Who should replace Kimi Raikkonen at Lotus?

The unfortunate news that Kimi Raikkonen is to undergo back surgery has opened up an interesting source of debate in the F1 paddock.

With such few races left on the calendar, there are a raft of drivers who are desperate to get into a competitive race seat. Some of these are current F1 drivers, while some were out of luck for 2013. Let’s have a look at some of Lotus’ options for Austin and Interlagos…

Davide Valsecchi

Valsecchi is the go-to choice for Kimi’s replacement. As reserve driver of Lotus, he knows the team well, and would be more comfortable than anyone else in the garage.

As well as this, he has never actually been given the chance to properly race an F1 car, despite winning last year’s GP2 title. The fact that he was immediately signed to Lotus surely means they recognise his talents.

However, the aforementioned lack of F1 experience means that the chances of him doing well in Austin and Interlagos are pitiful. If he were to be recruited, it would be for the sake of testing him for a 2014 seat – and with Hulkenberg and Maldonado knocking at Lotus’ door, that looks unlikely.

Nico Hulkenberg

Desperate for a competitive drive for next year, Hulkenberg would surely be willing to drop Sauber’s uncompetitive C32 for an E21, even for just two weeks.

The fact that he currently drives for the Hinwil squad is not an issue, oddly enough. His contract with the team expired in the summer, and has been racing for them since without any legal agreements tying him to the team. This means that he has the option of jumping ship at any time.

The disadvantage to that is that if Nico is rejected for a 2014 seat by Lotus or Force India, then he may find himself out of luck trying to reapply to Sauber. Despite the obvious opportunity ahead of him, Hulkenberg would to well to play it safe.

Pastor Maldonado

Fans will cringe at this option, but if this is the situation for Hulkenberg, then it is the same for Pastor Maldonado.

The Venezuelan brings up to $30m in petrodollars, which is nothing to be sniffed at by a team with visible financial troubles. While this applies mostly to next season, PDVSA may be willing to pay Lotus forward (partially) if they trial him at Austin. While this is only speculation, you can’t deny that this isn’t an option for the firm.

On the other hand, Maldonado is known for his lack of technical expertise, which would hurt a team that is still developing its car to fight for 2nd in the constructor’s championship.

I doubt many want to see money take priority over driver talent, but with the dire financial situation Formula 1 finds itself in, it would be wrong of us to ignore the issue.

Heikki Kovalainen

A surprise nomination for some, but the Finn may bring benefits to Lotus that no other driver does.

Kovalainen obviously brings many years of F1 experience to the table, which puts him ahead of Davide Valsecchi in that depertment. In fact, he has raced for this very team before, back in 2007 when they were still known as Renault.

The issue with Hulkenberg and Maldonado is that both carry the “expectation” of a 2014 seat if they perform well in the next two races. Heikki carries no such burden – just 2 solid races, and he’s back off to harass Caterham for the second year running. He’s not exactly a slouch either, so he would be a solid bet if Lotus were to prioritise the constructor’s championship.

Who do you think should have the Lotus race seat? Over to you:

Surgery rules Raikkonen out of final two races of 2013 season

Kimi Raikkonen is to miss the final 2 races of the 2013 season due to a back injury, his management have confirmed today.

The Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat have reported the news today, and was soon confirmed by Sky Sports. Raikkonen previously complained of back pain during the Singapore Grand Prix, due to the bumpy nature of the track.

This means that his appearance for Lotus at last week’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was his last for the team. Unfortunately, it ended at the first corner, in a clash with Giedo van der Garde.

He will undergo an operation on his injury next week. Is is currently unknown who his replacement will be, although reserve driver and 2012 GP2 champion Davide Valsecchi is the current favourite.

Toro Rosso sign Daniil Kvyat for 2014 season

In a surprise move, it has been announced that GP3 racer Daniil Kvyat will join Jean-Eric Vergne at the Toro Rosso team next season.

