F1 driver line-up changes for 2008

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal, start, 2007Who will be driving for the top teams in 2008? Last year saw enormous changes in the driver market.

Next year we’re likely to see most of the top drivers remaining where they are. But with BMW and Red Bull getting ever more competitive we could be in for a few surprises.

And what about the new team for next year, Prodrive? Will they bring a new pair of drivers with them, or rely on some familiar faces to get them through a difficult first year?

We take a look at who goes where for 2008.

McLaren-Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Montreal, 2007, 42007 line-up:

1. Fernando Alonso
2. Lewis Hamilton
T. Pedro de la Rosa, Gary Paffett

McLaren had an all-new driver pairing for 2007 and it’s inconceivable that they should want to change either driver for anyone else on the grid.

Hamilton’s rapid rise to pre-eminence may be giving Alonso a few headaches, but he’d be crazy to leave the team when it’s this competitive.

The test driver pairing may well change, however. Either of their current drivers are targets for new team Prodrive, with Paffett probably the preferred choice as he is British. But de la Rosa had half a season’s racing last year, so don’t underestimate his desire to get back in the saddle.

Renault F1 Team

Heikki Kovalainen, Renault, Monte-Carlo, 2007, 22007 line-up:

3. Giancarlo Fisichella
4. Heikki Kovalainen
T. Nelson Piquet Jnr, Rocardo Zonta

Kovalainen has had a very shaky start to the season and fellow rookie Hamilton’s meteoric rise to giga-stardom hasn’t helped. He finally posted a good points finish in Montreal, and he needs to build on that to stay in Flavio Briatore’s good books.

Kovalainen’s struggle is Fisichella’s gain. The Italian has upped his game this year, according to the team. His contract expires at the end of this year but rumour is he’s on course for another extension.

This is not what Nelson Piquet Jnr wants to hear – he’s made it plain from the outset that he expects a race drive in 2008, even suggesting he might replace Fisichella. If Renault stick with their driver pairing for another year they may well farm him out to another team.

Scuderia Ferrari

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Montreal, 20072007 line-up:

5. Felipe Massa
6. Kimi Raikkonen
T. Luca Badoer, Marc Gen???

Kimi Raikkonen won his first start for the Scuderia – and on returning to the pits found Jean Todt holding a celebratory ‘phone call from Michael Schumacher. It’s a compelling insight into to what looks form the outside like a fundamental mis-match between driver and team.

Since Melbourne the results haven’t been good – he is 21 points behind championship leader Hamilton. With Massa comfortably getting the better of him, might he look for an early escape route from his Ferrari contract in the direction of, say, BMW?

Felipe Massa, however, isn’t going anywhere. He continues to accept the tutelage of The Great Schumacher, and that is exactly what Ferrari wants.

Honda Racing F1 Team

Rubens Barrichello, Honda, Montreal, 20072007 line-up:

7. Jenson Button
8. Rubens Barrichello
T. Christian Klien, James Rossiter

Having given two decent drivers a dog of a car, Honda should not be surprised if both are frantically searching for escape routes. Button invested his pride in sticking with the team two years ago, and it is not known that he is actively sought anywhere else.

Barrichello is having a much better season than last year, however, and rumours suggest his contract too will be extended.

American Marco Andretti tested for the team in the winter but is having a nightmare season in the Indy Racing League at the moment.

BMW Sauber F1 Team

Robert Kubica, BMW, Montreal, 20072007 line-up:

9. Nick Heidfeld
10. Robert Kubica
T. Sebastian Vettel, Timo Glock

BMW are the coming team and boss Mario Theissen faces two difficult driver line-up choices: Does he need a mega star driver of the Kimi Raikkonen variety? And should he put his protege Sebastian Vettel in the car?

The Vettel question is especially tricky. Red Bull has an option on his services for 2009, but it is understood to be performance-based. Dietrich Mateschitz said: “We have parked him for four years at BMW. We say he is our driver. BMW, however says, he is their driver. But there are contracts in place, and if we perform, he will be back with us in 2009.”

Vettel, of course, makes his F1 debut this weekend, substituting for Robert Kubica. But with Heidfeld in superb form this season it’s hard to see where another German could fit in.

Quick though Nick has been, he’s still to get that maiden win and prove he can be a championship contender. If Steve and David Robertson (Raikkonen’s managers) start lurking around the BMW pit, Heidfeld might start getting jumpy – his contract expires at the end of this year.

