2010 F1 driver market wide open

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Toyota could promote Japanese star Kamui Kobayashi for 2010

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.

Nico Rosberg

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.

Sebastian Vettel

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

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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49 comments on “2010 F1 driver market wide open”

  1. Di Riesta will get a drive in 2010, Heikki (barring a title challenge in 2009) will be out. Although they will not necessarily swap places. Sutil, or Rosberg will fill the number 2 position in the team.

    1. I know Heikki didn’t exactly shine this season, but he’s a good second driver, and with a megastar like Hamilton that’s exactly what McLaren would want. I think he was heavy on fuel several times and this did drag down his performance. Any top driver looking at McLaren in the next few years is going to realize Hamilton is tops on their list for now, and that may scare away a Vettel or Kubica.

  2. I wont be surprised if Nico leaves Williams especially if they don’t sort out their financial issues. But would he like to play second fiddle to Lewis or will he be lured to another seat where he could be seen to be the top driver…

    1. I actually envisage Ros going to Renault perhaps even swapping with in place of Piq if he underperforms.

    2. B, I can see Rosberg being snapped up by a team like Renault, but Piquet would find himself out of F1 if he was under-performing, replaced at Grove by Hulkenberg, di Resta or some other prospect.

  3. Well

    It is really too early to talk about the 2010 Driver Market, as I bet there will be at least 4 more unemployed drivers, next year.
    And you start talking about Toyota, and for me, it is very simple, they will be one of theam out next year, cause I don’t see them managing to get that mandatory win this season.

    For me, only 2 things are certain regarding the future, Hamilton in the McLaren, and Alonso in Ferrari no later than 2011

  4. I think Nico would accept to drive in McLare, because it is one of the best chances to drive a fast car.
    I’ve always liked the teams with two competitive drivers, not a firts and a second one.
    And I think Ferrari will discard the worst between Kimi and Felipe to get Alonso or…Vettel.
    But a season is long, who knows who will be the hottest driver at the end…

  5. I would love to see Nico Hulkenberg make the step up to F1 next year, I’ve been a fan of his for a few years now and if he does well in GP2 this year I can see him making that jump to F1 in 2010.

    I cant see Kovalainen staying at Mclaren after the end of this year, which is a shame really becuase i dont think last year was a completely accurate portrayal of his abilities behind the wheel of an F1 car. Rosberg would have to be a favourite to replace him in the Mclaren if Williams doesnt perform brilliantly this year – although if Williams does make improvements i think he should stay where he is and be number one at Williams, rather than a number two at Mclaren (sadly with Hamilton I beleive Mclaren are starting to swing towards the number 1/2 roles for their drivers)alongside Hulkenberg. I really do hope Williams pick themselves up this year – still have a soft spot for them as a team.

    As for BMW i really hope they retain both drivers – both deserve the chance to stay there i feel – they have worked as hard as the team to get BMW where they are now, and should they challenge for the title, which i beleive both guys can do this year, then i think they should both should be rewarded for their efforts. Both are capable of keeping BMW near the front as well.

    I think Vettel will end up at Ferrari eventually, whether or not it is next year i dont know – but as soon as he does my goodness is that going to be exciting! Vettel unleashed in a Ferrari – cant wait!

    1. I think Vettel will end up at Ferrari eventually, whether or not it is next year i dont know – but as soon as he does my goodness is that going to be exciting! Vettel unleashed in a Ferrari – cant wait!

      Vettel and Alonso at Ferrari… that won’t end well!

  6. Shame no one is talking about Gary Paffett as I think he would be good in F1. I can’t see him ever being a first choice for McLaren as they wouldn’t want two British drivers. But he could replace Fisichella at Force India, with the McLaren link up, for the 2010 season.

    I definately agree that Rosberg will go to McLaren at some point, Mercedes are meant to be very keen to get a German driver on board.

    1. Shame no one is talking about Gary Paffett as I think he would be good in F1.

      Realistically there’s no way in for him at McLaren as long as Hamilton is there.

      Mercedes are meant to be very keen to get a German driver on board.

      I’ve often wondered that, but then, they didn’t get Heidfeld in the car after McLaren backed him.

  7. 2010 is a bit early to speculate or call on isn’t it?