Only 19 years old, Kvyat has impressed in his debut year in GP3, so much so that he is only 7 points off the lead with one race weekend to go. His move to Toro Rosso appears to be a snub towards Antonio da Felix Costa, who was widely tipped to take the seat.

Also in contention was Carlos Sainz Jr, whose agents were seen in negotiations with Red Bull’s squad in recent months. However, the decision has been made to sign what will be the youngest driver in F1 history, unless Sergey Sirotkin races with Sauber next season.

Kvyat has previously performed well in Formula Renault 2.0 championships and this year’s European F3 series, but many would feel that he needs another year in GP3 or Formula Renault 3.5 to get used to top-tier motorsport. Nevertheless, it will be hugely interesting to see how such a young driver fares in a Red Bull-sponsored car. The last driver to do this with this much controversy over his age was Kimi Raikkonen…

Jules Bianchi to stay at Marussia for 2014 season

Jules Bianchi will continue to drive for the Marussia team in the 2014 season, the team confirmed today.

The Frenchman was tipped to be in contention for a Force India or Sauber drive, but has instead opted to stay put. He is only the second Marussia/Virgin driver not to be dropped in their first year since the team was formed in 2010.

He remains part of the Ferrari development programme, and seeing as Marussia will switch to Ferrari engines next year, Bianchi staying on board seemed to be a done deal.

Jules today praised the team, and stated he was hopeful for improvements into 2014:

"I couldn’t have wished for a more supportive environment in which to make my F1 
debut and from the very beginning I have always felt completely at home with the team.

We started the season very well and while the challenge has increased as the season 
has developed, we have learned important lessons together that will place us in a 
much stronger position next year when there are a lot of changes for the sport and 
the team to get used to."

 

New Jersey, Mexico and Sochi all on 22-race 2014 provisional calendar

The latest version of the 2014 F1 calendar has been released by the FIA. Most notable is the inclusion of the New Jersey Grand Prix, which had previously been dropped due to financial issues.

A highly anticipated return to Mexico appears to still be on the cards, with the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez looking set to host a race from next year onwards. However, veteran fans will be disappointed to see that the legendary Curva Peraltada corner will not be run in its original glory, with a slower entry to the banked curve being planned. Regardless, the Mexcian race looks set to take place on the 14th-16th November, serving as the penultimate race to the 2014 season.

The more controversial Russian Grand Prix is also penned in, for the 3rd-5th of October. Costs have spiralled at the Sochi circuit, though, inflating from €140m to €260m.

Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz will be pleased to see the Red Bull Ring – formerly the A1 Ring, or Österreichring before that – serving as the starting point for the second half of the European season. The first half, featuring Catalunya and Monaco, are pushed back due to the inclusion of the North American section of the calendar, featuring New Jersey and Canada.

Despite huge concerns over the pit lane being too small, the New Jersey race is still on, according to the FIA and FOM at least, Finally, it should be noted that the Korean Grand Prix is listed as being “provisional”, seeing as it has failed to attract as much interest in the region as anticipated.

Provisional F1 calendar 2014:

16th March – Melbourne, Australia
30th March – Sepang, Malaysia
6th April – Sakhir, Bahrain
20th April – Shanghai, China
27th April – Yeongham, Korea (provisional)
11th May – Circuit de Catalunya, Spain
25th May – Monaco
1st June – New Jersey (provisional + *)
8th June – Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Canada
22nd June – Red Bull Ring, Austria
6th July – Silverstone, Britain
20th July – Hockenheimring, Germany
27th July – Hungaroring, Hungary
24th August – Spa, Belgium
7th September – Monza, Italy
21st September – Singapore
5th October – Sochi, Russia
12th October -Suzuka, Japan
26th October – Abu Dhabi
9th November – Circuit of the Americas, Austin
16th November – Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico (provisional + *)
30th November – Interlagos, Brazil

* = Subject to circuit approval by Charlie Whiting and FIA

Vettel eases to Singapore pole position

Sebastian Vettel will start from P1 on the Singapore Grand Prix grid for tomorrow’s race. The Red Bull driver was so fast today, he sat out the final few minutes of Q3, as his rivals attempted – and failed – to beat his time.

