Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Shanghai, 2011

Webber and Massa key to 2012 driver market

2012 F1 seasonPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Shanghai, 2011
Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Shanghai, 2011

With five of the top six seats for 2012 already occupied, you might think we’re in for another quiet ‘silly season’.

But every driver on the grid must covet the seat at Red Bull that’s currently up for grabs. And Felipe Massa’s place at Ferrari next year is thought to be far from secure.

So where will the big moves in the driver market for 2012 take place?

Red Bull

Earlier this year Sebastian Vettel fixed his place at Red Bull until 2014.

But Mark Webber’s deal runs out at the end of this season, having signed a one-year extension in June last year.

Webber has won six races with Red Bull and it’s doubtful he’d enjoy as competitive a car anywhere else. But he has made several remarks about the team’s perceived preference for his team mate and it’s not hard to see how that might have soured relations.

That sounds like good news for Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari but which – if either – of Red Bull’s development drivers would get the nod? They also have Daniel Ricciardo waiting in the wings, but he’s yet to make his F1 debut.

If Webber does stay put, expect it to be another one-year deal.

McLaren

Both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button are under contract for next year.

Ferrari

On paper, Felipe Massa is going nowhere – he signed a two-year deal last year taking him up to the end of 2012.

But you only have to look at what happened to Kimi R??ikk??nen two years ago to realise that is no guarantee Massa will stay where he is.

He had a poor 2010, culminating in the notorious order from the team to hand victory to Fernando Alonso in Germany.

He has begun 2011 well and finished in front of Alonso in two of the three races so far. But as long as they are so wholeheartedly behind his team mate, it’s doubtful whether there’s a place for Massa at Ferrari any more.

Should Massa leave the team, he may find many teams eager to hire a driver with several years’ experience at the Scuderia.

Mercedes

Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, Shanghai, 2011
Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, Shanghai, 2011

Michael Schumacher’s return to F1 has been conspicuously short on success so far but he says he’s determined to see out the three-year deal he began in 2010.

That hasn’t prevented some from tipping him to be moved aside to make way for an up-and-coming driver – such as Nico H???lkenberg or Paul di Resta, both of which drive for Mercedes-powered Force India.

But it’s too early to call the second season of his comeback a failure and it’s hard to imagine a driver as successful and popular as Schumacher leaving on anyone’s terms other than his own.

Renault

If Robert Kubica is able and willing to return to F1, he has a Renault berth secured until 2012.

Prior to his accident there had been much speculation about him being signed by one of the top teams. But he has a long period of recuperation and recovery ahead of him and until we know for sure if he is coming back, it’s impossible to say what might happen.

Vitaly Petrov also has a contract for 2012.

The rest

Changes at the front of the field will inevitably affect the driver line-up further back.

At Lotus and Virgin there are three experienced drivers, some of them race-winners, who have spent more than 12 months in cars not capable of getting beyond Q1.

Their loyalty to the new team projects they joined last year will be tested if they get a sniff of a seat in an RB8 or F2012.

At Williams, Rubens Barrichello could stretch his record-breaking career even further by starting a 20th season in 2012.

Which drivers do you think will change teams next year? Will Webber and Massa keep their top team places? And who’s heading for retirement? Have your say in the comments.

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Images ?? Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, Mercedes