The paddock in India is abuzz with rumours about who will be driving where in 2014. As usual, everyone is waiting to see who blinks first, and who will be bringing the biggest wads of cash in their attempts to bid for viable midfield race seats.
It looks like the next domino pairing to fall will be at McLaren and Lotus. Jenson Button is understood to have signed a contract extension to remain with McLaren, which neither party will officially confirm as yet.
Sergio Pérez’s future with McLaren is slightly more uncertain. While the McLaren MP4-28 is certainly not one of the team’s finer efforts, the Mexican hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory and he’s under serious pressure to deliver results over the remaining four races.
Certainly, Pérez’s Mexican sponsorship connections are an attractive aspect to his services, but one can’t imagine McLaren will be happy accepting millions in pesos from his backers if he’s not delivering the goods come qualifying and the race.
A question McLaren will have to ask itself is whether it’s worth changing drivers in 2014, which would lost it vital continuity as the sport heads into the new turbocharged regulations. Most teams are reluctant to introduce new drivers at the same time as new regulation changes.
McLaren is still trying to court Fernando Alonso, while it also weighs up what to do with its new protégé, Kevin Magnussen. Several sources are suggesting that the team will try and blood him at Marussia, with whom the team has a technical partnership. The option is a smart one: it allows Magnussen some valuable F1 experience under the new regulations, ahead of a mooted switch to the Woking team when it runs Honda engines in 2015.
Nico Hülkenberg is another big player in the latest ‘silly season’ rumours. While all suggestions are that he will sign with Lotus, that seems contingent on whether the team can sort its sponsorship income out. The team had sold a 35% stake to an American venture capital group, but that money has proven to be slow in arriving, and it could scupper the deal to land the impressive German.
Hülkenberg’s departure from Sauber is likely to trigger a promotion for Russian teenage racer, Sergey Sirotkin, whom the team signed as a development driver after his father headed a consortium of investors who bought into the Swiss team.
The team looks set to keep Esteban Gutiérrez for another season, with the Mexican youngster picking up his first points finish with an impressive display last time out at Suzuka. But given he’s looked particularly ragged (so far) in India, it’s hardly a strong driver pairing.
A good back-up plan for Lotus is Pastor Maldonado, who brings sackfuls of cash from Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA, and who is known to be very unhappy with the state of play at Williams, which has had an appalling season by its standards.
Recent stories are suggesting that PDVSA wants to take its sponsorship dollars and star driver somewhere else, and provided it can wriggle its way out of its multi-year contract with Williams – with the suitable financial settlement, of course – then it seems quite likely we’ll see Maldonado driving for another team in 2014. Force India is rumoured to be another possible employer.
Should Maldonado up sticks and move out of Williams, then in could come Felipe Massa, who this weekend admitted to discussions with the Grove-based squad. It’s believed that the Brazilian has secured several million dollars in backing – most notably from Santander and Petrobras (which was a former Williams sponsor) – but that would be a massive fall from grace if he has to buy himself a seat to remain on the grid…
While he sits further behind teammate Paul di Resta in the Drivers’ Championship standings, Adrian Sutil looks better placed to remain with the team in 2014. Di Resta has been rather out of sorts of late, and he certainly seems to be rather out of favour in the team at the moment.
Scuderia Toro Rosso recently finalised its driver line-up with confirmation that Daniil Kvyat will make his Grand Prix debut alongside Jean-Éric Vergne next year, so that just leaves cellar dwellers Caterham and Marussia to finalise their line-ups.
Caterham is rumoured to be considering re-signing Heikki Kovalainen next year, which will leave Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic squabbling for the final seat at the team if the deal is signed.