Nico Rosberg will join him on the front row, setting up an interesting duel for the Grand Prix.

Q1

The super-soft tyre was almost 2 seconds faster than the medium compound, so the challenge for the top teams in Q1 was to see which could make it through without using the softer tyre.

Eventually, only Vettel, Webber and Romain Grosjean managed to do this, although the Lotus driver only scraped through by 0.2 seconds. The Red Bulls, meanwhile, were 6th and 7th, indicating how fast they were this weekend.

Felipe Massa sat in 18th place for part of the session, before his final lap pushed Paul di Resta into the drop zone. The Scot has now been knocked out of Q1 5 times this year. He was joined by Pastor Maldonado, as well as the usual suspects.

Drivers knocked out of Q1:

17) Paul di Resta – 1:46.121

18) Pastor Maldonado – 1:46.619

19) Charles Pic – 1:48.111

20) Giedo van der Garde – 1:48.320

21) Jules Bianchi – 1:48.830

22) Max Chilton – 1:48.930

Q2

Kimi Raikkonen had been suffering from back pain on Saturday, presumably from the many bumps on the Singapore street circuit. This problem seemed to only get worse in qualifying, and Kimi was visibly uncomfortable in the car on his Q2 flying lap. While he did set a time, it was well off what was required to get into Q3, and he will line up 13th.

Nico Hulkenberg was disappointed to line up 11th, and must have been even more aggrieved to see Esteban Gutierrez break into Q3 for the first time this season.

An immensely quick lap time from Vettel – 0.8 seconds faster than anyone else – laid down an ominous gauntlet for his challengers in Q3.

Drivers knocked out of Q2:

11) Nico Hulkenberg – 1:44.555

12) Jean-Eric Vergne – 1:44.588

13) Kimi Raikkonen – 1:44.658

14) Sergio Perez – 1:44.752

15) Adrian Sutil – 1:45.185

16) Valtteri Bottas – 1:45.388

Q3

Vettel set his fast lap surprisingly early in Q3, and a 1:42.841 was definitely not unassailable. Nevertheless, he peeled off into the pits, and after a few minutes of deliberation, decided not to head out onto track again. This left 8 other drivers scrambling to beat his time, while Gutierrez sat out the session.

However, Nico Rosberg threatened to snatch an unlikely pole, going only 0.091 seconds slower than Sebastian. While Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean had impressed in previous sessions, neither of them could pull it off either. Grosjean will line up 3rd, with Hamilton 5th, and Mark Webber sandwiched in between them.

Ferrari’s woes continued, with Massa and Alonso never even remotely close to the frontrunners in 6th and 7th places. Jenson Button called off a strategy to run on the prime tyres only, and he took a decent 8th place ahead of Daniel Ricciardo.

While Red Bull must have been worried in the final few minutes, Vettel seemingly had another tenth or two in the bag in Q3. Whether he can hold off the fast-starting Rosberg and Grosjean in the race is another matter altogether.

Kimi Raikkonen to rejoin Ferrari in 2014

After months of speculation, it has finally been announced that Kimi Raikkonen is to rejoin the Ferrari team for the 2014 season.

The Finn has reportedly signed a 2-year contract, and will partner Fernando Alonso in the 2014 and 2015 campaigns. He replaces Felipe Massa, who served an 8-year stint with the team.

Despite being uncerimoniously booted out of the Scuderia 4 years ago, this move appeared to be inevitable over the last few days. With Massa’s departure yesterday, the stage was set for two world champions to be driving for Ferrari at the same time since Alberto Ascari and Nino Farina in 1953.

It is also understood that the Finn holds a 12-month “break” option in his contract, which may be used if his return to Ferrari doesn’t go as well as expected…

Felipe Massa confirms his departure from Ferrari

Felipe Massa has announced that he will not be driving for Ferrari after this season.

The Brazilian made his statement on his Twitter page this evening, all but confirming that Kimi Raikkonen is set to join the Scuderia, after departing in awkward circumstances back in 2009.

