Formula One looks for next pieces of driver jigsaw

Formula One looks for next pieces of driver jigsaw

SUZUKA, Japan - Reuters
Formula One looks for next pieces of driver jigsaw

Kimi Raikkonen is expected to stay at the Lotus F1 Team next year but the Finnish driver says he is yet to sign a contract. Raikkonen is standing third in the overall standings despite not winning a single race this season. AFP

The Formula One driver jigsaw is coming together but there are still some key pieces to be placed as the season enters the final straight and contracts for 2013 are firmed up.

The ‘haves’ are the elite, household names like Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, with long-term and lucrative contracts tying them to big budget glamour teams like Mercedes and Ferrari.

The ‘have nots’ are still talking, still unsure of where they will end up.

Some know they are in demand and are relaxed, others fear being ousted by new faces who may perhaps have more substantial support behind them at a time when smaller teams are hungry for cash.

Champions Red Bull, with Germany’s Sebastian Vettel and Australian Mark Webber, have their line-up all sorted, as do McLaren and Mercedes now that Hamilton has decided to switch from the former to the latter.

Hamilton will partner Germany’s Nico Rosberg next year while Mexican Sergio Perez moves from Sauber to join Jenson Button at McLaren.

Seven times champion Michael Schumacher will stride off into the sunset after the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix following his retirement announcement at Mercedes on Thursday while Sauber have at least one vacancy to fill.

Those still to be confirmed include 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, Brazilian Felipe Massa and Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado. Raikkonen, third in the championship standings despite not having won a race yet this year, told reporters at Suzuka that he still did not have a contract. The Finn remaining at Lotus looks a done deal, however.

Massa’s position at Ferrari, constantly called into question, currently seems more secure although nobody would be stunned if Ferrari dropped a driver who has not been on the podium since 2010.

“Nothing at the moment but I’m pretty confident things will be OK,” Massa told reporters when asked.

Williams has said the team wants Spanish Grand Prix winner Maldonado, who also brings substantial funding from Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, to stay, but there has as yet been no announcement.

His Brazilian team mate Bruno Senna looks less secure, with the team’s Finnish test driver Valteri Bottas looming increasingly large behind him.

“Nothing has changed, we are just focusing on race by race,” Senna told Reuters. “For me, the results are very important and even though we had some strong races in the last few the points haven’t been quite strong enough.

“Scoring some big points will be enough I guess to prove to everybody that I should be around next year.”

Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi, Perez’s team mate this season, cannot rest easy at Sauber either, even if his departure would be a huge blow for Japanese fans as well as those who have come to enjoy his lively style.

“I have no idea,” Kobayashi said of his future. “We still have six races left to race and Suzuka for me is pretty important, so I just try to focus and think later.”

Over at Force India, Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg and Britain’s Paul Di Resta are waiting to hear after doors closed on them at Mercedes and McLaren.

Both have been linked to a number of teams, including Ferrari.

Hulkenberg could be the next piece to fit into place, but he was refusing to give much away other than saying he did not know where he would be racing. He looked happy, however.

“There has been quite a lot of movement last week and lots of speculation out there,” the German told reporters. “All I can say is that for my future nothing has been announced. So wait a bit more.

“There is talk with my current team, there is still a chance that I race here. But I think with the movement there has been last week, things happen. It all depends on stuff, doesn’t it?”

Further back on the grid, there could also be moves at Caterham, Marussia and HRT.