Formula 1 teams are busy trying to figure out who will be driving what next season. The key driver of the driver market now that most of the top teams are settled is money, and so it is a question of which driver can bring the most sponsorship or who is the most likely to attract money.
In the F1 midfield these days it is a luxury for a team to be able to choose its drivers based on talent alone, but this must be balanced with the need for the teams to be motivated by their drivers.
The only top drive now left is the second Lotus and this would go to Sauber’s Nico Hülkenberg if Lotus was able to close a deal it has going with an investor, who has promised to bring the team a vast budget. Sadly this money has not shown up, and the team is losing confidence in the deal because it has been told that the money is arriving tomorrow too many times…
There comes a point at which teams must deal with realities rather than dreams, and that is fast-approaching for Lotus. If the money does not arrive the team needs to find cash and the best place to find it is in Venezuela, where the government-owned PDVSA has plenty of cash to support the adventures of national hero Pastor Maldonado.
He wanted a better drive than Williams (and Williams wanted a better driver than Pastor) and so the relationship has ground to a standstill and Williams have grabbed perky Brazilian Felipe Massa, who is on the rebound from Ferrari and looking for a team to show what he can do without Fernando Alonso as his team-mate.
It looks highly likely that Lotus and Maldonado will come together, but this will probably lead to an exodus of engineers from the team because they do not think Pastor is the right man for the job. There is possibly an option with Mexico’s McLaren reject Sergio Perez, who has long been supported by Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man.
Perez did not do enough to impress McLaren to keep him and now he finds his F1 career on a downward path, unless he can rescue the situation by getting into a good car and reversing the trend.
His best hope is Lotus, but unless the Slims dig deep into their cavernous pockets he is in trouble. If he cannot outbid Maldonado his future is with either Sauber or Force India.
The Swiss Sauber team is still working with new Russian sponsors and is trying to figure out whether or not it is best to run Russian teenager Sergey Sirotkin, or to take someone with more proven experience. The word is that the Russian sponsors want to be successful and would prefer to see a Russian driver involved, but that this is not essential.
That being the case we could see Hülkenberg staying where he is, or we might see him being joined by Perez. It is also possible that there might be two Mexicans in the same team with Perez joining his junior compatriot Esteban Gutiérrez.
Force India will probably keep Adrian Sutil (unless Sauber wants him) but the second seat will probably go to the driver with the most money, depending on how the two Indian owners of the team feel about paying (or borrowing) even more money.
Further back, the other available seats are largely going to depend on what happens in the Lotus-Sauber-Force India conundrum.