F1 ‘Silly season’ overdrive as driver market churns

(GMM) With just five races left to run in 2009, the so-called driver market 'silly season' for next year has shifted into high gear.

With key names like Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen on the move, vacant cockpits at McLaren and Renault, and teams set both to depart and join the grid, the media airwaves are filled with rumors about the constitution of the 2010 championship.

At Williams, both Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima could be leaving, to be replaced possibly by rookie Nico Hulkenberg and the team's former driver Nick Heidfeld, who like Robert Kubica is on the market due to BMW's impending departure.

Kubica, however, appears to be on Renault's radar, with the French team needing to replace the almost certainly Ferrari-bound Alonso.

Also linked with the Renault seat in recent days has been Raikkonen, who may be set to depart Ferrari a year before his contract runs out.

Flavio Briatore is on the lookout for a replacement not only for Alonso but for the departing title sponsor ING, and signing Raikkonen could woo the Finnish mobile brand Nokia on board.

Back to Williams, and Germany's Auto Motor und Sport believes the GP2 driver Vitaly Petrov is a possibility for the Grove team, whose second cockpit is currently occupied by the heavily Toyota-backed Nakajima.

Williams however looks likely to line up with Renault power in 2010, leaving Russian Petrov – apparently with up to 15m euro in personal sponsorship – in the frame for a seat. He has also been linked with the new Spanish team Campos.

At Ferrari, the situation is complicated, with Raikkonen, Alonso and the injured Felipe Massa all under contract, but only two cockpits to occupy.

Brazilian Massa is recovering well from his Budapest qualifying crash, but apart from sporting a facial scar at the Racing Festival in Sao Paulo this week, is reportedly still affected by brain bruising.

Recovery from head injuries of that type is an inexact science, so Ferrari must be concerned that he in fact will not be ready to race at the season opener next March.

This would explain Ferrari's push to have three cockpits available for the 2010 season: one definitely reserved for Massa, one for Alonso, and perhaps a fully competitive third driver in the form of Raikkonen or perhaps Kubica assured either the second or third cockpit.

Giancarlo Fisichella could also be lining up a Ferrari drive, but it would be a test seat only, with his place at Force India to be taken by Tonio Liuzzi.

Toyota is in a difficult situation, given the team's inability to guarantee any driver a seat until after the executive board approves a budget for the 2010 season.

Nakajima would be a cheap and experienced alternative with a nationality to suit the team's Japanese owner, should Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock have already departed by the time of the budget approval in November.

Also available may be Heikki Kovalainen given that Rosberg is likely to replace him at McLaren, and also Rubens Barrichello, who would be ousted if rumors of Brawn's interest in Raikkonen are true.

Also actively looking around for a drive is Nelson Piquet, who has been talking with 2010's new teams Campos, Manor and USF1. It is believed he has been in discussions with IndyCar teams as well.

Similarly, former Toro Rosso third driver Neel Jani confirmed he has been in talks with the new F1 teams.

"I am keeping my fingers crossed," he told the Asian age newspaper.

Leave a Reply