2010 F1 driver market wide open

Toyota could promote Japanese star Kamui Kobayashi for 2010

Toyota could promote Japanese star Kamui Kobayashi for 2010

It may seem preposterously early to start thinking about the 2010 F1 season when this year’s championship hasn’t got started yet.

But with only three drivers’ seats confirmed for 2010, little change in the 2009 line-up, and many places in top teams potentially up for grabs for 2010, we could see some surprise announcements during 2009.

McLaren and Heikki Kovalainen

Lewis Hamilton is locked in at McLaren until 2012. But Heikki Kovalainen only got a one year extension on his contract last year and he will be looking to sign a new contract this year.

But might McLaren pick a different driver? When they were looking to replace Fernando Alonso at the end of 2007 they considered Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg among potential replacements.

Nico Rosberg

Speaking of Rosberg, his Williams contract comes to an end in this, his fourth season with the team. He’s been tipped as a front-runner of the future and has accumulated quite a lot of experience now.

He could be an attractive proposition for either of the German manufacturers, Mercedes and BMW. After a woeful 2008, Williams will need a better year to keep a hold on him.

The Ferrari-Fernando Alonso saga

Ferrari has Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen contracted until the end of 2010. But, in an unusual situation for Ferrari, neither driver has consistently had the upper hand over the other.

Last year it was rumoured that Raikkonen’s performance clauses were enough to guarantee him a contract extension. But if the Ferrari F60 is not competitive, and one of the drivers has a bad year, Alonso could get the chance to move to the Italian team. Sources in Italy claim a deal for 2011 has already been done.

With rumours surrounding the future of Renault’s F1 team, Alonso could look for a move somewhere else, such as BMW. It was amid doubt over Renault’s F1 future in 2005 that he signed for McLaren.

BMW

They are widely tipped to be championship contenders in 2009, but BMW’s Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld see their contracts expire this year.

If either driver gets comprehensively beaten by the other, they could end up squeezed out. Much has been written about Kubica’s dissatisfaction with the team’s efforts last year, but if Heidfeld suffers a repeat of his 2008 qualifying woes he could find his seat under pressure.

Sebastian Vettel

Vettel has enjoyed Red Bull backing for years (as you can see in this video of him racing in the World Series by Renault three years ago) and steps up to their front line team this year.

But what if one of the big teams come knocking? Vettel has admitted in the past he wants to drive for Ferrari, but if Mercedes decides it wants a German driver in its F1 programme they could hardly do better.

On the outside looking in

Who knows what will happen to Honda. If the former team doesn’t end up on the grid it will leave Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello looking for jobs, though the latter could end up forced into retirement.

Christian Klien and Vitantonio Liuzzi are among the young, recent ex-F1 drivers now employed as testers who might try to find a way back in.

Up-and-coming drivers who could get F1 seats in 2010 include Paul di Resta (2006 F3 Euroseries champion), Bruno Senna, Kamui Kobayashi (Toyota Development Driver), Romain Grosjean (2007 F1 Euroseries Champion, Renault Development Driver) and Nico H?â??lkenberg (2008 F2 Euroseries Champion, Williasm test driver).

What moves do you expect in the driver market for 2010? Who will find themselves on the sidelines – and who deserves a first (or second) chance?

Read more: F1 2010 Season

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49 comments on 2010 F1 driver market wide open

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  1. Di Riesta will get a drive in 2010, Heikki (barring a title challenge in 2009) will be out. Although they will not necessarily swap places. Sutil, or Rosberg will fill the number 2 position in the team.

    • I know Heikki didn’t exactly shine this season, but he’s a good second driver, and with a megastar like Hamilton that’s exactly what McLaren would want. I think he was heavy on fuel several times and this did drag down his performance. Any top driver looking at McLaren in the next few years is going to realize Hamilton is tops on their list for now, and that may scare away a Vettel or Kubica.

  2. I wont be surprised if Nico leaves Williams especially if they don’t sort out their financial issues. But would he like to play second fiddle to Lewis or will he be lured to another seat where he could be seen to be the top driver…

    • I actually envisage Ros going to Renault perhaps even swapping with in place of Piq if he underperforms.

    • B, I can see Rosberg being snapped up by a team like Renault, but Piquet would find himself out of F1 if he was under-performing, replaced at Grove by Hulkenberg, di Resta or some other prospect.

  3. BaKano said on 3rd February 2009, 12:51

    Well

    It is really too early to talk about the 2010 Driver Market, as I bet there will be at least 4 more unemployed drivers, next year.
    And you start talking about Toyota, and for me, it is very simple, they will be one of theam out next year, cause I don’t see them managing to get that mandatory win this season.

