As ever in Formula One, the main discussions toward the end of every year are where all the drivers will end up. This year sees some very interesting moves that could pay dividends or divide teams for years to come. The first on the block is Ferrari. While Kimi Raikkonen came into the team from being a fresh-faced and fast youngster at McLaren and then going out and somehow winning a world title in his first season, he has been decidedly off the pace the last two seasons. Many have speculated that Kimi is very fast to lose interest once he either has an uncompetitive car or is out of the championship running. While this may or may not be the case, it does seem like he will be in that Silver Arrows again next season. This leaves two seats open because McLaren will be keen to keep their world champion Lewis Hamilton and let Heikki Kovalainen go. Then the questions become “where will Heikki go and who will fill the Ferrari seat?” We already know that the Ferrari seat will be filled next season by Fernando Alonso – or at least everyone is about 99.98% sure that he will. So now that leaves a seat open at Renault as well. But it is said that that seat will be filled by the Polish driver Robert Kubica. Now you have a race seat filled by a driver whose team is going away. But that still leave Heikki high and dry. Also, there is a lot of speculation about the Brawn team and their driver line up. It is thought that Jenson Button will be in one seat and that the other will either be filled by Rubens or by Nico Rosberg (because of more Mercedes backing for the team). Barrichello is slated to possibly end up at Williams then, in what might be called a straight-up driver switch for those two teams. It sounds like both of the Toyota drivers will be on the market as well. Both Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock have not had their contracts renewed by the team and that means one of two things. Either the team is getting all new talent in the race seats, or they will announce that they will pull out of the sport altogether at the end of the season. Frankly, I could see it going either way. I have to say though that I’m fairly certain everyone who is on the grid presently will find a team that they can drive with. This is because there are so many new teams coming into the sport next season that there should be 6 or more new seats available. Of course, time will tell as always.
The other thing that driver changes cause is division within a team. We saw this fully on display in 2007 when Alonso and Hamilton were teammates at McLaren. Both of them ended up fighting amongst themselves while Kimi Raikkonen came to the fore to take the driver’s title in the end. It seems like having two large talents on a team can be a bad thing. Take, famously, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. When both were with McLaren-Honda in the late 80s, they were so hell bent on winning that they took each other out in Suzuka in 1988 so that one of them (Senna) could win the championship. Check out this great video of that moment right here http://frcf1.fliggo.com/video/5oZreaII. The tension in that team ended up making for great battles on the track, but the two drivers were not on very friendly terms for the rest of their careers. And while friendship isn’t what Grand Prix racing is all about, it does make things easier if there is a definite number one and number two driver, at least for the team. For the fans, intrasquad battles are fun if you have a person to root for and against. I can tell you right now that I will be pulling all out for Felipe Massa and, unless circumstances dictate otherwise, will not give much in the way of Alonso. He is a brilliant driver, don’t get me wrong, but I am not a fan of him going back to the Schumi era of Ferrari. Next year will be interesting to watch, probably more so than this year, because of the battles between both Hamilton and Raikkonen and Alonso and Massa. If these teams can get competitive cars from the outset, next season should be one to remember.