Massa has spent 8 years with the squad, serving as a supporting driver to Michael Schumacher in 2006, before partnering Raikkonen from 2007 onwards. In 2008 he mounted an impressive title challenge, but several unforced errors throughout the year saw him  pipped to the post at the very last race by Lewis Hamilton.

2009 saw his infamous accident at the Hungaroring, and he has never been the same since. A harsh team order at the Hockenheimring a year later crushed his morale further.

It is unknown what Massa will do now that he has left a top team. If he wishes to stay in F1, he may make a drop to a midfield team, like Sauber, who he made his debut with back in 2002.

Vettel takes unchallenged Monza pole position as Hamilton stumbles

For the first time in 3 months, a driver other than Lewis Hamilton has taken pole position in the 2013 season. Unsurprisingly, it was Sebastian Vettel who took this achivement, while Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen suffered shocking performances in qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix.

Q1

Toro Rosso showed impressive pace in the first session, with Jean-Eric Vergne leading the timesheets for the majority of Q1. Quick times from Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel unseated the Frenchman, but he was still a force to be reckoned with.

After a heavy crash in morning practice, Paul di Resta’s car was repaired in time for qualifying, but it was apparent that his car was bouncing off the rev limiter on the straights. Even with reduced straight-line speed, he managed to scrape through to the next session.

Valtteri Bottas disappointed, as he and Esteban Gutierrez were left with the Caterhams and Marussias in the drop zone.

Drivers knocked out of Q1:

17) Esteban Gutierrez – 1:25.226

18) Valtteri Bottas – 1:25.291

19) Giedo van der Garde- 1:26.406

20) Charles Pic – 1:26.563

21) Jules Bianchi – 1:27.085

22) Max Chilton – 1:27.480

Q2

Another impressive Toro Rosso lap, this time from Daniel Ricciardo, put him in 4th place for the majority of Q2. The Ferraris experimented with slipstreaming each other, although it was not necessary, as Alonso’s time of 1:24.227 put him on top.

Vettel soon retook the top spot, while Mercedes and Lotus soon realised they were lacking in pace compared to Red Bull and Ferrari. Nico Rosberg struggled to 6th place, while Lewis Hamilton didn’t even make it out of Q2. Even more surprisingly, Kimi Raikkonen joined him, and they will line up 11th and 12th on the grid.

Drivers knocked out of Q2:

11) Kimi Raikkonen – 1:24.610

12) Lewis Hamilton – 1:24.803

13) Romain Grosjean – 1:24.848

14) Adrian Sutil – 1:24.932

15) Pastor Maldonado – 1:25.011

16) Paul di Resta – 1:25.077

Q3

While Mark Webber initially led proceedings, he was quickly overtaken by Vettel once again. Fernando Alonso tried to get a tow on Felipe Massa for his first run, but couldn’t make it work efficiently.

They tried again on their final attempt, but amusingly Massa was too far up the road for Alonso to benefit. Furious, Fernando ruined his own lap, and could only manage 4th, behind his teammate.

Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo put in fantastic lap times, taking 3rd and 7th places. A mistake for Jean-Eric Vergne at Parabolica threw up a huge amount of gravel, almost throwing a spanner in the works of several drivers’ lap times.

With Ferrari’s tactics falling embarassingly short for a second year in a row, Vettel was unchallenged to pole position, while Mark Webber slotted into second place.

2014 driver market: A look at the remaining places

Even with Daniel Ricciardo’s signing to Red Bull, the F1 2014 silly season hasn’t gotten any less silly. With the most unpredictable driver movements in years, I’m fully expecting more surprises to come before the end of this year.

It’s astoundingly early for me to be writing something like this, but with so many changes around the corner, it seems that the teams want everything to be sorted prior to the chaotic 2014 season. Let’s have a look at the teams and their driver choices (or options) for next year:

Red Bull

Certain: Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo

Is Red Bull’s new driver a breath of fresh air, or another failed attempt to rival Sebastian Vettel? The on-track and politics play will be fascinating to watch, as both drivers will be pushed to prove themselves.

