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Well in India with the dust (or er smog) settling over the Buddh circuit for possibly the penultimate time, Sebastian Vettel looks in pole position to pick up title number 4 on the bounce in the sub-continent. An interesting array of strategies looks like they will play out tomorrow with Q3 featuring half on prime tyres and half on options.

But the real chat in the news and blogs has been about drivers and where they will be going in 2014, I expect that all deals will wait until the businessmen (and women) descend to Abu Dhabi in two weeks. But it goes as follows:

Lotus
They still want Hulkenberg who will go if the finance pulls through, if not the team may opt for Pastor Maldonado and his PDSA millions to prop up the team.

Williams
With Pastor exiting the team it seems likely that Massa will find Grove his home station next year

McLaren
Will wait on Perez to either produce some results or sponsors or promote Magnussen to the race team, which appears to be the long term goal. Magnussen could be planted at Marussia alongside Bianchi for a seasons experience.

CaterhamHeikki Kovalienen will be rewarded for his patience and make a return to the team next year is the word on the street, Im not sure who they will pick to drive the other car possibly Giedo who has really come on form this year.

SauberThey could field Sergy Sirotkin next year who is backed by a lot of Russian money but there are still many options there for the team. If Hulkenberg doesn’t make the switch to Lotus I think he may stay here for another season

This all leaves Force India picking up the pieces, if Maldonado isn’t picked up by anyone he could find a birth here with the teams slightly edgy finances.

Other than that Christian Horner has been banging on about customer cars, which is convenient since they have a sister team ready to pick up a second hand Red Bull design again to run their junior drivers. I’ve posted on this many times but the main issue is the one that has plagued Moto GP in that if one or two top teams go your left with very few types of machines on the grid. Furthermore it also handicaps these small teams and stops anyone repeating the Sauber of last year and coming up with a good solid car and picking up podiums. Running old cars simply creates a two tier formula full time even if that is the case in essence, it would make another company like Red Bull coming in and taking a team to new heights nearly impossible as they wouldn’t have any engineering base to go about making F1 cars.

For example to draw the Moto GP parallel again, if Tech III found an extra 40 million to go racing with they would still be stuck with a second hand Yamaha bike. In F1 that money could be invested to lift the team up a place or two in the constructors delivering more money and so on and so on.

Silly Season gets Russian Sillies Out of the Way

With the inaugural Russian Grand Prix next year around the winter Olympic park in Sochi, many who follow F1 expected to find a Russian on the grid for the following year. With funding much easier to find for a high profile race launch, this happened around the launch of the Indian Grand Prix which saw Karun Chandok and Narain Karthiekyan find money to fund their racing.

While it was likely that another Russian would make their way to the gird at some point we didn’t expect this one (at least not this year, he has a good Junior career thus far) and we also didn’t expect one in this team.

Scuderia Toro Rosso (The Red Bull Junior team) announced this morning that they will have Daniil Kvyat race in the space left by Daniel Ricciardo’s move to the full Red Bull team. The driver was somewhat an outside bet behindĀ  Felix Da Costa and Carlos Sainz Jr to land the seat but his impressive maiden GP3 campaign (where he sits just 7 points behind the series leader with a round still to go) alongside successful adventures in F3 this season have lead to STR taking the plunge with the 19 year old.

The STR team are not short of cash and the Red Bull Drivers Program is one of the few out their that promote drivers based on talent, however you have to be flavour of the month when its time to make changes and the programme could certainly be described as ruthless. People did expect Russian money this season to land a spot or two towards the rear of the grid but Russia’s second F1 driver will arrive without a single Rouble making up the numbers for the seat, which only bodes well for his chances. But the timing will certainly raise a few eyebrows.

Daniil will follow in the footsteps of Valtteri Bottas who made the jump from GP3 straight to F1 with Willaims this season.

Aprilla Comes Undone as Moto GP goes “Open”

As the Moto GP season winds its way towards its close with 3 races left in Australia, Japan and Valencia, Dorna the sports commericial rights holder has started looking to 2014 as has Aspar having all but wrapped up a second CRT title with Aleix Espargaro.

Firstly with the new rules next year the CRT class (for “privateers”) will become known as the “Open” class and the full prototypes will become “Factory”. However over the past few weeks teams have signed up their manufacturers for next season and something funny has happened. After Dorna made the factory teams help out the privateer teams they have gone and done just that, Honda with a full production racer bike and Yamaha with the lease of full spec M1 engines.

The open class teams do get 4 more litres of fuel, the softer tyre and 12 engines throughout the season, however they are stuck using the spec ECU. The “Factory” teams will have one litre less than this year, only 5 engines but are allowed to write their own software onto the new spec ECU. This addition to the rules meant Suzuki delayed their entry until 2015 to give them time to port their software across to the new platform – despite this I am surprised they didn’t strike a deal with a team to run a “open” version of the bike with the standard ECU for a season.

With the introduction of these two new privateer options from HRC and Yamaha have seen quite the shuffle in the riders and hardware the teams will use next year.

Forward Racing
Colin Edwards has lead Forward Racing for the past two seasons and this year has performed well on the FTR-Kawasaki, however they have been the team to take the plunge opting to lease the full Yamaha M1 engine. They will be helped out this year by Yamaha with their chassis design which should help them out greatly. This has seen Aleix Espargaro jump ship and pay his way out his contract with Aspar.

