Nick Heidfeld Pastor Maldonado Esteban Gutierrez

Three drivers in contention to replace De la Rosa (L-R): Heidfeld, Maldonado & Gutierrez

With the occupant of the second seat at Sauber for 2011 still unconfirmed, several contenders have emerged as potential candidates in the latest chapter of the Formula 1 ‘silly season’.

With an extension of Pedro de la Rosa’s contract yet to be confirmed, the three other contenders rumoured for a role within the team are Pirelli tester Nick Heidfeld, newly-crowned GP2 champion Pastor Maldonado, and GP3 champion Esteban Gutierrez.

Pedro de la Rosa's return to F1 hasn't set the world alight With exclusive knowledge of Pirelli’s 2011 tyres, Heidfeld is a very attractive prospect up and down the grid for the inside knowledge he could provide a team in readiness for next season, and according to AUTOSPORT, he could be set to join the Sauber team as a replacement for Pedro de la Rosa before the season is even out.

De la Rosa has scored just six of the team’s 27 championship points this season, in what has been viewed as a disappointing comeback season for the Spaniard.

The former Mercedes GP test driver has spent the 2010 season on the sidelines, but has a lengthy history with the Sauber team, driving a total of seven seasons with the outfit between 2001-3 and 2006-9.

When asked about the latest speculation that de la Rosa could be ousted by as soon as the Singapore Grand Prix, team boss Peter Sauber refused to comment.

Maldonado is managed by Felipe Massa’s manager Nicolas Todt comes equipped with plenty of speed and a wad of sponsorship from PDVSA, which is hotly linked with a move to the Swiss F1 team next year.With strong support from the Venezuelan government, the South American press is tipping Maldonado to join the F1 grid.

“There is a boom of interest [in me] now",” Maldonado told the O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper. “The project of our government to support sport is a success. They have invested six years in me to get to formula one and I am ready for the challenge.”

His case has been strengthened on the back of rumours indicating that Todt – co-Gutierrez is congratuled by Sauber for winning the GP3 crownowner of the ART GP2 squad – might be looking to buy into the Sauber squad.

The third potential candidate stems from Mexico in the form of Esteban Gutierrez, who clinched the GP3 feeder series championship this weekend, and has a long-term development deal with the Swiss squad.

Rumours have also indicated that the Sauber squad could benefit from a hefty sponsorship investment from Mexico, headed by billionaire Carlos Slim’s TELMEX telco company.

[Original images via AUTOSPORT, LAT, Sutton Images and GP Update]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.