Ricciardo expects to be performing close to Vettel by “mid-season” next year. It’s a brave statement, but with the pace we’ve seen in the last 3 years, it’s not out of the question.

Sebastian, meanwhile, will be doing his best to rally the team around him, to ensure his status as 3 (or 4)-time champion will be respected. I can’t see anyone other than Vettel doing better next year, so it’s just a matter of what margin is between them.

Ferrari

(Almost) certain: Fernando Alonso

Possible: Nico Hulkenberg, Kamui Kobayashi, Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa

Outside chance: Jules Bianchi

It would be a huge shock if Fernando Alonso were to move teams, but rumours of a switch with Kimi Raikkonen are still doing the rounds. But this is extremely unlikely – he has all the support he needs at the Scuderia, the only variable is their technical proficiency for their 2014 car.

His future teammate provokes a much more interesting debate though. Hulkenberg and Kobayashi both possess capable speed, and also would not be able to threaten Alonso’s #1 status, to his relief. Felipe Massa is the safer option, but if Ferrari ever want to even challenge for the constructor’s championship, they’ll have to do better than a has-been.

Running Kimi Raikkonen has been predicted by many, but this would go against Ferrari’s long-standing tradition of having one top driver, and one supporting driver. Having Kimi and Fernando on the same team risks destabilising the team, and I don’t think it’s worth the (potential) rewards.

Jules Bianchi is undoubtedly making noises at their upper management, but it doesn’t make sense for him to be racing at a top team just yet. One year in a team like Sauber or Force India would be better for his development.

Mercedes

Certain: Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg

Is Mercedes’ line-up the strongest on the grid? It seems to be the case this year, but depending on Ferrari’s or Lotus’ movements, it may not be the case in 2014.

There’s not too much else to say – Hamilton seems to have the edge on Rosberg, but both seem to be keeping good relations with each other, which is excellent for team stability. I doubt we’ll see any driver changes here for a few years.

Lotus

Possible: Kimi Raikkonen, Romain Grosjean, Nico Hulkenberg, Paul di Resta, Adrian Sutil, Valtteri Bottas,

Outside chance: Pastor Maldonado, Sergio Perez, Jules Bianchi

Many of you will be surprised I named so many drivers, but there’s a reason for each of them being there. Much of it depends on the decision of Kimi Raikkonen.

If he stays, Lotus are free to choose whatever up-and-coming driver they like, with few issues. There’s plenty to be nominated here – Hulkenberg, the Force India drivers, Bottas, or maybe even Jules Bianchi. Take your pick.

If he leaves, the team will require someone new with technical knowledge and experience. Hulkenberg, Di Resta and Sutil are again nominations here, but there’s a vast range of older drivers that can be chosen, and way too many to be listed here.

However, it must also be noted that Lotus have overspent in recent years, with not enough FIA prize money to make up the difference. If this proves to be a problem, Pastor Maldonado’s massive paycheck may turn out to be the deciding factor. It must be said though, lining him up with Romain Grosjean would be a disaster for Turn 1 marshals everywhere.

McLaren

Probable: Jenson Button, Sergio Perez

Outside chance: Nico Hulkenberg, Paul di Resta

While both Jenson Button and Sergio Perez are contracted through to 2014, both they and the team hold options to cancel the contract. It is unlikely either driver will execute this – Button has little to no chance of moving to a faster team, while Perez surely wishes to develop more at the team.

In the strange scenario where either driver left, a promising midfield driver would be waiting to take their place. Hulkenberg and Di Resta are the standard choices here.

Sauber

Probable: Sergey Sirtokin

Possible: Jules Bianchi, Robin Frijns, Stoffel Vandoorne, Kevin Magnussen

I don’t approve of Sirtokin being promoted to F1 this early, but it’s not my call to make. Sauber have gained financial stability with this deal, and if it keeps them afloat, then in the long run it’s the correct call for the team. Sergey’s drive still depends on an FIA superlicense, but this shouldn’t prove to be an issue.

