With around a month to the first test of 2012 and only 73 days until the lights go out in Melbourne the 2012 season is fast approaching however there are still drivers trying to work out where they will spend their 2012 season. With the return of Kimi Raikkonen, Pedro De La Rosa, Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg it has been increasingly hard year for rookies to bag a place in the top flight. Charles Pic managed to get the rookie deal at Marussia (Virgin) for a year and it will be interesting to see if he lasts any longer than that. Jean Eric Vergne bagged a place at STR, the Red Bull junior team as they axed both their current drivers. There’s offically only a spot left at Willams and HRT, but rumours continue to circle around Jarno Trulli at Caterham. Here’s a run down of whos out of a seat and what may happen to them in the year ahead:
Rubens Barichello – 39
2011 Season – Williams
The most experienced F1 driver ever is still in with a shout at Williams and is a credible candidate to drive the team forward, the retirement of Patrick Head could also play in his favour as it is rumoured the two didn’t see eye to eye. A proven race winner Rubinho could be stability Williams need in their line up as they have changed a massive amount of back room staff.
My Guess: Retirement 😦 / Touring Cars
Adrian Sutil – 28
2011 Season – Force India
Adrian had a tough start to 2011 and was out paced by his rookie team mate Paul Di Resta, however in the second half of the season he came alive and has really shown some speed and delievered his best drives to date. Hes been with Force India since they bought out Spyker and surely was one of the most settled drivers on the grid. Hes really shown good speed this year but isnt rated for his engineering ability, however those Ferrari rumours are interesting.
My Guess: Williams / 3rd driver spot lower down the field
Sebastien Buemi – 23
2011 Season – Scuderia Toro Rosso
After 3 full seasons with Toro Rosso, Sebastien has failed to make the grade and move on up to the main team. At only 23 however he remains very young and could prove an attractive option to someone who wants a long term drive investment. However he has been matched by Alguersuari recently and is rated as a solid if not ultimately fast driver.
My Guess: 3rd Driver spot at Red Bull followed by Indy Car
Jaime Alguersuari – 21
2011 Season – Scuderia Toro Rosso
The youngest ever driver in F1 may of had a case of too much too soon as he finds himself without a drive for 2012. The spaniard has shown glimpses of greatness with some great drives but is as likely to perform averagely as he is amazingly. The same goes however that at 21 with 46 starts he does have some credentials that could interest teams up and down the grid. It is interesting that Red Bull have thrown out both their development drivers and not kept Alguersuari on as a yard stick for Ricciardo or Vergne next year.
My Guess: 3rd Driver at HRT followed by replacing Pedro De La Rosa mid season
Bruno Senna – 28
2011 Season – Renault (Half a Season)
An interesting season from Bruno in which he demonstrated raw pace in qualifying but failed to deliever in races as the Renault tailed off dramatically in the second half of the season. Its a shame he didnt get the nod in place of Kubica as I think we would of seen Bruno stay on if given a full season. He does now have budget for racing thanks to Brazilian support and THAT surname to go with the promise of great speed.
My Guess: 3rd Driver Role Somewhere
Vitaly Petrov – 27
2011 Season – Renault
Possibly damaged by his outburst or being beaten by Senna in qualifying the rocket from russia finds himself without a seat for next year despite his deep deep pockets. He does have a podium to his name but no-one is really sure how good he currently is, he was a bit 50/50 against Kubica in his rookie season but comfortably matched Heidfeld at the start of the year. Despite being 27 and having two seasons under him he’s still shown some short sightedness when it comes to Michael Schumachers Mercedes or Malaysian drainage gullys.
My Guess: 2nd Seat at HRT thanks to those Roubles
Nick Heidfeld – 34
2011 Season – Renault
The German Veteran “Quick Nick” Heidfeld found himself drafted into replace Robert Kubica after being passed on by Sauber for 2011. The German has raced for a large number of teams on the gird and has come so close on many occasions to that elusive victory. He’s turning into something of a super sub for F1 teams but is rumoured to develop the car in a direction that does not suit other drivers at all. Chopped by Renault mid way through the season wasn’t a good sign despite getting to the podium early on.
My Guess: DTM with a few final super sub appearances somewhere
Jerome D’Ambrosio – 26
2011 Season – Virgin
Jerome arguably performed better than his predescessor againsts Timo Glock but again Virgin have opted for the chopping block and replaced their rookie driver. Hard to know what standard of driver he is as he regulary was behind his more experienced team mate and was often picked off by the HRT’s.
My Guess: 3rd driver at Lotus (Renault)
Vitantonio Liuzzi – 30
2011 Season – HRT
Luizzi looked all washed up at the end of 2010 when he was replaced at Force India, but found a spot at the struggling HRT team. The team have already signed Pedro De La Rosa but without much/any sponsorship to race the team may have to opt for money over talent especially when there is so much talent on the gird with money. He does have a contract with the team but it remains to be seen if they can hold onto him as he is a better driver than the team deserves.
My Guess: HRT or bust
Karun Chandok – 27
2011 Season – Team Lotus (Fridays & 1 race)
Karun was gifted chances to drive in the 2011 season for Team Lotus on fridays (where he promptly stuck it in the wall) and his big day out in Germany (where he spun more than washing machine) which lead to the team not putting him in the car for India as planned. Im not sure he impressed in 2010 at HRT but he really did some damage to his career in 2011 at Team Lotus. Really nice guy, great pundit but possibly slightly below the grade for F1.
My Guess: 3rd driver for Caterham (Team Lotus) then onto sports cars
Jules Bianchi – 22
2011 Season – GP2 (3rd Place) & Ferrari Test Driver
Its bizare that number 11 on our list of f1 drivers is the first rookie and the first driver that didn’t race in 2011 in F1! Jules Bianchi is a Ferrari prodigy who is the first golden kid of their driver development program. However the team is using its historical Sauber seat for Sergio Perez (if you dont believe hes a Ferrari boy, Perez and Bianchi tested a 2009 Ferrari against each other in September). He has done two consecutive seasons in GP2 finishing 3rd so he really could use serious F1 miles. With the extra young drivers test he will get a few more miles and be useful to Ferrari for that.
My Guess: 3rd Driver Spot at Force India for Fridays & maybe a Scuderia spot later in the season if Massa doesn’t shape up
Lucas Di Grassi – 27
2011 Season – Pirelli Tire Tester
Virgins original Rookie dump hasn’t been heard from much since claiming a spot as the Pirelli test driver in 2011, he has shown speed with a solid junior career and has even more miles under his belt now. But with the competition so fierce I dont expect to see him next year – even if I think he deserves a second shot.
My Guess: More tire testing
Those are just the front runners for seats there are some drivers such as Bottas/Rossi/Gueterez who are getting Friday roles with teams next year but aren’t in the frame for next year. Its hard to think that 10 active drivers from 2011 are currently without a seat for next year but its a cruel sport and your only as good as your last performance.