Photo: Williams/LAT Photographic
F1’s summer break provides the opportunity to look at the driver market for next season, and from PaddockScout’s point of view it’s all about the young drivers looking to make that breakthrough…
The quality of the drivers on the Formula 1 grid in 2012 makes getting your seat at racing’s top table for the first time harder than ever. That, combined with the current financial situation that forces teams to go to the drivers to find sponsorship.
Nonetheless there are a number of talented drivers knocking on that door ready for 2013. PaddockScout takes a look at the leading contenders, starting with some drivers already with their foot actually in the door at an F1 team.
The Finn, who turns 23 this month, won last year’s GP3 Series title but has forgone doing any racing in 2012 to get Friday practice outings at most Grands Prix for Williams. That leaves him without any experience of racing high-powered single-seaters, but he has impressed in his Williams runs so far. He was previously a frontrunner in the F3 Euro Series, a twice winner of the Masters of Zandvoort F3 race and a double champion in the Formula Renault Eurocup and NEC in 2008.
Williams shareholder Toto Wolff is part of Bottas’ management team, together with Mika Hakkinen and his own former manager Didier Coton. Bottas has also already brought his long-term sponsors – welding company Kemppi and business conglomerate Wihuri – to Williams, and their support will be crucial in landing a race seat in the team given that current drivers Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna supply the majority of their current sponsors. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 80%
The Frenchman, also 23, has been one to watch for some time after winning the French Formula Renault title in 2007 and dominating the Formula 3 Euro Series in 2009. He stepped up to GP2 with high expectations, and although he fell short of those he did finish third in the points in 2010 and 2011, which is still some achievement. A member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, he was this year placed at Force India as reserve driver, where he has taken part in a number of Friday sessions. He’s been staying race-fit in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, where he lies third in the points.
Bianchi will hope to follow in the footsteps of Paul Di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg and be promoted from reserve to race seat at the Silverstone-based squad. To do that a space will need to come up, which is only likely to happen if one of those two current race drivers gets an opportunity at a bigger team. But if the seat does become available, Bianchi will be amongst the favourites. Ferrari, along with Nicolas Todt’s All Road Management firm have been pushing to get him an F1 seat, but could still choose Sauber or another team over Force India if they would prefer. He carries sponsorship from Aethra, Brazilian auto part company and Todt Jr’s investment partner. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 50%
Previously a solid performer in F3, Bird came to prominence with a good rookie season in GP2 in 2010 where he ended up fifth overall. 2011 started with him as a title challenger, but he faded to sixth. Now aged 25, this year he switched to FR3.5 and was an early championship leader, beating Bianchi to win at Monaco. He’s still right in contention in second place, just ten points off the lead. Since the end of 2010 Bird has been working with the Mercedes F1 team, effectively as their reserve driver and leading car development on the simulator.
If a race seat vacancy was to appear at Mercedes, the German bosses would likely go after Di Resta or Hulkenberg, so Bird’s chance won’t come there for 2013. It could come replacing one of those two at Force India if Bianchi were to go elsewhere. He’s managed by film director Serge Ioan Celebidachi, and amongst his backers is Hong Kong-based shipping magnate Tim Huxley. His chances would be boosted greatly by winning the FR3.5 title. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 25%
Formula BMW Europe champion in 2008 and GP3 champion in 2010, Gutierrez was another who entered GP2 with high expectations. 13th last year then was a disappointment, even if he was the top rookie. Expectations were higher still in 2012 – back in January I rated him as my number 1 driver to watch this year. Largely he has failed to deliver on that, but lucking into feature race wins in Valencia and Silverstone plus a sprint race win from pole in Hungary mean the 21-year-old Mexican looks set to finish third in the standings.