Their choice of second driver gives them plenty of options. McLaren may push their two young drivers – Magnussen and Vandoorne – through the ranks of F1, and it wouldn’t harm the Hinwil-based squad, seeing as they are so highly rated.

Otherwise, Robin Frijns is still hounding teams for an F1 seat, but his sponsor issues will cause massive issues with a team like Sauber. Other GP2 drivers like Marcus Ericsson are an option, but we haven’t heard any rumours yet. Again, Jules Bianchi may make a step up the ladder, more than likely tied into a Ferrari engine deal as part of a package deal.

Force India

Probable: James Calado, Paul di Resta, Adrian Sutil

Possible: Robin Frijns, Sam Bird

While Di Resta and Sutil are reliable options, the hiring of James Calado for FP1 sessions this year is surely a statement of intent from Force India. Which of these three gets the two race seats is subject to much speculation.

It must also be noted that Force India and Mercedes are continuing their technical partnership, and this may possibly involve drivers as well. Sam Bird tested for Mercedes previously, and he may make the step up to F1 through FI.

Toro Rosso

Possible: Antonio Felix da Costa, Carlos Sainz Jr, Jean-Eric Vergne

Outside chance: Stefano Coletti

While Vergne has been promised a drive by Toro Rosso for next year, he would do well to not trust this – see Jaime Alguersuari for more information.

Antonio Felix da Costa and Carlos Sainz Jr. are both highly rated youngsters, either of which would make a fine addition to the squad. Both drivers have been seen in negotiations with the team, and I expect to see at least one of them in F1 in 2014.

Stefano Coletti is a former member of the Red Bull young driver programme, and his current GP2 performances might convince Toro Rosso to hire him, but it’s a long shot.

Williams

Probable: Valtteri Bottas

Possible: Pastor Maldonado,  Daniel Juncadella

Outside chance: Robin Frijns

While Bottas has impressed me massively in his debut year so far, it makes no sense for him to move up the ladder this early. Another year of development with Williams is the most sensible option for the Finn.

Pastor Maldonado’s future depends on an ivory checkbook as usual, and whether PDVSA will continue to fund his racing is still unclear at this point. His main rival for the seat would be Daniel Juncadella, who tested for the team last year. What sponsorship he brings to the table is unknown.

Caterham

Probable: Charles Pic, Alexander Rossi, Heikki Kovalainen

Possible: Giedo van der Garde, Will Stevens

Despite being a backmarker team, Caterham are spending an unusually large of money to move up the field, so drivers bringing sponsorship are to be expected at this point.

Heikki Kovalainen’s refusal to become a pay driver may hurt his chances, but he’s still a solid driving talent. Otherwise, Alexander Rossi might move up from the Caterham GP2 team, or Will Stevens might impress the team enough from his performances in FR3.5.

Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde may be kept on, but all cards are still on the table at this point.

Marussia

Possible: Jules Bianchi, Robert Wickens, Tio Ellinas, many GP2 drivers

Outside chance: Max Chilton, Rodolfo Gonzalez, Raffaele Marciello, Daniel Zampieri, Mirko Bortolotti

For Jules Bianchi to stay at Marussia for another year would be a disappointment, but if he can’t find another drive, it’ll have to do. Test drivers Robert Wickens and Tio Ellinas may also be considered for a drive, and these rumours have been further encouraged by their participation at the Young Drivers Test for Marussia.

Of course, slower pay drivers may be required to keep the team afloat. If this is the case, Max Chilton may be called upon again for a second year, or he may be switched out for Rodolfo Gonzalez, although his performances in GP2 last year don’t inspire much confidence. Many of the drivers in GP2 this year may be able to muster up some sponsorship, depending on how well they perform in the last 3 races of their season.

With an engine deal with Ferrari in place, they may opt to tie in a driver as part of their deal. Raffaele Marciello, Daniel Zampieri and Mirko Bortolotti are all nominations here, seeing as they are all part of Ferrari’s promising young driver academy, although Marcielli is probably too young for a seat at this stage.

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