    1. McLaren have a habit of signing drivers a year in advance…

  8. I would love to see Vettel or Rosberg become a teammate with Hamilton scince those are my favorite drivers in F1. Being American I would love to see Alexander Rossi (Fomula BMW American Champ)move up to GP2, Then I would watch that.

    1. I hope Kovalainen does better against Hamilton this year, but although I like him I’d rather see one of the bona fide top-drawer drivers up against Hamilton. Vettel or Kubica, say…

    2. As a fellow American I would love for Rossi to climb the ladder to F1- he’s off to a great start but it will surely take 3-4 seasons of F3/GP2 etc. to get him up to speed. I just hope he gets looked at fairly and supported in the same way as so many of these other big-time prospects from other nations are.

  9. 2010 could be a massive turning point for F1 as I believe worldwide economies still won’t be vibrant enough for some teams to have financial support like they have in the previous years. As already mentioned Toyota imo will be gone inless they can put some wins under their belt this year and that still may not be enough for a Japanese manufacturer that no longer has Honda to compete against. So that takes us down to 16 cars without Honda Racing, Williams could still be another casualty with them struggling to even fund this year. Furthermore Torro Rosso really need to find another buyer or they may be forced out, that leaves us with a 14 car grid. This them brings us into the 3 car a team realm?

    Heikki is gonna have to do a big job this year to drive for Mclaren next year imo.

    Alonso will drive for Ferrari at some point IMO

    1. I pretty much agree 100% with Somers.

      If Williams is already struggling, then the forecast isn’t good for them – the prospect of losing Nico, or worse still the entire team, is looming on them in 2009. They need to be at least best of the rest – and forgive the sceptism, but it’s beginning to look like a tall order.

    2. 2010 could be a massive turning point for F1 as I believe worldwide economies still won’t be vibrant enough for some teams to have financial support like they have in the previous years.

      That’s a very good point – there could be some serious discussions over driver salary cuts.

  10. Striay/iceman
    3rd February 2009, 18:32

    NOOOOO NOT KIMI!!! iim his biggest fan and i swear i will cry if he doesnt stay in f1 for a bit longer. But i doubt he would go looking for another team after what happened in Mclaren, and his driver salary being the best in the whole of f1.

    I can see kubica, vettel, or alonso in Ferrari next year though, especially as one of these is suerly going to win the championship next year.

    as for Kovalinen im 99.9% sure he is going to be replaced, unless he does somthing great, however it was half Mclarens fault he didnt do so well last year (heavy on fuel). Also Kovi was placed there by ron dennis because he knew he wasnt going to be competition for Hamilton and is a nice fellow so he would let hamilton through even if he was winning,unlike other competitive drivers around now. however with Ron out of the way and martin whitmarsh coming into action i wouldnt be suprised if Roseberg, Sutil or a newby replaces him next year.

    Those are my thoughts, and long live KIMI!!! (sorry for any insults!

    1. I don’t see Kovi being replaced, but leaving the team more or less for the same reasons Alonso did, not equality.
      Then the mclarens will have to find somebody else for “serving” the champion….
      Kimi will retire during this season, 2009.

  11. This shows us the problems of the future. Great talent, no cars….
    Solution in this time of crisis?
    Customer cars :) Mark my words

  12. Kovalainen is keeping that McLaren seat warm for Paul di Resta. As soon as McLaren are convinced di Resta is ready Heikki is toast.

    Rosberg had the chance to go to McLaren at the start of last season but took his father’s device that being blown away by Lewis would be bad for his future prospects.

    Alonso is not going to Ferrari any time soon. We have had the Alonso to Ferrari rumours for ages. We even had them after he had signed for McLaren but before that deal was made public. Raikkonen and Massa will be there for 2010 regardless and who knows what options are in place for 2011.

    Toyota – who cares?

    Alonso could be in trouble if Renault quit which I expect they weill. They have quit F1 twice before in circustances similar to Honda’s first two disappearances – a team that didn’t quite make it followed by the best engine on the grid. They will quit for a third time as Honda did.

    1. The difference is that Renault actually won championships in 2005 and 2006. But yes, you could see them quitting after this year.

