With no movement on the 2011 F1 driver market so far, it looks as though there might not be very many spaces for new drivers next year.
But with a 13th team potentially being announced soon and a fresh crop of graduates from GP2 and beyond looking for a way in, we could still see some new faces on the grid next year. Here’s a few to look out for.
Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado fared poorly alongside Nico Hülkenberg at ART last year, but having returned to the team he drove for in 2008 he is faring much better.
The Rapax driver won his fifth consecutive feature race at Hungary in emphatic fashion and has a comfortable championship lead with six races remaining.
There have been occasional snags, notably in the sprint race at the Hungaroring where he failed to heed a black-and-orange flag and ended up being disqualified. He was fortunate not to be handed a tougher penalty.
So far only Giorgio Pantano has failed to convert a GP2 championship victory into an F1 drive the following year – having spent a total of seven years competing in F3000 and GP2. Maldonado’s four-year tenure in GP2 doesn’t necessarily put him at risk of the same but this is looking like his last and best chance.
Maldonado has some backing from his country’s government and that combined with his performance this year could lead him to be the first Venezuelan to race in F1 since Johnny Cecotto 26 years ago.
He is managed by Nicolas Todt, the well-connected son of FIA President Jean Todt who also manages Felipe Massa and Jules Bianchi.
Sergio Perez is also from a country in the Americas which hasn’t had an F1 driver for a while. The last Mexican to start a Grand Prix was Hector Rebaque in 1981.
At 20, Perez is five years younger than Maldonado and there’s been a touch of youthful impetuosity in his driving at times – particularly when he threw away a points finish in the sprint race last week with a half-hearted overtaking move.
But he has shown excellent speed on occasions and is comfortably handling a much more experienced team mate. He’s won three times already this year and lost a likely double points finish at Istanbul when his car was found to be underweight after the sprint race.
With backing from telecommunications company Telmex, who have supported several Mexican racing drivers in the past, Perez could find a place on the F1 grid next year.
Currently second in GP2, if he finishes there it leaves only one place he can afford to finish should he hang around for a third season in 2011.
The Formula Renault 3.5 championship is led by Mikhail Aleshin, who’s in his fourth season in the category. Rookie Daniel Ricciardo is just seven points behind.
The Red Bull development driver followed in the footsteps of Jaime Alguersuari by winning the British Formula Three championship last year.
There are no vacancies for him at either of the Red Bull teams next year, so a switch to a to GP2 team in 2011 might be the next step for the 21-year-old Australian.
Paul di Resta
Di Resta’s DTM performance this year is probably of less significance for his future in F1 than the seven appearances he has made in practice sessions with Force India – a sign he’s being considered for a promotion.
With Vitantonio Liuzzi enduring a difficult comeback to the sport Di Resta looks like a good tip for a race seat next year.
Hotly-tipped Ferrari development driver Jules Bianchi started his season for GP2 powerhouse ART as expected, claiming pole position for the first race of the season.
But it all went downhill from there as the French driver crashed out at the first corner. Fourth in the championship is a creditable performance for a rookie, but he’s winless so far and hasn’t quite met those high expectations.
Matters took a turn for the worse at the Hungaroring, where he ended the weekend in the same AEK Hospital Felipe Massa was taken to last year. Thankfully Bianchi’s injuries, sustained in a crash at the start of the GP2 feature race, were not life-threatening, but the damage to his back will exclude him from several races.
Ex-Renault driver Romain Grosjean has impressed in a few single-seater drives this year, winning in Auto GP and showing good speed in a brief appearance at DAMS in GP2. F1 is clearly unfinished business for him.
Have you spotted any other drivers in the junior formulae who deserve a place in F1 next year? Have your say in the comments.
Read more: 2011 F1 drivers and teams
Image (C) GP2 Media Serivce, GP2 Media Serivce, GP2 Media Serivce, Renault, Force India F1 Team, GP2 Media Serivce