The Chopping Block – Mid Season Report

With the season 9 races down (out of 19) its that time again when we cast our critical eye over the grids less fortunate and see who is on the chopping block come seasons end.

1. Marcus Ericsson – Caterham – 0 Pts – 18th

On this blog we didn’t exactly greet the appointment of Marcus Ericsson with glee, a middling GP2 driver that we assume has been promoted to the top flight on the strength on his pockets not his talent. While this is not always a sure fire reason not to get the step up, his team mate Kobayashi, Sergio Perez et al all had poorer results than the swede. Last year in GP2 he picked up a win along with 5 podium places but its a series we still want to see the top 3 graduate to the top flight not those finishing 6th. His season has largely been anonymous apart from the fact he finished 11th in Monaco hence his championship position, however when it gets slippy out there he’s often found in the barriers. With the team being sold to new management and a Red Bull protege (Robert Frijns) waiting in the wings one would assume he will depart from Abu Dhabi to pastures new.

2. Max Chilton – Marussia – 0 Pts – 21st

Ahh Max your fathers Aon cash may not save you now. While the Briton’s deep pockets helped him to a second season in F1 alongside the remarkable feat of finishing every race the F1 reaper could soon be calling time on Chiltons top flight career. Again another GP2 driver that we suspected just didn’t quite have it Max has shown he’s a safe pair of hands but while his team mate has gone from strength to strength (including scoring points) Chilton has seemed to have stayed still. Furthermore his finishing streak came to an end after he punted off his team mate on the opening lap in Canada, alongside the likely fact that Marussia will finish inside the top 10 for the second year running meaning they will reap the fiscal rewards from Bernie they may decide against taking more of Max’s cash. He may be saved if Bianchi moves to a better team but if Jules remains for another year I suspect the Marussia boys may scout out for some newer talent.

3. Esteban Gutierrez – Sauber – 0 Pts – 20th

Gutierrez is another drive on year 2 of his career but despite his up turn of form at the end of 2013 he can’t shake the look of a fish out of water. While he may of got to grips with the 2013 formula the complex 2014 power trains combined with Sauber’s dog of a car have possibly proved to much for the young Mexican. He has often tangled with the barriers in races (including at Monaco when running in 8th!) as well as a few practice shunts combined with being out shined by his experienced team mate despite his huge weight advantage in the lumbering obese Swiss challenger. Therefore one can predict sweeping changes at Sauber over the winter and unless there is a serious amount of willing from Telmex to keep him there (when Sergio Perez is doing a fine job flying the flag in the Force India) expect him to be given the chop.

4. Pastor Maldonado – Lotus – 0 Pts – 19th

Pastors move to Lotus was meant to be the dream move for the race winner from a poor Williams to a race winning team but its not turned out that way at all. The Lotus team has really struggled on track and off it and despite their form last season the move to hire the grids most notorious pay driver (estimates put his sponsorship at anywhere from 10 – 25 million a year!) should of been a warning sign to all. But while Romain Grosjean has gritted his teeth and pushed on to score 8 points Pastor finds himself way down the pecking order and yet to get off the mark. Every weekend its either dire reliability or his love of crushing carbon fibre against Armco that has squandered things. While the team haven’t given him the car he hasn’t had it in himself to get the thing over the finish line when it doesn’t go up in flames (although not the literal flames of the forward exhausts). If Lotus can secure funding expect to find Pastor out on his ear with his old habits burning his chance at the big time.

5. Kimi Raikkonen – Ferrari – 19 Pts – 12th

What is it about second drivers at Ferrari? For years the team suffered along with Felipe Massa, who now at Williams looks like a new man, and now his World Champion replacement has done no better. While his illustrious team mate has notched up 87 Pts including a podium the Finn has struggled to break into the top 10. With his major complaints being about the breaks he’s taken to smashing his car to bits in an effort to get higher up the chopping block table. He has a two year contract but he is in serious danger of his second stint at the Scuderia also being cut short by a year. Bare in mind last year in a Lotus Kimi scored a win alongside a further 7 appearances on the podium, this year he can’t even keep his team mate in sight down a Tilke straight.

