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