Toyota Racing

Jarno Trulli, Toyota, Bahrain, 20072007 line-up:

11. Ralf Schumacher
12. Jarno Trulli
T. Franck Montagny, Kohei Hirate, Kamui Kobayashi

German tabloid Bild started the rumours that Ralf Schumacher would be axed after the American races for his lamentable performances. Despite a change at the top of the Toyota team, with Tadashi Yamashina replacing Tsutomu Tomita, the driver line-up looks set to remain until the end of the year.

Toyota are the most inscrutable of teams, and though it would seem crazy for the to persist with a pairing that has never worked, you wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

Common sense suggests that Schumacher, F1’s second highest-paid driver, will be shown the door this year. But is common sense in the Toyota Way?

Jarno Trulli’s contract was extended until 2009 last year.

Red Bull Racing

David Coulthard, Heikki Kovalainen, Giancarlo Fisichella, Barcelona, 20072007 line-up:

14. David Coulthard
15. Mark Webber
T. Robert Doornbos, Michael Ammermuller

Another coming team, the performances of whose drivers is hard to judge given the car’s erratic performances. Coulthard drove magnificently in Bahrain and Spain, and he is expected to get another one-year extension on his contract.

Webber has only just thrown his lot in with the team, and despite some disappointing showings is likely to stay there. However, the team may choose to shuffle its experienced Red Bull line up with the comparatively junior Toro Rosso drivers.

Williams

Nico Rosberg, Williams-Toyota, Montreal, 2007, qualifying2007 line-up:

16. Nico Rosberg
17. Alexander Wurz
T. Kazuki Nakajima, Narain Karthikeyan

Asked about his drivers in yesterday’s press conference, Frank Williams said:

Nico is young, very intelligent. I’m sure he’s got a very strong future ahead of him. Alex is experienced, and is an outstanding, a remarkable team member. Nothing is a bother for him. He will do anything you ask of him. I repeat he has a lot of car knowledge and car understanding.

Both Williams drivers have impressed this year, although Wurz has not quite gotten to grips with 2007-style qualifying yet. It’s doubtful Williams would want to trade either – unless a big-money offer comes in for the ever improving Rosberg.

Scuderia Toro Rosso

Scott Speed, Toro Rosso-Ferrari, Monte Carlo, 20072007 line-up:

18. Vitantonio Liuzzi
19. Scott Speed

Three times Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais is widely considered a dead cert for a Toro Rosso seat next year. But which of their current drivers will remain – if either?

Speed impressed at Monte-Carlo with a mature and rapid drive but both racers found the wall at Montreal. In their time together Liuzzi has had a slight edge and Speed began the year under a cloud.

But with so may young Red Bull drivers looking for a way in – Michael Ammermuller, Sebastian Vettel and Robert Doornbos to name but three – I wouldn’t put my money on either driver staying in the sport next year.

Bruno Senna has also been linked with the team after his impressive performances in GP2.

Spyker F1 Team

Adrian Sutil, Spyker Ferrari, Melbourne, 20072007 line-up:

20. Christijan Albers
21. Adrian Sutil
T. Fairuz Fauzy, Adri???n Vall???s, Markus Winklehock, Giedo van der Garde

Spyker’s parent company has run into financial trouble and recently had to mortgage its own name. Who drives for it next year may well come down to who can bring the most money, although they would surely love to keep the impressive Sutil, whom designer Mike Gascoyne rates highly.

Any of their four test drivers, should they make with the readies, could find a way in.

Super Aguri F1 Team

2007 line-up:

22. Takuma Sato
23. Anthony Davidson
T. Sakon Yamamoto

Super Aguri’s Daniel Audetto made it clear after the Canadian Grand Prix that they wishes to retain Sato, and freely admitted that Honda’s desire to retain the PR value of the Japanese driver was the team’s raison d’etre.

Davidson has been unlucky this year – most obviously at Montreal where chances to score highly were thwarted by a groundhog – but like Kovalainen, he much turn things around. There are ever more promising young Japanese driver who Honda and Super Aguri’s sponsors might like to see in the car.

Prodrive

24. TBC
25. TBC

Mystery surrounds F1’s new team for 2008. What will David Richards do with the outfit? He is expected to reveal all at the British Grand Prix next month.

Ron Dennis has been in discussion regarding a supply of chassis for the team, which would make their seats a hot ticket. However, that may be conditional on them running McLaren’s drivers, in which either Pedro de la Rosa or Gary Paffett – or both – could end up here.

Top GP2 drivers may also get a chance – Timo Glock is challenging for the championship and Briton Mike Conway is worth keeping an eye on.

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