Gutierrez tested for Sauber in 2009 as his prize for winning the Formula BMW title and has been with the Swiss squad ever since. He’s got backing from Telmex and a number of other Mexican companies. Therefore if Sergio Perez were to move to Ferrari for 2013, expect Peter Sauber to bring on Gutierrez to ensure the Slim money keeps flowing. If not, he could certainly benefit from another year of GP2 to prove that he can perform consistently. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 40%
Giedo van der Garde
A man who raced against Hamilton and Vettel in F3, van der Garde is still plugging away at the age of 27. The Dutchman was FR3.5 champion in 2008, but then never quite got to grips with GP2, finishing seventh, seventh and fifth in his first three seasons. He said he would never race in GP2 again, but after missing out on an F1 seat for 2012 and signing with Caterham as reserve driver and returned to the feeder series with the F1 team’s sister squad. The team’s inexperience and struggles with tyres leaves him fifth behind drivers with far less experience.
Racing in GP2 has seemingly prevented Giedo from doing much Friday running for Caterham – there might be the chance for more post-Singapore – but at the same time hasn’t been raising any eyebrows with his results. His plentiful sponsorship from Dutch companies including McGregor is well known, but it wasn’t enough for 2011 or 2012 and it’s hard to see that changing for 2013. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 20%
23-year-old Clos joined HRT at the end of last year as the backmarker team looks to bring on a young Spanish driver. Clos was Italian Formula Renault champion in 2006 before two quiet years in the F3 Euro Series, and his rookie GP2 campaign. He then enjoyed a good 2010 season that saw him finish fourth overall, before a slightly less fruitful 2011 season where he was ninth overall. His HRT commitments, which have seen him contesting an increasing number of Friday practice sessions, have prevented him from racing anywhere this year – bar a couple of nondescript GP2 appearances with Addax in Bahrain.
Clos will be at the top of HRT’s list of drivers to join Pedro de la Rosa next season, but his chances of getting that seat will almost depend entirely on how much money HRT need for it. Too much, and they’ll be looking elsewhere. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 50%
21-year-old Briton Chilton had a difficult first two seasons in GP2, but this year he has got some far better results. He’s been consistently amongst the top qualifiers and a consistent points scorer. He eventually converted that promise into pole and victory last time out in Hungary and lies sixth in the points.
Chilton’s long been seen as a potential F1 driver of the future thanks to his wealthy father of insurance giant Aon, who owns the Carlin setup, pays for a World Touring Car outfit and could easily become an investor in an F1 team. Carlin joined forces with Marussia this year, and Chilton was able to test for them at Silverstone last month having driven for Force India last year. He’s proven this year that he’s got some ability to add to his wallet, but it remains to be seen whether Marussia are prepared to make a space for him. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 60%
Rossi, 21 next month, finished third in Formula Renault 3.5 last year after coming fourth in both GP3 in 2010 and Formula Master in 2009. Prior to that the Californian was Formula BMW Americas champion in 2008. This year he has remained in FR3.5, but has been unable to launch a title challenge with the new Arden Caterham setup. He instead lies 11th in the points, but did get a podium in the Monaco race. He was signed by Caterham boss Tony Fernandes in early 2011, and this year has become a test driver for the team. That saw him get a Friday run in Spain, with the promise of more chances later in the year.
With a lack of major sponsorship of his own, Rossi’s chances of a race seat at the team next year are slim. For example, he would not be able to replace Vitaly Petrov. If Heikki Kovalainen were to move to a bigger team, Rossi may be able to get the Finn’s seat but may also miss out to a more experienced alternative. Saying that, Rossi’s nationality brings big benefits to Caterham as a brand as the sport tries to break America. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 10%
Brazilian Razia nearly threw in the towel over the winter following three uninspiring seasons in GP2. He stuck at it and ended up with Arden and now leads the battle for the championship with fellow veteran Davide Valsecchi. Razia was a tester at the teams now known as Marussia and Caterham in 2010 and 2011 respectively but the 23-year-old is now without a formal role at an F1 team – though he is doing simulator work at Red Bull while driving for Christian Horner’s Arden squad.
