F1: 2013 drivers

The most important F1 driver deals tend to happen 12-18 months in advance of the actual start of contracts. For example, Fernando Alonso signed for McLaren at the end of 2005 to start in 2007 (although he didn’t last very long there) and Kimi Raikkonen also signed for Ferrari 1 year in advance.

This means that, amongst the top 4 teams, at least Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes must be making decisions for 2013 at the moment.

Red Bull is interesting as it is possible, maybe even likely, that Mark Webber is going to leave at the end of 2012. He is currently a decent #2 driver as he is able to help the team win the Constructors championship and is often (but not always) able to maximise points when something happens to Sebastian Vettel. However, over the past year he has lost some of the pace and brilliance seen in 2010 when he was a title challenger. The plan could well be to replace him with one of the Red Bull young drivers but it’s unclear how the ¬†decision will be taken in a logical way. Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari have been thrown out of Toro Rosso (Red Bull’s junior team) to make way for rising stars Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne but it’s not obvious how to conclude which one should be upgraded to a Red Bull in 2013 after a single racing season. Buemi is going to be the reserve driver for Red Bull which these days pretty much means being the official driver of the team’s simulator and watching the races from the pitwall. Alguersuari may end up at HRT if they manage to build a car before the beginning of the season but that’s unlikely to help his cause.

The point therefore is that we won’t have a lot of evidence at the end of 2012… another opportunity for an ad hoc decision by Mr. Helmut Marko?

Ferrari has probably already decided that 2012 is going to be Felipe Massa’s last season with them. He is a nice guy and was useful to the team but at the moment there is no indication that he can be the #2 that they need. He finished 139 points behind Alonso in 2011 and Ferrari finished 122 points behind McLaren, meaning that he is the bottleneck preventing the team from finishing higher in the Constructors championship. He hasn’t helped Alonso in his 2010 challenge and is unlikely to do so in the future. Until recently, Ferrari seemed keen on Robert Kubica but it’s not clear if and when the Pole will be fit enough to make a competitive return to F1. And how would it work? They need to test Kubica in an old car and at that point it will be pretty obvious for Massa that he’s going to be replaced. Besides Kubica, there is some talk about Jules Bianchi but I can’t remember drivers making their F1 debut for Ferrari and the last inexperienced rookie they hired was Gilles Villeneuve in 1977. A more sensible plan is to test the youngster (say in a Sauber) and keep him as an option for the medium term.

Ferrari’s best option could well be Red Bull’s reject Mark Webber with Adrian Sutil as a backup plan. Webber is on a slow motion career decline but so was Rubens Barrichello in 2000 and he was useful. The team has also hired average drivers from average teams in the past, most notably Eddie Irvine in 1996, and he was useful. Curious to see what the decision will be…

Mercedes will need one driver when Michael Schumacher finally retires for good. It seems that Mercedes-supported Paul di Resta is on pole position for that vacancy. He is strong but it remains to be seen whether a team with Rosberg and di Resta is going to deliver the wins that the Mercedes boardroom expects.

Anyway, we should be seeing busy weeks… in the background.

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