It may seem preposterously early to start thinking about the 2010 F1 season when this year’s championship hasn’t got started yet.
But with only three drivers’ seats confirmed for 2010, little change in the 2009 line-up, and many places in top teams potentially up for grabs for 2010, we could see some surprise announcements during 2009.
McLaren and Heikki Kovalainen
Lewis Hamilton is locked in at McLaren until 2012. But Heikki Kovalainen only got a one year extension on his contract last year and he will be looking to sign a new contract this year.
But might McLaren pick a different driver? When they were looking to replace Fernando Alonso at the end of 2007 they considered Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg among potential replacements.
Speaking of Rosberg, his Williams contract comes to an end in this, his fourth season with the team. He’s been tipped as a front-runner of the future and has accumulated quite a lot of experience now.
He could be an attractive proposition for either of the German manufacturers, Mercedes and BMW. After a woeful 2008, Williams will need a better year to keep a hold on him.
The Ferrari-Fernando Alonso saga
Ferrari has Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen contracted until the end of 2010. But, in an unusual situation for Ferrari, neither driver has consistently had the upper hand over the other.
Last year it was rumoured that Raikkonen’s performance clauses were enough to guarantee him a contract extension. But if the Ferrari F60 is not competitive, and one of the drivers has a bad year, Alonso could get the chance to move to the Italian team. Sources in Italy claim a deal for 2011 has already been done.
With rumours surrounding the future of Renault’s F1 team, Alonso could look for a move somewhere else, such as BMW. It was amid doubt over Renault’s F1 future in 2005 that he signed for McLaren.
They are widely tipped to be championship contenders in 2009, but BMW’s Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld see their contracts expire this year.
If either driver gets comprehensively beaten by the other, they could end up squeezed out. Much has been written about Kubica’s dissatisfaction with the team’s efforts last year, but if Heidfeld suffers a repeat of his 2008 qualifying woes he could find his seat under pressure.
Vettel has enjoyed Red Bull backing for years (as you can see in this video of him racing in the World Series by Renault three years ago) and steps up to their front line team this year.
But what if one of the big teams come knocking? Vettel has admitted in the past he wants to drive for Ferrari, but if Mercedes decides it wants a German driver in its F1 programme they could hardly do better.
On the outside looking in
Who knows what will happen to Honda. If the former team doesn’t end up on the grid it will leave Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello looking for jobs, though the latter could end up forced into retirement.
Christian Klien and Vitantonio Liuzzi are among the young, recent ex-F1 drivers now employed as testers who might try to find a way back in.
Up-and-coming drivers who could get F1 seats in 2010 include Paul di Resta (2006 F3 Euroseries champion), Bruno Senna, Kamui Kobayashi (Toyota Development Driver), Romain Grosjean (2007 F1 Euroseries Champion, Renault Development Driver) and Nico Hulkenberg (2008 F2 Euroseries Champion, Williasm test driver).
What moves do you expect in the driver market for 2010? Who will find themselves on the sidelines – and who deserves a first (or second) chance?
Read more: F1 2010 Season