Ladies and gentlemen, the silly season has begun! While Hulkenberg’s Sauber switch and the Vettel-Ferrari rumours had previously generated speculation for the 2014 driver’s market, Mark Webber is now the center of attention for the silly season. Last year, a rumour Webber could replace Massa at Ferrari kicked off the rumours, but today, his retirement from the sport seems more likely. Here’s how the market stands:
RED BULL: Despite the internal issues and Horner’s criticism of their lead driver, Vettel will remain at Red Bull in all likelihood. The identity of his teammate remains a mystery, however. A disgruntled Mark Webber may be looking at retirement and his successor could be one of the Toro Rosso lads. Helmut Marko has also confirmed his interest in Nico Hulkenberg- should Ferrari retain the improved Felipe Massa, Red Bull could feature an all-German line-up.
FERRARI: Alonso will certainly be retained. While it’s too soon to draw conclusions from Massa’s recent performance (has he merely been lucky? or is it a renaissance for the Little Brazilian?)- all can agree he is performing at a much-improved level. His experience and seemingly good relationship, as well as his Brazilian nationality (which, from a marketing perspective, is important considering FIAT’s interest in Latin America) are factors that could see him enjoy another year at the Scuderia. But should Ferrari decide to groom their next young talent, the same way they did with Massa himself, the highly-impressive duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Jules Bianchi are on the market.
McLAREN- Will retain their current line-up. They have a world champion in Jenson Button and a promising talent in Perez, himself a very marketable athlete. With Perez’s Telmex money and youth, he could easily be a long-term prospect, especially with talk of a Mexican Grand Prix.
LOTUS- Although Raikkonen has been linked to Red Bull due to his previous association with the brand in his rallying days, Lotus seems like his best bet. Raikkonen will continue to enjoy no. 1 privilege at Lotus, which will allow him to develop the car to his liking. His teammate could yet again be Romain Grosjean, who has managed to keep his nosecone clean for two races- it remains to be seen whether or not he can continue this into the remaining 17 grands prix. Grosjean also has the support of Total behind him, which, coupled with solid and trouble-free races, could guarantee him another year or two at Enstone. A possible replacement for a departing Grosjean or Raikkonen could be a DAMS/Lotus affiliate such as Davide Valsecchi, Marcus Ericsson, James Calado, Marco Sorensen, or Arthur Pic.
MERCEDES- With star driver Lewis Hamilton confirmed, his teammate will probably be Nico Rosberg again. Rosberg has proven to be quick in comparison to Hamilton and he knows beating the 2008 World Champion will truly confirm his talent and ability.
SAUBER- With Nico Hulkenberg being eyed by the top teams, Sauber will need another driver to partner Gutierrez. Gutierrez, like Perez at McLaren, is young, talented, and is Sauber’s source of sponsorship. Sauber may promote Robin Frijns but Ferrari, having potentially lost customers in Toro Rosso and Force India, may push Jules Bianchi to partner Gutierrez at the cost of a discounted engine.
FORCE INDIA- With Sutil on board, Force India may retain Mercedes power in 2014. Should Sutil beat Paul di Resta, the Scot may find himself out of the sport, in favor of another Mercedes-backed driver. Mercedes have a stable of young drivers they are keen to promote, including Robert Wickens, Roberto Merhi, and Sam Bird. Or, a McLaren-backed Kevin Magnussen could partner Sutil. In a rival bid from Ferrari, the Italian marque could push Jules Bianchi once again, with discounted Ferrari engines as part of the deal.
WILLIAMS- With the political uncertainty in Venezuela following Hugo Chavez’s death, Pastor Maldonado’s future at Grove may be limited to only this year. With question marks over PDVSA’s future participation, Williams may have to look elsewhere for a driver to partner the promising Valtteri Bottas. Possible candidates include the well-financed Felipe Nasr and Giedo van der Garde, or an ousted Toro Rosso driver (this is pure speculation). A FR3.5 frontrunner could also partner Bottas, although the team might want a more experienced driver.
TORO ROSSO- the winner of the Toro Rosso duel may get a Red Bull seat, or, if Nico Hulkenberg should fill it, a lifeline at the Faenza team. The loser, of course, faces replacement by the ferociously talented Antonio Felix da Costa, another Red Bull Junior. Da Costa may even enter the sport as soon as the middle of the 2013 season.
CATERHAM- with Renault affiliate Charles Pic confirmed for 2014, the team may explore experienced options in their duel with Marussia. With Oksana Kosachenko on board as a commercial director for Caterham, Vitaly Petrov could return to F1 should he muster enough sponsorship from Sochi. If not, Giedo van der Garde remains a safe choice in terms of continuity and sponsorship (from Dutch fashion giants McGregor). An interesting pairing could be that of the Pic brothers, should the younger Arthur impress in the World Series by Renault.
MARUSSIA- With Graeme Chilton buying into the team, his son’s seat may be safe. Should Jules Bianchi fail to snag a seat at a more competitive team, he could remain at a Ferrari-powered Marussia. If not, his absent seat could be filled by McLaren-backed Heikki Kovalainen or a younger driver, such as Rio Haryanto, Kevin Magnussen, or Felipe Nasr.