2009 F1 drivers – early predictions

2008 Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne, start, 470150

It’s early days, but Luca di Montezemolo’s comments last week about Ferrari not needing Fernando Alonso started me thinking about which drivers might be on the move for 2009.

On the face of it Montezemolo doesn’t seem to want to change his pairing of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa. And after three driver changes in the last two years McLaren surely want to retain stability in their Lewis Hamilton-Heikki Kovalainen line up.

So where does that leave the other drivers including, most importantly, Fernando Alonso?

BMW

Robert Kubica, BMW, Bahrain, 2008, 2, 470313

It looks very much as though BMW have taken a significant step forward once again, and having been comfortably best of the rest in 2007 they are now up their with McLaren and potentially in contention for victories.

In Robert Kubica they have one of the stars of the future – just ask Lewis Hamilton, who’s always respected his former karting and Formula Three rival (read more about their history here).

But what about Nick Heidfeld? The German has always been a safe pair of hands and can be relied upon to bring the car home in the points – as he did to terrific effect last year. But Kubica seems to have that crucial final few tenths of speed.

Do BMW need an established superstar driver like Fernando Alonso to become championship contenders?

Renault

Nelson Piquet Jnr is only four races into his F1 career so it’s too early to judge how good he will be in the future. But last year the team dropped Heikki Kovalainen after he rallied from an indifferent start to soundly beat Giancarlo Fisichella, which doesn’t bode well for Piquet. He is, however, valuable to the team in terms of sponsorship, and is likely to remain in the picture as long as Alonso is there.

If Renault do go for another change of drivers (and like McLaren they have had three changes in two years) expect Romain Grosjean to gain a swift promotion to the team. The Swiss-French driver strolled to the GP2 Asia championship and, despite a blunder in his first race of the GP2 championship proper, is still favourite to win the title.

Renault have taken two drivers from GP2 since the series began in 2005 – Kovalainen and Piquet – and both spent a year testing before making their F1 debuts.

I don’t think it did either driver much good – look how much better Lewis Hamilton did by switching straight from GP2 to F1? That’s the route I think they should take with Grosjean.

Romain Grosjean biography
Latest news on Romain Grosjean at Maximum Motorsport

Toyota and Williams

Jarno Trulli, Nelson Piquet Jnr, Nico Rosberg, Barcelona, 2008, 470313

Jarno Trulli’s contract expires at the end of next year. Toyota have two Japanese drivers waiting in the wings: Kazuki Nakajima, currently with Williams, and Kamui Kobayashi, who won the GP2 sprint race last weekend.

Toyota have an option on their engine supply deal with Williams for next years and its a good bet that the continuation of that deal will be linked to one of their Development Drivers staying with the Grove team alongside Nico Rosberg.

Latest news on Kamui Kobayashi at Maximum Motorsport

Red Bull and Toro Rosso

Sebastian Vettel is tipped to replace David Coulthard at Red Bull, who may finally be heading towards retirement. His incident-filled start to the season is not helping his cause.

Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz is trying to sell Toro Rosso, which could place Sebastien Bourdais’ future in doubt. He is managed by Nicolas Todt, son of Jean, who also manages Felipe Massa.

Honda

Both Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello’s contracts expire at the end of 2008.

On the face of it, given the teams’ struggle to get on top of its technical problem, consistency on the driver side would surely be a boon for them. Button is generally the quicker and Ross Brawn and Barrichello have worked together for years.

Alexander Wurz is not likely to return to racing and neither of their young drivers Mike Conway or Luca Filippi looks like F1 material yet, but I’ll be keeping an eye on their progress in GP2.

Latest news on Mike Conway at Maximum Motorsport
Latest news on Luca Filippi at Maximum Motorsport

Force India

Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India F1 Team, Barcelona, 2008, 470313

Giancarlo Fisichella is looking back to his old self now that he’s in a car that’s not at the sharp end of the field. But Adrian Sutil has had an iffy start to the season.

His most likely replacement, Indian Karun Chandhok, racing for GP2 team iSport. He didn’t do much in the Spanish round and made a few blunders in GP2 Asia earlier in the year, but has time and nationality on his side.

Vijay Mallya has said he wants an Indian driver in the car in time for the first Indian Grand Prix in 2010, and Chandhok is his best bet. If he chooses to leave Chandhok for a year, test driver Vitantonio Liuzzi could get a call-up.

Debate: Should Force India have Indian drivers?
Latest news on Karun Chandhok at Maximum Motorsport

Super Aguri

Given their current state of affairs it’s hard to predict the future of the team with any confidence, never mind its drivers.

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28 comments on 2009 F1 drivers – early predictions

  1. Journeyer said on 30th April 2008, 7:19

    Here’s my guesses:

    Ferrari – Raikkonen and Massa

    McLaren – Hamilton and Kovalainen

    BMW – Heidfeld and Kubica

    Renault – Alonso and Grosjean/Piquet- Yes, Alonso will stay on and honor his 2-year contract. I think the rule reset for 2009 will give the Regie a good chance of being competitive – and I think Alonso knows that.Toyota – Trulli and Nakajima

    Williams – Rosberg and Kobayashi/Glock- Whoever gets the 2nd seat depends on how well Glock will do the rest of this year. So far, he hasn’t fared well enough.

    Red Bull – Webber and Seb B/V- Vettel may be the favorite now, but it won’t stay that way if Bourdais keeps beating him.

    Toro Rosso – Seb V/B and Sutil
    - My first wild guess. Methinks Force India will let Sutil go. But the new STR owner (with some prodding from Berger) may give him a 2nd chance.

    Honda – Button and Barrichello- Yes, Rubens will stay on – but only for one more year. It’s make or break time for the ultimate GP veteran.

