Its that time of year again, the F1 fraternity have packed their bags and set off from the European heartland to the long haul flyaway races to close out the 2013 season. This part of the season normally produces the best stories off the track as Silly Season is in full swing and has already produced 2 results: Kimi Raikkonen’s shock return to Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo stepping up the Red Bull team proper.
However with a seat definitely open at Lotus and very little of the grid confirmed for next year we take a look at who is on the “chopping block” needing good results and a good manager to secure them with a 2014 drive as we head into the run-in to Brazil.
1. Max Chilton – Marussia – 0 Points – 22nd
Its the driver that we didn’t really have much hope in, Max Chilton the seasoned GP2 campaigner dug deep in his fathers Aon cash and got a drive with back markers Marussia. Originally he was going to partner Timo Glock and a season of embaressment looked set to follow however luckily for Max the team needed more cash to fund their 2013 campaign and plucked for GP2 runner-up Luiz Razia. Now we predicted that Razia would have the measure of Chilton but it would be a tight affair as Max had a longer pre-season with the team giving him the advantage however it wasn’t to be.
Luiz Razia failed to get the money in the bank account of Marussia so the team had to change their plans again and select Ferrari protege Jules Bianchi which would lead the team to getting a Ferrari engine deal in 2014 – very smart. Bianchi hopped in the car with little running and has dutifly smashed Max, with the Briton only finishing higher than his team mate whenever the Frenchman fails to finish (which has only happened twice so far this year).
Adding to the likelihood of Max not staying is the fact that Virgin/Marussia have not kept their rookie pay driver for a second season instead finding a new driver with deep pockets to fill the support slot and fund the team on their adventures.
Verdict: Very likely to be off to touring cars or LeMans next year but could be saved by deep pockets or Jules moving up the grid
2. Esteban Gutierrez – Sauber – 0 Points – 18th
Esteban Gutierrez finished 3rd above Max Chilton in GP2 last year however the season was fought out between two drivers who failed to land F1 drives, Luiz Razia and Davide Valsecci who were streets ahead of the competition (there being nearly 50 points difference for 2nd to 3rd place). However Esteban was only in his second campaign and had come off the back of winning the GP3 series and looked like a decent enough choice of second driver for the Swiss team as it would also allow them to continue their association with Telmex after Sergio Perez headed off to McLaren after a fine 2012.
However Esteban has looked like a fish lacking a serious amount of water and seems to have suffered from the amount of testing afforded to young drivers these days. Yet after a rather shakey start things have improved to the point that we now don’t see him on TV. But while Nico Hulkenberg has dragged the Sauber to score 17 points the Mexican rookie has only managed to come within 3 tenths of scoring his first.
Unfortunately Esteban has struggled to make the grade but on paper he should still pay off if he is afforded more time but the deeper pockets of the Russians could see him make way for future hilarious pay driver Sergey Sirotkin to drive around and the back of the field.
Verdict: Likely not to be given the time behind the wheel to allow him to mature as Russian money will move him aside, however if Hulkenberg moves up the field he could still stay on for the rule changes next year
3. Charles Pic – Caterham – 0 points – 20th
Charles Pic moved sideways in 2013 to Caterham to avoid the curse of the Marussia rookie and became the first driver to not end their F1 career with the other car in red. A decent 2012 allowed him to take his large bank balance to the garage next door for another year of Q1 exits. With a season of racing under his belt he should of been the pick of the rear field teams as the other 3 drivers arrived in Australia yet to turn a wheel in anger however its not quite gone to plan.
After initially starting well he was beaten by the Marussia of Jules Bianchi but after the teams update arrived his rookie team mate Giedo Van De Garde had got up to speed and has been impressing if not beating the frenchman on the road. His title of most promising French driver on the grid has certainly passed across to Bianchi and now faces stiff competition from the Dutch side of the garage.
Verdict: Unknown, Caterham have generally backed drivers for more than one season but it depends if there is a better option on the table from another more promising candidate.
4. Romain Grosjean – Lotus – 57 Points – 8th
At the end of this year Romain Grosjean will have raced for 2 and a half seasons in F1, now while going up against a world champion team mate is never easy throwing the car at the walls constantly hasn’t helped much either. Grosjean has suffered with his Jekyll and Hyde personalities either being fast and far far far too aggressive or slow and ordinary. Despite two podiums the Frenchman has only amassed 57 points to his team mates 134 and its this sort of performance that has seen Felippe Massa being put out to pasture (finally).
With Lotus in a sticky situation with finances and senior members leaving like rats off the Titantic (Lead driver, Technical Director and Chief Aerodynamisist have all left through the door marked Scuderia) Grosjeans future is a tough one to predict. On the one hand he is backed by French sponsor Total (however there are other French talents possibly worth a go) and the team could pick some continuity going into the 2014 season. On the other he must be costing the team money in the constructors (and repair bills) and the team look set to hand Nico Hulkenberg a drive next year.
Verdict: I think he’ll be spared by virtue of the rule changes and the exit of Kimi, but a few decent results in the final races could be key
There could also be changes at Toro Rosso although they have one spare seat which is looking like being filled by Antonio Felix da Costa and no-one is quite sure what the state of play is with Force India who usually wait until after the season to announce their line up. James Calado is doing some Friday testing for the team but has stated the deal is for this year only and its possibly too early for the Briton to make the step up.