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Monday, August 11, 2008

Silly season not so silly this year...

Typically by the summer break silly season is in full swing, providing a little entertainment during the three week gap between races.

A couple of years ago it was JPM’s surprise announcement he was going to race with the good ol’ boys. Late year it was the Alonso/Hamilton rift.

This year, things are relatively peaceful. How peaceful? McLaren has already confirmed Hamilton and Kovalainen for ’09.

Elsewhere, much continues to hinge on what Fernando Alonso decides to do next season, but with three more seats confirmed over the past couple of days, opportunities will be slim for those hoping to break into the sport next year.

Here’s a take on who winds up where (and who isn’t going anywhere) in 2009.

Ferrari:

Things may well be in motion at Ferrari, who often use the home race at Monza to announce the next season’s lineup. Rumors persist that Alonso is set to join the Scuderia, most likely in 2010, but all that depends on Kimi Raikkonen’s much rumored retirement.

My guess is Raikkonen will see out his contract, and not retire. Should that be the case, and Alonso move to Ferrari early, Felipe Massa might be the odd man out. This seems suspect, in my opinion, Alonso still has a year on his contract with Renault, and Massa is popular within the team.

If Raikkonen retires, Alonso joins Massa at Ferrari in 2009.

Raikkonen/Massa

McLaren:

Lewis Hamilton has a long term contract and there is no doubt he stays at McLaren. Hungarian Grand Prix winner Heikki Kovalainen was confirmed for 2009 prior to his debut win.

Hamilton/Kovalainen

BMW Sauber:

Nick Heidfeld has had a difficult season and teammate Robert Kubica has had the best of him for most of it. As BMW cements its place as one of the top three, the team will want a top driver to extract the most from the car. To that end, Heidfeld remains unconfirmed for 2009, although it would have to be a trade up for the team to make a change.

Kubica, however, has established himself as one of the top young talents in the game, and interest in him is high. Little has come out of Hinwil concerning Kubica in ’09, but it is thought BMW Sauber hold an option on the Pole for next year.

Kubica/Heidfeld?

Toyota:

Toyota has been coming on strong as of late, with Timo Glock shining in Hungary. Trulli remains a fast driver and while anything was better than Ralf, Glock might be the real deal. Both are contracted for 2009.

Trulli/Glock

Red Bull:

Mark Webber still is proving to be one of the quickest drivers never to get into a front line car, once again besting his teammate, for the past two years the highly experienced David Coulthard. Webber signed a new contract to stay at the team.

Coulthard is retiring, and Red Bull turned within, promoting another driver who has whipped his teammate this year, Sebastien Vettel. Vettel scored points in his debut last season, filling in for the injured Kubica at BMW Sauber, then finished the season at STR when Scott Speed was fired.

Vettel has consistently challenged for the top 10 this year for what is basically a B team - this guy looks to have a bright future, or will he be Webber fodder?

Webber/Vettel

Renault:

The big question mark. Alonso is under contract, but does he jump ship after a season in which Renault couldn’t deliver a winning car? Most think he’s Ferrari property in 2010. Does he head over early in place of Massa or a retiring Kimi Raikkonen, or does he spend a season pocketing Honda money?

Meanwhile, teammate Nelson Piquet Jr has been roundly disappointing, seldom qualifying well and mistake-prone in races. Second at Hockenheim was the lone bright spot. His only option would be Renault, but do they want him? He’ll have to earn it Valencia on. Flavio Briatore has dumped drivers with better results.

I’ll go out on a limb and say Alonso will be back. Piquet is out if someone better can be had. Test drivers Lucas di Grassi and Romain Grosjean are also in the frame.

Alonso/???

Williams:

Nico Rosberg has been a consistent performer for Williams and Sir Frank rates him. He has caught the attention of McLaren in the past, but with things set at McLaren Rosberg will be staying with Williams, and confirmed that himself.

Teammate Kaz Nakajima may be the price for Toyota engines, but his performance makes him an easy pill to swallow and he is well liked within the team, garnering the praise of the hard to please Patrick Head.

Rosberg/Nakajima

Honda:

It has been a difficult season for Honda, but the team have said it is the car and not the drivers on several occasions.

The experienced Rubens Barrichello says he is still motivated and has ex-Ferrari boss Ross Brawn in his corner. Jenson Button has a long standing relationship with Honda and the team. New regs in 2009 will shake things up, and with Brawn on board things should improve.

Much depends on Alonso, and some predict this deal is already done. If he comes over, it would seem to make more sense for Barrichello to make way for him.

As I said, my guess is Alonso stays at Renault, and thus no change at Honda.

Button/Barrichello

Toro Rosso:

Vettel is moving on to Red Bull. Champ Car ace Sebatien Bourdais made a splashy debut with points in Melbourne and has been disappointing since, never coming to terms with the new car. He is yet to be confirmed and much depends on these final races. His one advantage, does STR want to replace both drivers two years in a row.

Karun Chandhok and Bruno Senna have both been rumored to move up to Toro Rosso in 2009. Honestly, how do you predict these guys?

???/???

Force India :

F1’s newest team has learned first hand it’s tough at this level, but Vijay Mallya is still enthusiastic, and predicts good things to come. It would seem obvious that Indian Karun Chandhok, performing well in GP2, would be on Mallya’s list for 2009, but Mallya has hinted the Giancarlo Fisichella/Adrian Sutil combination will be kept.

Fisichella/Sutil Don't miss the top stories of the day, subscribe to the SpeedRead Web newspaper now! -- Email SpeedRead -- Learn more about author C.D. Six

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