Red Bull Racing / Renault
1 – Sebastian Vettel
2 – Kamui Kobayashi
When Mark Webber decides to retire instead of race on in 2012, a collective “Ha!” goes up from Sebastian Vettel’s detractors when Red Bull score the coup of the season by signing Kamui Kobayashi. However, the exact consequences of this remain to be seen, especially after talk that Vettel attempted to veto the signing of Kobayashi because he feels threatened by the young Japanese driver. All involved naturally deny this (thus fuelling further speculation of a rift), but Vettel and Koabayshi show no signs of tension when in public.
Vodafone McLaren Automotive / Mercedes
3 – Jenson Button
4 – Lewis Hamilton
With Button and Hamilton signed up for 2012, McLaren run an unchanged line-up, despite the insistence of the British press that Hamilton will move on after Button finishes ahead of him in the drivers’ standings. This culminates with Lewis Hamilton punching a tabloid journalist named Gates in a scandal that becomes known as Gategate (because metahumour is funny). He is fined by the FIA and given a suspended sentence by the courts. Somehow, Hamilton’s fans deny that he did anything wrong, despite footage of him breaking the man’s nose.
Scuderia Ferrari Malboro
5 – Fernando Alonso
6 – Robert Kubica
Robert Kubica’s return to racing is less than successful. Although deemed fit to drive, Renault reveal that they want Vitaly Petrov to lead the team in 2012 and give Kubica a transition year. Kubica, on the other hand, wants to hit the ground running, and leaves the team when Ferrari make him an offer. Felipe Massa is unceremoniously booted out, despite Luca di Montezemolo’s insistence that he is a part of the Ferrari family and his seat is safe less than a day before the team announce Kubica’s signing.
Lotus Renault Grand Prix
7 – Vitaly Petrov
8 – Romain Grosjean
With Robert Kubica moving on, many of Nick Heidfeld’s fans hope the German driver will stay with Renault for another season. But after being demolished by Vitaly Petrov in 2011, Quick Nick decides to call it quits. GP2 Series champion Romain Grosjean returns to the team, but things have changed since his last stint with them, and this is hardly an advantage.
Mercedes GP Petronas
9 – Nico Rosberg
10 – Paul di Resta
Michael Schumacher joins the growing list of retirements at the end of 2011, and his natural replacement is Paul di Resta. However, after a second disappointing season in a row, Nico Rosberg is openly unhappy with the state of the team, and threatens to leave at the end of 2012 if things do not improve. Likewise, Mercedes issue an ultimatum: show improvement in 2012, or else.
Telmex Sauber F1 Team / Ferrari
11 – Sergio Perez
12 – Jules Bianchi
With Kobyashi moving to Red Bull, it is open season on the second Sauber seat. Many expect Esteban Gutierrez to get the nod, but a gentle nudge from Jean Todt sees Jules Bianchi get the call instead despite a messy GP2 season. Because of Bianchi’s connections to Ferrari and Nicolas Todt, this leads to dark rumours that the FIA president is conspiring on behalf of Ferrari, but his reasoning is much more altruistic: the return of the French Grand Prix to the calendar rides on a French driver being in the sport.
Scuderia Toro Rosso / Ferrari
14 – Jaime Alguersuari
15 – Sebastien Buemi
Despite claims that both Alguersuari and Buemi are on the rocks at Toro Rosso and that one of them will be replaced by Daniel Ricciardo, the 2011 season ends with both drivers being inseparable. Where Buemi is the stronger qualifier, Alguersuari is the better racer, and they are tied on points after Interlagos. Toro Rosso decide to keep both drivers on probation for another year – especially after Ricciardo, filling in for an unwell Buemi, proves to be entirely out of his depth in Formula 1.
Force India F1 Team / Mercedes
16 – Adrian Sutil
17 – Felipe Massa
Vijay Mallya was fully prepared to drop Adrian Sutil after the 2011 season and pai Nico Hulkenberg with Paul di Resta. However, when di Resta gets the call-up to Mercedes, Mallya thinks better of it and instead keeps Sutil. Hulkenberg is on the verge of a contract, but when rumours circle that the team is in financial trouble, he does himself no favours by once again refusing to find sponsorship. Mallya picks up Felipe Massa when he is dismissed from Ferrari.
PDVSA Williams F1 / Cosworth
18 – Pastor Maldonado
19 – Giedo van der Garde
Oh, how the mighty have falled. 2011 is a write-off for Williams, their worst season in recorded history. The move to make the team a public company proves to be a horrible mistake, as the share price plummets. Rubens Barrichello decides to retire when the team is forced to retain the unimpressive Maldonado simply to stay afloat.
Marussia Virgin Racing / Cosworth
20 – Timo Glock
21 – Jerome d’Ambrosio
Despite falling behind the Hispanias in the middle of the season, Virgin managed to place tenth in the cosntructors’ standings after scoring and eleventh place in a race of attrition in India. Rather than replace their second driver for the third time in as many years, Virgin instead opt to retain Jerome d’Ambrosio despite his disappointing performances. With all ties to Nick Wirth severed and Pat Symonds running the show, Virgin are looking to make good on their morale boost from 2011.
Racing for China / Cosworth
22 – Ho-Pin Tung
23 – Vitantonio Liuzzi
In the wake of two strong Chinese Grands Prix and increasing popularity in China, Hispania Racing finally find a partner who can secure their financial future. However, under Chinese law, the Chinese partner in the business must hold the controlling stake in the business, and so Hispania is renamed after this minor controversy. Narian Karthikeyan is shown the door after he is lapped by his team-mate in four separate races. Ho-Pin Tung is drafted in to replace him, emphasising the Chinese connection.
Songangol Team Caterham / Cosworth
24 – Heikki Kovalainen
25 – Davide Valsecchi
Despite their continued dominance as the best of the newcomers, Team Lotus have a horror end to the season. Races of attrition cost both their drivers dearly, allowing both Virgin and Hispania to slip by in the constructors’ standings. Jarno Trulli retires, and is replaced by Davide Valsecchi, who had a strong season in GP2. Tony Fernandes changes his team name after a High Court injunction prevents him from marketing the Caterham Seven on its connection to his team – despite the initial ruling that fans should have enough knowledge to distinguish Group Lotus from Team Lotus, Fernandes is selling cars to people who do not have that knowledge, causing confusion.