Remarkably, with just one race left to run the entry list for next year is far from complete. Just six drivers have their contracts officially in place for 2010 and there could be as many as 22 places left to fill.
Toyota court Raikkonen
Raikkonen has had discussions with McLaren and Toyota. His salary demands appear to be too much for the latter, and he is also negotiating for the smallest commitment to PR events he can get away with.
Toyota have given off mixed signals about who could be driving for them next year. While John Howett has been critical of Jarno Trulli in the press, the Italian claims team boss Tadashi Yamashina wants him to stay.
Similarly, Timo Glock has insisted he will keep his place and poured scorn on claims he was informed of the team’s decision to drop him at Singapore. Howett described Glock’s stand-in, Kamui Kobayashi, as “a bit slow” in Brazil but also suggested the Japanese driver could stay at the team in 2010.
But we still can’t take their participation next year for granted until their budget is confirmed next month. New Toyota president Akio Toyoda blogs about his company’s road cars using a pseudonym and isn’t very complimentary about them. One has to wonder what he makes of his company’s faltering F1 effort.
Lots of room for rookies
This suggests Romain Grosjean has fallen out of favour already. His results haven’t been great but given how he was hastily drafted into the team with little testing, perhaps he’s being judged too harshly too quickly.
Many of the latest crop of GP2 talent have got sponsors lined up and are hoping for places at F1’s new teams for 2010 – Manor, USF1, Campos and Lotus.
Looking elsewhere it would be astonishing if, having won the championship with Brawn, Button ended up somewhere else next year. He’s found himself at the centre of contract disputes in the past, but a wrangle over money at this late stage would reflect poorly on the new champion.
It still looks as though Barrichello will make way for Nico Rosberg at Brawn, heading to Williams in a straight swap. As Williams will not be using Toyota engines next year, Kazuki Nakajima will most likely be moving on.
Two drivers rarely mentioned in the ‘who goes where’ discussions are Heikki Kovalainen and Nick Heidfeld. Kovalainen will stay at McLaren if Raikkonen doesn’t tke his place, but Heidfeld is taking a risk if he gambles on Qadbak keeping the former BMW team in Formula 1.
One thing is for sure – almost every team in F1 will start 2010 with a different pair of drivers to who they ended 2009 with. Red Bull is the only certain exception at this stage.
The scale of the upheaval is one of the reasons why the driver market is moving so slowly this year.
Last year the driver market was unusually stable – most teams kept the same pairings for 2009 as 2008. And many of those drivers had contracts that expired in 2009. So everyone’s on the move at once.
The recession has forced teams to cut budgets and that means some tough discussions on driver salaries are taking place – Button and Raikkonen are cases in point.
Add to that the uncertainty over which teams will be competing next year and the situation becomes very complex.
As usual, the most coveted drivers take their seats first and that is by and large what has happened so far. But it’s taking a while and there could be some surprises still to come.
Read more: 2010 F1 drivers and teams