    For me, only 2 things are certain regarding the future, Hamilton in the McLaren, and Alonso in Ferrari no later than 2011

  4. David said on 3rd February 2009, 13:23

    I think Nico would accept to drive in McLare, because it is one of the best chances to drive a fast car.
    I’ve always liked the teams with two competitive drivers, not a firts and a second one.
    And I think Ferrari will discard the worst between Kimi and Felipe to get Alonso or…Vettel.
    But a season is long, who knows who will be the hottest driver at the end…

  5. Clare msj said on 3rd February 2009, 13:52

    I would love to see Nico Hulkenberg make the step up to F1 next year, I’ve been a fan of his for a few years now and if he does well in GP2 this year I can see him making that jump to F1 in 2010.

    I cant see Kovalainen staying at Mclaren after the end of this year, which is a shame really becuase i dont think last year was a completely accurate portrayal of his abilities behind the wheel of an F1 car. Rosberg would have to be a favourite to replace him in the Mclaren if Williams doesnt perform brilliantly this year – although if Williams does make improvements i think he should stay where he is and be number one at Williams, rather than a number two at Mclaren (sadly with Hamilton I beleive Mclaren are starting to swing towards the number 1/2 roles for their drivers)alongside Hulkenberg. I really do hope Williams pick themselves up this year – still have a soft spot for them as a team.

    As for BMW i really hope they retain both drivers – both deserve the chance to stay there i feel – they have worked as hard as the team to get BMW where they are now, and should they challenge for the title, which i beleive both guys can do this year, then i think they should both should be rewarded for their efforts. Both are capable of keeping BMW near the front as well.

    I think Vettel will end up at Ferrari eventually, whether or not it is next year i dont know – but as soon as he does my goodness is that going to be exciting! Vettel unleashed in a Ferrari – cant wait!

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd February 2009, 22:42

      I think Vettel will end up at Ferrari eventually, whether or not it is next year i dont know – but as soon as he does my goodness is that going to be exciting! Vettel unleashed in a Ferrari – cant wait!

      Vettel and Alonso at Ferrari… that won’t end well!

  6. Shame no one is talking about Gary Paffett as I think he would be good in F1. I can’t see him ever being a first choice for McLaren as they wouldn’t want two British drivers. But he could replace Fisichella at Force India, with the McLaren link up, for the 2010 season.

    I definately agree that Rosberg will go to McLaren at some point, Mercedes are meant to be very keen to get a German driver on board.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd February 2009, 22:43

      Shame no one is talking about Gary Paffett as I think he would be good in F1.

      Realistically there’s no way in for him at McLaren as long as Hamilton is there.

      Mercedes are meant to be very keen to get a German driver on board.

      I’ve often wondered that, but then, they didn’t get Heidfeld in the car after McLaren backed him.

  7. 2010 is a bit early to speculate or call on isn’t it?

  8. I would love to see Vettel or Rosberg become a teammate with Hamilton scince those are my favorite drivers in F1. Being American I would love to see Alexander Rossi (Fomula BMW American Champ)move up to GP2, Then I would watch that.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd February 2009, 22:44

      I hope Kovalainen does better against Hamilton this year, but although I like him I’d rather see one of the bona fide top-drawer drivers up against Hamilton. Vettel or Kubica, say…

    • As a fellow American I would love for Rossi to climb the ladder to F1- he’s off to a great start but it will surely take 3-4 seasons of F3/GP2 etc. to get him up to speed. I just hope he gets looked at fairly and supported in the same way as so many of these other big-time prospects from other nations are.

  9. 2010 could be a massive turning point for F1 as I believe worldwide economies still won’t be vibrant enough for some teams to have financial support like they have in the previous years. As already mentioned Toyota imo will be gone inless they can put some wins under their belt this year and that still may not be enough for a Japanese manufacturer that no longer has Honda to compete against. So that takes us down to 16 cars without Honda Racing, Williams could still be another casualty with them struggling to even fund this year. Furthermore Torro Rosso really need to find another buyer or they may be forced out, that leaves us with a 14 car grid. This them brings us into the 3 car a team realm?

    Heikki is gonna have to do a big job this year to drive for Mclaren next year imo.

    Alonso will drive for Ferrari at some point IMO

    • I pretty much agree 100% with Somers.

      If Williams is already struggling, then the forecast isn’t good for them – the prospect of losing Nico, or worse still the entire team, is looming on them in 2009. They need to be at least best of the rest – and forgive the sceptism, but it’s beginning to look like a tall order.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd February 2009, 22:45

      2010 could be a massive turning point for F1 as I believe worldwide economies still won’t be vibrant enough for some teams to have financial support like they have in the previous years.

      That’s a very good point – there could be some serious discussions over driver salary cuts.

  10. Striay/iceman said on 3rd February 2009, 18:32

    NOOOOO NOT KIMI!!! iim his biggest fan and i swear i will cry if he doesnt stay in f1 for a bit longer. But i doubt he would go looking for another team after what happened in Mclaren, and his driver salary being the best in the whole of f1.

