As a few pieces of the driver market start to fall into place, and Renault looks set to source a new team-mate for Robert Kubica for the 2011 season, theoretically leaving Vitaly Petrov – who has performed admirably to-date in his rookie season – out in the cold.
A couple of names have cropped up on the list of potential candidates, according to Italy’s Autosprint, who named 2007 World Champion and current rally protégé Kimi Räikkönen and Force India’s Adrian Sutil as possible prospects for the second race seat next season.
The Finn was the subject of much speculation over the off-season and into this season, having moved to the World Rally Championship after his Ferrari contract was ended a season earlier and he couldn’t
get enough money out of come to terms with McLaren for a race seat this year.
Later on, he was suggested as a possible candidate to replace Mark Webber at Red Bull Racing next year, but the Milton Keynes squad has recently re-signed the Australian for another year.
Autosprint claims that Renault F1’s majority owner Gerard Lopez wants to replace Petrov with Räikkönen for 2011 and place himself alongside the extremely impressive Kubica.
Perhaps having a bet each way, the publication also suggests that Adrian Sutil could be another candidate, with the German making it clear that he would like to step into a front-line tem in the future.
While former World Champion Jacques Villeneuve was spotted milling about the Montreal paddock and touting his prospects for another comeback in F1, the French squad made it fairly clear it would not consider taking on the French-Canadian, who won the 1997 title in a Renault-powered Williams.
Villeneuve – who briefly deputised at Renault in the last three races of the 2004 season – came close to a return to F1 this year with the Stefan GP concern, and announced over the weekend that he will give one last crack to making a return to F1, having last competed in 2006 with BMW Sauber.
Villeneuve reportedly has connections with Lopez and one of the team’s shareholders, Eric Lux, but this might not be enough to see him wrangle his way into a race seat for next year, according to Team Principal Eric Boullier.
Speaking with Canada’s Rue Frontenac, Boullier said: “Jacques is a world champion and a driver of exceptional talent for whom I have great respect.
“There is no doubt he could help a team looking for a driver with his profile. This was not the case for us,” he added.
Boullier went on to state his belief that the 39-year-old could struggle to adapt to F1 if he made a return to the series.
“The current regulations that limit private testing greatly affect the potential return of a non-active driver,” he said, perhaps referring to the struggles that Michael Schumacher has experienced in his comeback season after three years out of the sport.
“A driver who leaves competition loses his normal speed, his reflexes are a bit dulled as are his physical abilities to take the car to its maximum potential. That’s just natural. Whatever you do in sports, the specific skills needed to race in F1 must be constantly maintained,” he concluded.