Only a few weeks ago it looked like there would be no big moves in the 2008 ‘silly season’. With the top three teams of 2007 all having made major driver changes and seemingly happy with them, there was no reason to expect any major moves for next year.
The shocking and public breakdown in relations between the McLaren drivers has changed all that. Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso each compromised the other in qualifying and Hamilton later claimed Alonso is refusing to talk to him.
McLaren has reportedly told Alonso he is free to leave the team at the end of the year if he wishes. Speculation has linked him with a return to Renault for 2008, and it remains to be seen who will drive for new 2008 entrants Prodrive.
We can only speculate what damage the row at the Hungaroring might have done to the relationship between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso – and what that might mean for the future of the team’s all-star line up.
Alonso met with Bernie Ecclestone following the argument on Saturday but denied it was in any way connected. He is also believed to have spoken to Flavio Briatore. Does Alonso really want to leave McLaren so badly he would return to his old team, even though they are no longer competitive?
The Renault explanation seems too obvious to me. There is another top manufacturer team that could have a vacancy for a top driver and be willing to pay for him – BMW.
And that would leave a highly prized seat at McLaren up for grabs.
Renault F1 Team
After a difficult start to the year Kovalainen now seems to regularly have the beating of Fisichella.
Fisichella has said that he expects to stay with the team for next year, but unless he gets back on terms with Kovalainen the team may find it hard not to justify putting Nelson Piquet Jnr in his car. Or, if he becomes available, Alonso.
Both drivers are doing well, and yet Ferrari continue to trail McLaren in both championships.
All the same, expect Ferrari to let driver line-up settle rather them embark on more risky change.
Honda Racing F1 Team
Rubens Barrichello has signed for another year at Honda and should surpass Riccardo Patrese’s record as the driver to have started the most races next year.
If Button does want out – and who could blame him – it’s not obvious where he might go instead. As Honda have recruited heavily on the technical side, perhaps he would do better to ride this one out.
Alternatively, he may recall how much better the team did when it was managed by Richards, and pick up the ‘phone to Prodrive…
American Marco Andretti tested for the team in the winter but has struggled in the Indy Racing League this year and the team will surely feel that he needs more time. A spell in GP2 would surely be best for him if he wants to race in F1.
BMW Sauber F1 Team
Test driver Sebastian Vettel has returned to Red Bull earlier than expected, promoting Timo Glock to the lead testing role. Glock is leading the GP2 championship at the moment but, due to a combination of mstakes and misfortune isn’t, running away with it.
He’s not expected to rival either of the incumbent drivers for a race seat, but the team are taking a long-time to make their mind up about Heidfeld.
The German’s contract expires this season and even though he has regularly been the best of the rest behind McLaren and Ferrari, Mario Theissen has said there won’t be a decision on his contract until after the summer break (that ends at the Turkish Grand Prix on the last weekend of August).
Who else could be on Theissen’s shopping list? Perhaps Nico Rosberg – he’s German, he’s having an excellent second season with Willians, and he brings marketable, youthful good looks compared to Heidfeld’s awful beard. And if Alonso really is on the market, the wily Theissen would surely jump at the opportunity.
There has been a lot of speculation surrounding the future of the Toyota team, mainly because it’s hard to see how they can be pleased with their experienced but under-performing driver pairing.
Rumours in Indianapolis suggested that Christian Klien could sign a multi-year deal with the team, and Kimi Raikkonen was linked with them earlier in the year when things weren’t going so well for the Finn.
Jarno Trulli’s contract was extended until 2009 last year.
Red Bull Racing
14. David Coulthard (contract extended to 2008)
15. Mark Webber (expected for 2008)
T. Robert Doornbos, Michael Ammermuller (2007 drivers)
Red Bull will stick with their mature driver pairing having re-signed Coulthard for a fourth season.
Doornbos has already won two races in the Champ Car World Series, so if he turns his back on racing in F1 a test seat could be up for grabs.
Test driver Ammermuller has had a poor year. He picked up a wrist injury in GP2 and was dropped by the ART team after his return to the series.
The team has recently given F3 Euroseries and GP2 racer Sebastien Buemi the mileage he needs to get his superlicence, and the Swiss is a strong candidate for a testing role next year, perhaps dovetailed with a placement in a competitive GP2 or World Series by Renault team.
Williams’ future driver line-up is inextricably linked with the future direction of the team.
Rookie Rosberg has become hot property – but can Williams afford to keep him? More to the point, would they turn down a big-money offer to let him go to another team.
Engine partner Toyota may well want to see one of its Japanese drivers given their F1 start at Williams. Nakajima, son of former F1 racer Saturo, is a prime candidate. He’s tested for the team this year and is fourth in GP2 having scored four consecutive podiums.
Wurz may have more points than Rosberg, but although his technical input has been praised, the younger Williams driver has usually qualified and raced better. Wurz may get a second season but he needs to be consistenyl up with Rosberg in the remaining six races.
Scuderia Toro Rosso
18. Vitantonio Liuzzi (2007 driver) or Sebastien Bourdais
19. Sebastian Vettel (confirmed for 2008)
Toro Rosso was believed to have an option on three-times Champ Car champions Sebastien Bourdais that expired at the end of July.
Meanwhile the team dropped the American Scott Speed, whom it only signed at the 11th hour before the start of the season, and replaced him with Red Bull-contracted Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel was then confirmed for 2008 – but will Liuzzi get a stay of execution or will Bourdais make his long-awaited switch to Formula 1? During his acrimonious firing Speed said team bosses Franz Tost and Gerhard Berger were “pushing like hell” to drop himself and Liuzzi.
Spyker F1 Team
Albers split with his manager Lodewijk Varossieau in June, and shortly afterwards was dropped from the team. With his sponsor not coughing up, it looks like his time in F1 is over.
Sutil has strong backing from team boss Colin Kolles, so expect him to stay. The second seat will be a matter of who can bring the most money. In which case Sakon Yamamoto is a candidate to stay with the team for what would be his first full F1 season,
But in reality any half-decent throttle jockey with a fat wallet should send Spyker their CV.
Super Aguri F1 Team
22. Takuma Sato (2007 driver)
23. Anthony Davidson (2007 driver)
T. Sakon Yamamoto (2007 driver)
Expect Japanese Sato to stay. His PR value to the team is immense, especially since he bagged them four points, notwithstanding his various unforced errors.
Davidson has not really impressed this year and it’s possible that his seat could be under threat from one of the emerging Japanese drivers like Kohei Hirate or even 2006 Super Aguri driver Yamamoto.
There is still no word on Prodrive’s plans for 2008. They are expected to be running a customer chassis (which will be legal next year), and were linked with McLaren, but the deadline for that deal passed weeks ago with no word.
Their driver line-up could well feature a young driver from whichever team it obtains its chassis – which could be good news for some racers currently languishing in test driver roles.
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