    I can see kubica, vettel, or alonso in Ferrari next year though, especially as one of these is suerly going to win the championship next year.

    as for Kovalinen im 99.9% sure he is going to be replaced, unless he does somthing great, however it was half Mclarens fault he didnt do so well last year (heavy on fuel). Also Kovi was placed there by ron dennis because he knew he wasnt going to be competition for Hamilton and is a nice fellow so he would let hamilton through even if he was winning,unlike other competitive drivers around now. however with Ron out of the way and martin whitmarsh coming into action i wouldnt be suprised if Roseberg, Sutil or a newby replaces him next year.

    Those are my thoughts, and long live KIMI!!! (sorry for any insults!

    • I don’t see Kovi being replaced, but leaving the team more or less for the same reasons Alonso did, not equality.
      Then the mclarens will have to find somebody else for “serving” the champion….
      Kimi will retire during this season, 2009.

  11. SoLiD said on 3rd February 2009, 19:38

    This shows us the problems of the future. Great talent, no cars….
    Solution in this time of crisis?
    Customer cars :) Mark my words

  12. Steven Roy said on 3rd February 2009, 20:33

    Kovalainen is keeping that McLaren seat warm for Paul di Resta. As soon as McLaren are convinced di Resta is ready Heikki is toast.

    Rosberg had the chance to go to McLaren at the start of last season but took his father’s device that being blown away by Lewis would be bad for his future prospects.

    Alonso is not going to Ferrari any time soon. We have had the Alonso to Ferrari rumours for ages. We even had them after he had signed for McLaren but before that deal was made public. Raikkonen and Massa will be there for 2010 regardless and who knows what options are in place for 2011.

    Toyota – who cares?

    Alonso could be in trouble if Renault quit which I expect they weill. They have quit F1 twice before in circustances similar to Honda’s first two disappearances – a team that didn’t quite make it followed by the best engine on the grid. They will quit for a third time as Honda did.

    • The difference is that Renault actually won championships in 2005 and 2006. But yes, you could see them quitting after this year.

      But I don’t, for any second, believe that Alonso could be out of a seat for the forseeable future. He is at the top of the pecking order, drivers could be shuffled around teams purely based on where Alonso goes, and I don’t see any team (bar McLaren) not willing to bend over backwards to get him to sign for them.

      If Ferrari rumours are true on Kimi’s get out clause on his contract, then it will be enough (for Ferrari) to bring Alonso in early in 2010, if not 2011 as we’re all suspected to believe.

      And realistically, with McLaren out the picture, Alonso and Ferrari are what each are looking for in a driver and a team, being top driver and top team.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd February 2009, 22:46

      Kovalainen is keeping that McLaren seat warm for Paul di Resta.

      Seriously? Two Britons in at McLaren? Surely not…

  13. Alonso to Ferrari is bogus. As is Vettel to Mclaren.

    In times of economic recessions; men and women try to keep their jobs secure and avoid risks of changing jobs. F1 drivers are no different. There were few changes from 2008 to 2009. It will follow suit at the end of 2009.

    Also; we had massive changes from 2006 to 2007 and 2007 to 2008. The Law of Averages will catch up. We will have lesser changes now.

    • You’re correct, but I am pretty sure you’ll agree that the ongoing recession probably isn’t hitting most of the F1 drivers as hard as it’s hitting you or me, right?

  14. Steven Roy said on 3rd February 2009, 23:29

    But I don’t, for any second, believe that Alonso could be out of a seat for the forseeable future.

    It happened to Prost and if contracts are in place it could happen to Alonso. I don’t see Ferrari having a vacancy in 2010 so he may need to look elsewhere or sit out a season waiting for Ferrari.

    Seriously? Two Britons in at McLaren? Surely not…

    di Resta is being built up for something and it has to be a McLaren seat. Mercedes have announced their DTM team apart from one seat which is his or Ralf’s if di Resta goes elsewhere. My guess is that they are trying to place him at FIF1 for a season followed by a step up to McLaren for 2010.

  15. Alonso is still fantastic and will be for many years, but Vettel is now everyone’s hot commodity in F1. If Ferrari want to change drivers (which I really don’t think they do for a few years) they will go after Vettel or Kubica, and not Alonso.

    At McLaren, any prospective driver is going to realize that they will wind up by default as Hamilton’s sidekick. Yes, many drivers would love to be at Woking, but the Lewis factor will limit the field of prospective drivers. On another VMM note, the team already has “the next Hamilton” lined up in karting prospect Oliver Rowland- he seems set to come of age just as Hamilton would be winding down his career.

    Since no one else wants to talk about Toyota, I will :) I can easily see Kobayashi replacing Trulli after this year if Jarno isn’t consistently quick- he’s still good but getting older.

    Lastly, don’t forget about Chandhok and Force India- I have thought for some time now that this will be the last year for Fisi, to be replaced by Karun if he has a good year in GP2.

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