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Magnussen Poised for McLaren in Silly Season Shock

This years “silly season” where drivers shuffle around has moved from its usual summer slot to the end of the year with this morning Sergio Perez confiming that he is to leave the Woking team at the end of the year. The 23 year old Mexican struggled to match Jenson Button this season in an uncompetitive car (By McLaren’s standard). The team are set to promote Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen in his place which will be a big jump for the 21 year old driver who won the Formula Renault 3.5 series this season. Most of the noise coming out of the team this year had been that Perez hadn’t been given the equipment to fight properly and would be given another season but the team believes that Magnussen is World Champion material. It is likely the team made the move to give the Dane a year before the big push in 2015 when the team will become the works Honda powered team and have high expectations.

Personally it appears as though Magnussen will give McLaren a different type of driver who will deliver in qualifying in the same mould of departed Champion Lewis Hamilton did to balance Jenson’s more methodical wiley race craft approach. It is still a risk as the 21 year old has had very little F1 mileage and will step into a team who expect victories and championships rather than scrapping for points.

Finally Lotus are still to announce who will replace the injured Kimi Raikkonen for the last two races of the season with it looking like either Heikki Kovalienen or reserve driver Davide Valsecci looking likely. Nico Hulkenberg reportedly turned down the offer to remain at Sauber another season and Michael Schumacher rejected another comeback. The issue with Heikki is that he is in the frame for a drive with Caterham next season and a move away from the team to Lotus could complicate the issue of his 2014 seat.

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.

The Chopping Block 2013 Edition – Prophetic Nonsense?

Prior to the Singapore Grand Prix there may of been a post appear on the blog highlighting which drivers are possibly on the “chopping block” and facing a 2014 filled with simulators and sportscars. Well it would appear they might of all been reading:

Winners

Max Chilton

Our current leader of the chopping block recorded his first on track (rather than through retirement – although Jules had to stop again to change steering wheel) finish ahead of his team mate in Formula 1. The Marussia team struggled round the Marina Bay circuit and qualified last with Max only a tenth behind Jules to take up the back of the grid. Come Sunday he faired better beating two stopping Charles Pic and Jules Bianchi home over the 61 laps round Marina Bay. While its not enough to save his career by any means but Jules having gremlins in the race helped him out here, a deficit of only 0.1 seconds over the long qualifying lap of marina bay is a marked improvement.

Esteban Gutierrez

Esteban has looked out of his depth all season and with the Sauber coming on song at low downforce tracks of the season it looked like Esteban’s career in the top flight would be short lived. However Sauber showed their car was not a flash in the pan and Esteban pulled out a belter to reach his first ever Q3 (where the team unfortunately elected not to run). Further strategic gambles didn’t pay off and Esteban was left to rue what might of been his first points in F1. But in an interview with the BBC after qualifying he said he had sat down with the team to find out what was wrong and had made good progress but was not expecting this sort of step.

It could point to Esteban being somewhat of a confidence driver and the team listening to his issues rather than giving him the hurry up gives him that extra bit of bite. Needs some points this season but on the evidence of this weekend they may not be too far away.

Romain Grosjean

Romain was back on form in the confines of the walls after Lotus suffered with the low drag tracks of Spa and Monza, with Kimi neutralised with a bad back the beleaguered Frenchman rang the neck of his race car to qualify 3rd and after an error free start was set to follow it up with a podium finish ahead of his Finnish counterpart. However it wasn’t to be as the engine lost air pressure leading to a cry of “noooo” on the radio. A cry we all slightly felt inside.

Terrible luck but as long as he composes himself when the rub of the green doesn’t go his way it wont count against him too much.

Sergio Perez

A new entry to the Chopping Block started on Friday when the BBC claimed Fernando Alonso was being eyed up by McLaren to drive for the team next year, however after an average qualifying (never the Mexicans strong suit) a spirited and clean race showing coming in 8th behind his team mate was music to the ears of the bosses at Woking. These types of a performances in difficult years are key for drivers being retained and the blame for the lack of pace not falling at their feet.

Losers

Charles Pic

While his ever impressive team mate drove off to race with Williams and Toro Rosso in the race, Charles Pic had to settle for most of the race in a Marussia sandwich. A two stop race strategy didn’t work out and it was another completely anonymous race for the French man.

Paul Di Resta

With most of the top seats now sowen up Paul has had a terrible time of it just as it matters for contracts for next season. While his 2012 team mates Monza heroics look set to put him in the pilots seat at Lotus, Paul is really scrapping to make sure he’s retained at Force India who have a heap of good drivers to pick from next year. Yet another inexplicable Q1 exit lead to a good race start but he failed to make the corner at turn 10 and that ended his race and any chance of points.