      But I don’t, for any second, believe that Alonso could be out of a seat for the forseeable future. He is at the top of the pecking order, drivers could be shuffled around teams purely based on where Alonso goes, and I don’t see any team (bar McLaren) not willing to bend over backwards to get him to sign for them.

      If Ferrari rumours are true on Kimi’s get out clause on his contract, then it will be enough (for Ferrari) to bring Alonso in early in 2010, if not 2011 as we’re all suspected to believe.

      And realistically, with McLaren out the picture, Alonso and Ferrari are what each are looking for in a driver and a team, being top driver and top team.

    2. Kovalainen is keeping that McLaren seat warm for Paul di Resta.

      Seriously? Two Britons in at McLaren? Surely not…

  13. Alonso to Ferrari is bogus. As is Vettel to Mclaren.

    In times of economic recessions; men and women try to keep their jobs secure and avoid risks of changing jobs. F1 drivers are no different. There were few changes from 2008 to 2009. It will follow suit at the end of 2009.

    Also; we had massive changes from 2006 to 2007 and 2007 to 2008. The Law of Averages will catch up. We will have lesser changes now.

    1. You’re correct, but I am pretty sure you’ll agree that the ongoing recession probably isn’t hitting most of the F1 drivers as hard as it’s hitting you or me, right?

  14. But I don’t, for any second, believe that Alonso could be out of a seat for the forseeable future.

    It happened to Prost and if contracts are in place it could happen to Alonso. I don’t see Ferrari having a vacancy in 2010 so he may need to look elsewhere or sit out a season waiting for Ferrari.

    Seriously? Two Britons in at McLaren? Surely not…

    di Resta is being built up for something and it has to be a McLaren seat. Mercedes have announced their DTM team apart from one seat which is his or Ralf’s if di Resta goes elsewhere. My guess is that they are trying to place him at FIF1 for a season followed by a step up to McLaren for 2010.

  15. Alonso is still fantastic and will be for many years, but Vettel is now everyone’s hot commodity in F1. If Ferrari want to change drivers (which I really don’t think they do for a few years) they will go after Vettel or Kubica, and not Alonso.

    At McLaren, any prospective driver is going to realize that they will wind up by default as Hamilton’s sidekick. Yes, many drivers would love to be at Woking, but the Lewis factor will limit the field of prospective drivers. On another VMM note, the team already has “the next Hamilton” lined up in karting prospect Oliver Rowland- he seems set to come of age just as Hamilton would be winding down his career.

    Since no one else wants to talk about Toyota, I will :) I can easily see Kobayashi replacing Trulli after this year if Jarno isn’t consistently quick- he’s still good but getting older.

    Lastly, don’t forget about Chandhok and Force India- I have thought for some time now that this will be the last year for Fisi, to be replaced by Karun if he has a good year in GP2.

  16. What happened to the Mexican billionaire buying Honda and hiring Bruno Senna? I thought that deal was going to be on and then all the news stopped and Honda is looking for a buyer.

    It would be great to see Little Senna on the grid this year and even better if he lived up to his uncle’s name.

    As for major shuffling in 2010 it could very well be just more extensions. Vettel is Red Bull family, Kubica seems to fit BMW, Ferraris have strong pilots, McLaren is well balanced and Alonso has nowhere to go.

    Alonso seems like a gamble to Ferrari. Kimi is WDC and Massa lost by one point. Thats a strong lineup and if they are content with their work it should be business as usual. Kimi would be a fool to retire in 09. He got badly beaten last year and has a lot to prove.

    1. Is this not the same billionaire who just bailed out a well known US newspaper. Maybe that’s where his money has gone too…

    2. I hope for Carlos Slim if he can work a deal with Lola
      and become Scuderia Slim-Lola. That will bring Bruno
      and a Mexican driver.

  17. I dont think Senna will be on the grid 2010 or 2011 unless this Economic crisis is far gone. Heiki is the one that I will look closely because I don’t think (if he doesn’t perform well) deserves a seat on a F1 car.
    Rosberg as someone else wrote is surely moving somewhere out of Williams and Alonso is replacing Kimi when the latter retires. THose are my predictions.

    1. Ironically, shouldn’t Senna look better now than if there were no crisis? He’s a marketing man’s dream. And he’s pretty quick too.