That means he doesn’t have an obvious team to get into F1 with, and although he leads in GP2 he hasn’t done it in a particularly impressive fashion – with only one of his four wins having come in a feature race and no pole positions to his name. With the door seemingly closed at Marussia and Caterham, his only option will be HRT unless he secures a large enough budget to impress a larger team. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 25%
Valsecchi’s story is similar to Razia’s. The Italian won the 2009-10 GP2 Asia Series, but then only mustered eighth in the following main campaign for iSport. He was a title challenger for the first half of 2011 with the new AirAsia team but then failed to get any points at all in the second half and slumped to another eighth place finish. He switched to DAMS for this year – his fifth in GP2 – and took an early lead when he won three straight races in Bahrain. He’s failed to win anywhere else since, but is still close behind Razia.
Valsecchi impressed with HRT at the Young Driver Test in 2010, and got to drive one Friday practice with Caterham (then Lotus) as one of their testers, with Razia, last year. His father, who runs construction firm Ediltecnica, has managed to fund his career to date and could yet provide a budget for him to get a seat. But like Razia, HRT is probably the 25-year-old’s only likely option. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 25%
Frijns has stunned in Formula Renault 3.5 this year, leading the championship in a highly competitive season in his rookie year out of Formula Renault 2.0. He won the Formula Renault Eurocup last year, and was Formula BMW Europe champion the year before. This year, the 21-year-old Dutchman won on his debut weekend at Aragon and again last time out at Moscow. He’s never had links to an F1 team before, but did get his first taste during that Moscow weekend when he drove a Red Bull as a reward for his performances.
Frijns does not have significant financial backing, and most teams with potential vacancies for 2013 are those who would like sponsorship. He has however been rumoured with Sauber – and though Peter Sauber could do with some financial assistance he has also proven in the past he’s happy to take on inexperienced drivers if they’re fast. Ultimately, I would expect him to be tied to a team in a reserve role next year. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 15%
British ace Calado has shone above almost all expectations in his rookie year in GP2 in 2012. A runner-up to Jean-Eric Vergne in British F3 and to Bottas in GP3 in the previous two seasons, the 23-year-old won on the opening weekend in Malaysia, went on to take pole positions in Barcelona and Valencia and won again in Hockenheim. He lies fourth in the standings. Although he races a car called a Lotus, he doesn’t yet have any ties to F1 teams, and is yet to even drive an F1 car.
With his recent performances that cannot continue to go on, but securing an F1 race drive may be more of a challenge. He doesn’t have the resources to secure a seat at a lesser team and the bigger teams don’t have a vacancy for him. Like Frijns, he would need somebody to take a particular liking to his talent. Hopefully, the Racing Steps Foundation may help him to secure a reserve drive for next year. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 5%
Leimer got his first taste of F1 at last year’s Young Driver Test with fellow Swiss Peter Sauber. That came just a few days after he won the non-championship GP2 race at the same Abu Dhabi circuit. He was predicted to be a title contender in his third season, and he has managed to be about the best qualifier over the season so far. Unfortunately a series of misfortune from being penalised for ignoring yellow flags to unsafe pit releases to bad timing of safety car interventions to the wrong tyre strategy have prevented the 23-year-old from winning a race and he is only seventh in the points.
The Formula Master champion of 2009 is therefore an outsider for a 2013 seat, though his sponsorship from Bautro could see him land a place at Sauber or HRT if he could impress them enough with his pace. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 10%
Another man who got his F1 bow at last year’s Young Driver Test, this time with Force India, is Venezuelan Cecotto. At that stage he had a horrific GP2 track record of one points finish in 37 starts, but he still managed to use his backing to land a seat at teams’ champions Addax. After a slow start he shone at Monaco, winning from pole position. He showed further pace two rounds later at Silverstone where he finished second, before taking another win at Hockenheim thanks to the correct strategy of starting on slicks on a drying track. The 22-year-old is currently eighth in the points.
He says he has offers from five F1 teams for next year – but it’s not clear what those amount to exactly. Pastor Maldonado’s Barcelona success has raised the profile of the sport back home and should help him to add to his already-significant budget. That could make him a very tempting proposition for HRT. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 20%
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