninth place – is being prepared for a race seat in 2014. Sauber though has not yet officially confirmed Sirotkin as a 2014 race driver. Hülkenberg is unlikely to stay, with current driver Esteban Gutiérrez improving since the summer break to stake his claim for a second season. German media suggests that former Renault and Caterham driver Vitaly Petrov has a hefty sponsorship package.
Scuderia Toro Rosso
Many expected Antonio Felix da Costa to replace Daniel Ricciardo but instead that honour falls to 19 year old Daniil Kvyat. ‘The Russian’ (Helmut Marko’s imaginative nickname for Kvyat) has been racing in F3 and GP3 this year and could clinch the crown in the latter next weekend. Jean-Eric Vergne stays on for a third season.
Pastor Maldonado has stated that he won’t stand for another season of Williams struggling but his position may be weakened by recent stories about alleged corruption in Venezuelan motorsport. However, he insists that he is unaffected by any problems. Valtteri Bottas is highly rated and is likely to stay on for another year. Reports in the Brazilian press suggest that Massa is on the verge of a deal, with the driver himself admitting that he has held discussions with the team.
Ferrari academy driver Jules Bianchi will remain with the team for a second season but the other seat may well go to the highest bidder. It’s little secret that any money will be well received at Marussia, and such circumstances could assist Max Chilton’s cause. However, no-one has yet retained the #2 seat at Marussia for more than one season. McLaren’s keenness to help Magnussen into a seat means that the Dane is in contention for the vacant seat alongside Bianchi.
Charles Pic joined Caterham at the start of 2013 and is in the first season of a multi-year deal. Giedo van der Garde was aided by financial backing but has performed well and impressed many within the team. Former driver Heikki Kovalainen could return, while American Alexander Rossi remains an outsider.
Any other contenders?
The beauty of Formula 1′s unpredictability (Vettel aside) is that the driver market remains consistently unpredictable. Runner-up to Magnussen in the FR3.5 series, Stoffel Vandoorne, is highly rated by McLaren and the team is eager to see the Belgian in a reserve role next season. Da Costa’s 2014 chances appear slim after he was beaten to the Toro Rosso seat by Kvyat and his plans remain unclear. GP2 title contenders Fabio Leimer and Sam Bird have few Formula 1 options, while Felipe Nasr’s name remains in the running for a few seats courtesy of his sponsorship package.