Aspar
Despite strong links to Aprilia over the years, the possible weakening of the package with the sepc ECU and the move of the head of racing to Ducati Corsi has lead Aspar to opt for the Honda RCV1000R production racer. Honda have also provided some fiscal help one assumes as they have announced that 2006 World Champion Nicky Hayden will race for the team next year. The second seat is unconfirmed as Randy De Puniet will move to testing duties at Suzuki and look to return on a factory bike in 2015.

Gresini Honda
Gresini have opted to trade in their Honda powered FTR bike for the production Honda as expected due to their close ties with the manufacturer (their other bike is a Satellite Factory bike with full support). Bryan Starling will make way for Moto2 leader Scott Redding.

Cardion AB
Karel Abraham’s family run team will drop the ART as well next season and run the RCV1000R alongside those listed above. No prizes for guessing who will pilot the single bike here.

All of this leaves Paul Bird as the only team who currently run a Aprilia machine to announce what they will do next year. However PBM have been developing their own chassis this year around the Aprilia engine and have indicated they wish to continue that next year with two bikes.

All this movement over the past month or so has now left Aprilia with a problem, an upgraded bike with seamless shift and pneumatic valves but no teams to run it. So they have the option of entering as a factory however they would severely struggle with the engine limit even though as a new Factory team they would be granted 9 engines for the following year, enter a quasi factory team into the open class or get one of the other teams to take up the package for next year.

We must really hope that Dorna hasn’t shot itself in the foot with getting the factory teams to assist the privateer entries and edge out other manufacturers who took up Dorna’s new vision for the class. If the Aprilia project fails it will point to failure of the new format which ART have under taken in earnest and have looked to be heading towards producing a full factory effort long term. If they have been edged out of the equation by further restricted factory bikes then it will have all been for nothing.

The Chopping Block 2013 Edition – The Jigsaw

With the title all but wrapped up in Japan, with Vettel only needing a few measly points over the next 5 races to clinch the championship, the main focus has turned to 2014. Most of the teams stopped developing their cars after the summer break with a complete rule change (a la 2009) coming into force next year. Alongside the new V6 engines with lots of energy recovery elements (KERS and ERS for you tech folk) there is a massive change in the aero regs that will see the huge front wings of recent years ditched in favour of a narrower wing like the cars of 2008. This will hopefully balance the look of the cars as well as cut back the aero and on paper could make a fascinating season after years of engine freezes.

Now the danger is that one or two teams get the aero and engine packages spot on and romp away with it, but with so many elements and the modern F1 calendar so varied (from the tight confines of Monaco and Singapore needing drivability, Monzas brutal power requirements, Aero tracks such as Barcelona and Hungary, through the multi faceted Tilke circuits that feature fast turns and long straights) I think the chances of a season of domination look slim. But the big issue facing the teams is that the weight limit looks tight, very tight so expect some teams who are struggling to make the limit plonk for small light drivers.

However with only the final 4 races left there are still many spots on the grid to be sorted out:

Winners

Romain Grosjean

Back to back podiums after the disappointment of the mechanical retirement in Singapore have all but sealed the Frenchmans place at Lotus next year. Many thought he should of made way for other talent at the end of last year and a sluggish start to year left Romain with little hope of being retained for next year. But with an upswing in form, especially his last outing in Japan will see Romain remain at Enstone for 2014, it is likely to be confirmed before India and will take him off the chopping block.

While he has been helped out by Kimi moving to Ferrari next year and the team needing a benchmark showing, I think on his recent form he would have stayed for next season regardless.

Esteban Gutierrez

The whole Sauber team have really come good at this point in the season, helped by the new sturdier tyres that Pirelli introduced and a driveablitiy that helps the drivers put down power early to defend on the DRS straights. Esteban finally put it all together in Japan after glimpses of promise and recorded the first Rookie drivers points of the season with a stellar drive to 7th, keeping on the coat tails of the ever impressive Nico Hulkenberg will do him a world of good as Sauber now possibly face the issue of having too many good drivers for next year.

Max Chilton

Finally a good Saturday for Max has put another check in the column marked retain for next year, however the race didn’t pan out so well and he finished behind the Caterhams. Bianchi is staying on next year and it could be a battle of the wallets to see if Max gets another crack at it in 2014.

Losers

Felipe Massa

Another poor week for the outcast Ferrari driver, after being told to move aside for Alonso to come through he decided to not heed the pit wall and raced on. Only for Alonso to promptly cruise up and pass him. While his Saturdays remain a strength its his Sunday performance that sees the Brazilian coming away empty handed time and time again. A solitary point after Jenson nabbed through the final chicane and to the line highlights why he may not be an option for many teams next year.

With an interview with Lee McKenzie on BBC before qualifying the Brazilian at first seemed very confident of a drive for next year before almost resigning himself to leaving the paddock after Brazil. I think the latter may be more likely.

Paul Di Resta

A 50/50 one for Paul, he made it to the end of the race on the lead lap after a series of non-finishes and he was ahead of his team mate all weekend. However again not scoring points with a painful 11th place is again an issue for the British driver.

Adrian Sutil

The other Force India driver has to also be feeling the heat. but there are rumblings that he could move to Sauber next season as he is friendly with Toto Wolff (Mercedes are providing engines to Sauber next year). Like Paul he could use a marquee performance in the run in to Brazil. Currently he’s 10 points adrift of Pauls total in the standings but much of that relates to mechanical issues early in the season.