    2. Imagine if Senna went to McLaren…now THAT would be a marketing man’s dream!!

  18. I dunno Sutil or Fisi’s contract situations in 2010, but you have to think that Force India and Mallya will be figuring out how to get Chandhok or another Indian driver into his mobile pile.

    If his companies and F1 team survive to 2010 anyway.

  19. As a portuguese speaker i hope Bruno Senna gets in F1 if not this year then in 2010.
    Adrian,Journeyer i believe it would be even better for marketing if he went for Williams and started making good results, and who knows win races…it would be like ending the cycle..
    Not to mention it would be great for Williams financially

  20. I hope Kovalainen does better against Hamilton this year, but although I like him I’d rather see one of the bona fide top-drawer drivers up against Hamilton. Vettel or Kubica, say…

    I agree – but I think the growing number 2 status of Hamiltons teammate might just put off some of the top guys. If I were Vettel or Kubica I wouldnt want to be at a team which is at risk of showing favour to my teammate, regardless of whether you are achieving equally or not. Alonso gave up after only one season and he is one of the best drivers on the current grid, if not the very best, and he wasnt at any point getting beaten by Hamilton – they were equal in terms of achievement all year. I thought Alonso was a little childish at times over the whole Mclaren business, but if he felt he wasnt getting equal treatment when he was the reigning World Champion, and still doing well, then what chance does anyone else stand? Its like being Schumachers teammate – Massa took that job on at just the right time, but Barrichello hasnt achieved half of what he could have achieved had he been left to take the results which he earned whilst at Ferrari and he isnt always seen as the high achieving driver he should possibly be.

    Vettel and Alonso at Ferrari… that won’t end well!

    Lol I forgot about the Alonso rumours for a second there – that would most certainly be an interesting pairing should that happen. Cant see Ferrari changing both drivers though, so maybe it will be one or the other.

  21. Look at Ron Dennis’s history. Regardless of how friendly he is with a driver if a faster or better one turns up he will switch. He switched from Lauda to Prost and Prost to Senna. If someone better than Hamilton goes to McLaren the team will switch behind the new guy. The thing is none of the highly touted guys is better than him.

    Alonso spent most of 2007 complaining about not getting number one treatment. He was complaining about getting equal treatment not about not getting it. He switched his argument to complaining about not getting equal treatment when Hamilton had a large championship point lead on him. He would have been crazy to say that the reason his team mate was beating him because he was only getting equal treatment.

    McLaren could have kept Alonso and got rid of Hamilton but no-one in their right mind would have done that. Hamilton despite being a rookie matched him all season and led him for most of it and in Hungary showed that despite his lack of experience he could play mind games at a level Alonso could not. Who would keep an established driver with a mental weakness who had tried to blackmail the team boss over a rookie who was just as fast, just as good and was capable of de-stabilising the experienced guy? McLaren made the right choice.

  22. I think everyone is writing Renault off too early, I think they will have a decent season this year especially if Piquet comes good like I think he will (will never be in the same class as some of the other field but still a good driver i reckon) A good season for Renault could see them onto the grid in 2010. Robert and Fernando also always seem fairly chummy so why not a year at BMW for Fernando in the midst of a 2011 debut in the Ferrari ;)

  23. If BMW are remotely serious why would they take a driver on for a year?

    If Kubica is remotely serious why would he risk his chance of winning the championship by having Alonso as his team mate?

    Mario Theissen runs a quiet understated team. Why would he risk running a driver who caused chaos the last time he ran in a team like that and tried to blackmail the team principal.

    I can see what is in it for Alonso but not for anyone else.

  24. I think it’s pretty clear that Mercedes wants a German driver at McLaren. I think Heikki has the pace to be a legitimate WDC contender, but if he doesn’t really come out and show his stuff this season, he’ll be out. I’d look for one of the young German drivers- Rosberg, Sutil, or Vettel- to get that other seat. I would look to Rosberg or Sutil, as they both happen to be good friends with Lewis and Vettel seems to be gunning for a Ferrari seat.

    I don’t expect a change in Ferrari’s driver lineup for 2010 unless Raikkonen retires as rumored he desires to soon. The two drivers seem to get along well, and Ferrari has gotten two straight WMCs and two straight WDC-contending seasons (with one WDC) out of the pair.