    Force India – Fisichella and Chandhok
    - Fisi is the new DC (circa 2005). Chandhok is quick enough for them, not to mention him being Indian will make them bigger favorites at home.

    Super Aguri – Sato and Davidson
    - My other wild guess. This will largely depend if they will even exist next year, let alone who will own them. But any continuity within the team at this point would be much appreciated.

  2. <i>Luca di Montezemolo’s comments last week about Ferrari not needing Fernando Alonso</i>
    I think the statement was regarding only a Kimi and Alonso pairing at Ferrari.

    Ferrari have traditionally favored having a lead driver and support driver. Considering they won 5 championships in a trot, its working for them.  Kimi and Massa are a similar pair(sorry fans of Massa).  I expect Alonso to replace Kimi when the Finn decides to hang his helmet(Kimi has already commented on Ferrari being his last team).  Despite what people (think) happened last year at McLaren,  Alonso cleary is the driver for Ferrari to get back the good old domination days.

    Again all this depends on when Kimi plans to bow out.  His current contract is till the end of ’09 I think.

  3. Gabriel said on 30th April 2008, 9:21

    I think you’ve written a good summary Keith. You also put a very persuasive argument for almost no change in driver line up (other than Vettel in place of DC). That’s not such a bad thing. Next year the cars will be completely different, so some driver stability will be welcome. Will be good to compare drivers to this year’s cars. See who adjusts better, can use slicks (+overtaking?) to greater benefit, etc…

  4. I do not want to speculate on 2009 line up yet, my only guess at this time is that Sutil, Piquet and Coulthard will not be where they are this year …

  5. Michael K said on 30th April 2008, 10:14

    Why on earth should Kimi bow out so much earlier than Alonso ?!?! Kimi is not even two years older than him.
    Yes, I think Ferrari will be his last team, bar anything strange would happen in the future, as long as he keeps performing. But he will still be there for years.
    Alonso will fulfil his contract at Renault, the rule changes are a good chance for Renault to move back to the front, as they are for anyone.

  6. Terry Fabulous said on 30th April 2008, 10:43

    Don’t forget that at this time last year there was no sign that Mclaren was about to implode….

    I wouldn’t be at all suprised if Massa gets the irrits and is out the door by the end of this year.

  7. Architrion said on 30th April 2008, 11:48

    I firmly believe that the return of slick tyres bring the most benefit to Alonso and Kubica. I’ve almost forgotten the violent turning of Fred’s glorious era, as all you see now from his onboard footage is a grandmamma style, just what is needed to take care of this ugly Bridgestone. With the "new" (old) tyres coming back I’m sure there will be room enough to bring back his old driving, and that could prove as a differential factor again.

  8. ninguen said on 30th April 2008, 11:51

    I would bet Alonso had some talks with BMW last year, if heidfeld don´t manage to beat Kubika this year maybe Alonso has a posibility to land there. If this don´t work i´m afraid he will stay at renault next year, i don´t think ferrari would want to replace raikkonen while he is working so well

  9. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 30th April 2008, 11:56

    The Ferrari rumours originally were that he would replace Massa and partner Raikkonen. I’d love to see that, but I don’t think it’s going to happen now.

  10. Diacho said on 30th April 2008, 15:55

    Don’t forget there are two brazilians about to join the club – Di Grassi, who’s already testing for Renault (following the lead of Piquet and Kovalainen, why couldn’t Renault go triple?) and Bruno Senna, who’s linked to Berger, been linked to a STR drive even last year, and whose marketing possibilities aren’t second to the descendents of Fangio or Clark.
    I actually doubt Senna wont be in F1 next year, and wouldn’t be surprised if there were 5 brazilians in 2009… Nothing close to the 9 italians there were at the Mexican GP in 89 I watched last week, but still…
    BTW, what a boring race that was!!! Absolutely on par with Barcelona’s, no doubt about it.

  11. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 30th April 2008, 16:21

    I think Senna might be good enough to get in on merit (feels very weird writing that) but di Grassi did not impress me last year – inside the car our out. He threw away the GP2 championship and bad-mouthed the team.

  12. Journeyer said on 30th April 2008, 16:48

    Now that you mention it, Diacho, I think Senna just might edge out Sutil for that Toro Rosso seat.  Hmmm…

  13. First of all, I think, its too early to comment. Its been just 4 races. I would say 3, as in Australia only 7 drivers finished.

    From my point of view, the top 3 teams will remain unchanged. It will be interesting to see what happens to Jenson, Fernando and Jarno, all of them are doing pretty good so far, and all see out their contracts at the end of the year.
    But none will find a seat in the top 3

  14. sriram said on 1st May 2008, 4:10

    Kimi has stated that he won’t leave until he lost fun in F1,but given the current situation and his contention for Title makes me think that he won’t leave Ferrari for next 3 to 5 yrs.So it would be hard for Alonso to get a drive in Ferrari.More over,Alonso would be well managed in Renault considering the previous year fiasco.
    And Jenson would continue to stay in Honda because Ross Brawn belives in him,so they has to care is for their second driver Rubens,i think he’ll leave this year.
    Trulli is giving results for Toyota,so i find no reason to leave him from their line up. 

  15. Sri said on 1st May 2008, 8:39

    To MichaelK:
    The answer to your question is not why but what Kimi wants. Kimi has been quoted oft stating that he might hang up soon(now that is as good as anybody’s guess), when he stops having fun. Also, am a Kimi fan, since his Sauber days and would like to see him continue for some time.

    Of-course he enjoys his new found freedom from shackles of grey when he joined Ferrari. Kimi does not say much, but he indeed said about 2007 to be his happiest(go figure McLaren). Let us hope he enjoys F1(what with all the attempts to kill the good old formula and make it safer… read slower… sic) for some time to come(amen to that…)

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