    Among the other major teams, I expect to see some shakeups with BMW and Renault, if not for 2010 then certainly for 2011. Kubica has openly admitted he’s got eyes for a Ferrari seat, and the Alonso-to-Ferrari rumors won’t die. I think Heidfeld is a great driver, but I get the impression he is under distinct pressure to perform this season, which I expect him to. If he doesn’t, he could be gone. Piquet has to show strong improvement this season if he wants to keep that Renault seat.

    Williams is another team where I can see some serious shakeups. Rosberg will almost certainly leave after his contract is up this season and go to another team unless they somehow come out with a spectacular 2009-spec car. I also can most certainly see Kaz moving on to the Toyota team if he improves again this year, as he is Toyota’s man and they seem keen on getting a Japanese driver into the car. Hulkenberg seems a lock for a Williams race seat very soon. If the Honda sale doesn’t go through, then dare I speculate that Button-to-Williams may finally happen?

  25. Even if im a Big Toyota F1 fan i dont see them succeeding this year. the unfortunate end for toyota is that they will make an utter joke of themselves as they leave f1.

    they have isses in two departments

    1. technincal – tyre temperature, suspension, aero and racepace

    2. People (the big one) – apart from jarno there’s no one at Toyota that know anything about winning. it’s about time that they considered people like Gascoyne back in and provided that Honda dont make it to the grid, to employ the services of Jensen Button and Ross Brawn. these are the only people that are available at them moment to help make Toyota do a big turn around. Kamui has ages to go and unless Toyota get serious with F1, they will be at it again – fighting for 4th 5th or 6th in the WCC.

  26. Mercedes want a German driver for national pride alone, and there’s plenty to choose from. Vettel is very promising, but will his desire for a Ferrari drive stop him going to Mclaren? Rosberg has shown more loyalty for Williams than most modern drivers would, so I can’t see him hurrying away from them too quickly. Hulkenberg set the A1 world alight in 2008 and I’m surprised his name wasn’t being banded around for a test during the close season this year. Sutil though could be in the best position for the role with the Mclaren – Force India connection working in his favour. On an outside chance, Timo Glock isn’t too shabby a driver either and has done a good job with some poor equipment un until now.

  27. why everyone isnt intrested in toyota? for the last few years they have been working so hard towards the first victory. they already got two podium finishes..who thought that brawn team could be in poles? toyota will have the market if they are continously scoring points in this season…

  28. Team changes for 2010.
    Brawn GP- Button and Vettel.
    Ferrari- Massa and Alonso.
    McLaren- Hamilton and Rosberg.
    Williams- Kovalainen and Nakajima.
    Renault- Raikkonen and Buemi.

  29. 2010.
    Brawn GP- Button, Vettel.
    Red Bull- Webber, Buemi.
    Toyota- Trulli, Glock.
    Ferrari- Massa, Alonso.
    McLaren- Hamilton, Rosberg.
    Williams- Kovalainen, Nakajima.
    Renault- Raikkonen, Di Riesta.
    BMW Sauber- Kubica, Heidfeld.
    Toro Rosso- Bourdais, Piquet.
    Force India- Fisichella, Sutil.

  30. i think Narain Karthikeyan , India’s first ever formula one driver , will find a way back in.
    Since force india does not have a Indian driver, and Narain i much talented than those drivers.

    He will find a way back in with williams/Prodrive/any other new teams??

    He has previous experince in f1 and due to the strong population and growing motorsport hunger population in india

    F1 would hold him as a strong possiblity for one of the teams .

    lets c…
    i think Karun , is not as talented as Narain , he is doing GP2 for fourth time , and has not managed to perform well, so he is unlikely to make it.

  31. Team Driver 1 Driver 2
    Ferrari Alonso Massa
    McLaren Hamilton Rosberg
    Renault Kubica Grosjean
    Brawn GP Button Senna
    Red Bull Vettel Webber
    Force India Sutil Luizzi
    Toro Rosso Alguersuari Beumi
    Williams Nakajima Hulkenberg
    Toyota Glock Heidfield
    USGPE Patrick Speed
    Campos Meta De La Rosa Pantano
    Manor Davidson Carroll

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