By Joe Watson
As the Formula One season drew to a close on Sunday, the future of a handful of drivers hangs in the balance. Some are fortunate enough to be tied into long-term contracts, others showed their hand before the Championship ends, while some have to simply wait for the decision of their commander-in-chief.
For the drivers with no secured seat for the 2014 season, there is now little they can do to impress. Their team principle now must delicately consider whether the driver warrants a seat in their car and more significantly if they can afford to offer a hefty contract.
The frantic game of chess is well underway. Red Bull moved ahead of the pack to replace the departing Mark Webber with Daniel Ricciardo, while Ferrari rehired the experainced Kimi Raikkonen.
Max Chilton and Paul Di Resta are yet to safeguard their seats as the competition of places heats up. The driver’s market is open for business.
Chilton moved out of contract after the race in Brazil and finished firmly at the foot of the Drivers’ Championship with zero points on the board. The rookie’s debut season was nothing to write home about however did boast a 100% finishing record. Fellow rookie team-mate Jules Bianchi already penned a new contract to remain at Marussia for his second season. The reasoning behind the delay according to the team’s Sporting Director Graeme Lowdon is that it fits in their internal timescale and they definitely aren’t leaving the young Brit hanging on. Chilton must wait until December before Murussia announce the Frenchman’s partner.
For the 2014 Championship, bigger rules changes than ever are being implemented to crank up with the race day shenanigans. The FIA have ordered teams to use V6 turbocharged power units rather than V8, change the bodywork of the car and have introduced more intricate energy recovery systems. These adaptations need experience if each driver are to seamlessly brace the technical challenge.
“One of the things about next year is the technical challenge is going to be huge, for all the teams,” said Lowdon. “A lot of things are going to be new and so I think there’s a strong argument to say that having an experienced line-up would benefit the team.”
Experience is something the Brit doesn’t have in abundance however affluence is. Chilton is a ‘pay driver’ meaning he brings funding and sponsorship to help finance the team. Also the financial clout of his father, Grahame, muscled him into Marussia and that could be the remaining factor if he was to hold his seat. In essence, the Brit could flourish in his second season providing he is given the time. However like most teams they are seeking instant success and Marussia may turn to experience if they are to compete consistently up the grid.
If it is experience they want then Feilpe Massa slipped the net. The 32-year-old snubbed McLaren to drive for Williams next season meaning he will be the second most experienced driver on the circuit.
Di Resta’s pace this season has been there for all to see. He has picked up points in nine of his 19 races and is 12th in the Drivers’ Championship with 48 points. Both Force Indias had a good start to the season but the change tyres in the summer led to a change in their fortunes.
The Brit hasn’t as yet been offered a new contract however his future is set to be resolved shortly. According to Sky F1 sources, Nico Hulkenberg has been offered a two-season deal by Force India just a year after leaving the team. If this is proven to be true then the Brit could be ousted out or shuffled down the pecking order.
Force India were hot on the heels of McLaren who have slipped down the Championship since the departure of Lewis Hamilton. Di Resta is confident in his ability providing he has the right backing.
He said: “There are a lot of us who don’t know where they will be next season but if I have the tools I’ll deliver. Vijay Mallya [Force India team principal] is giving off good signals but I want to know for sure. They know what I’m capable of here, they know what I can deliver. I feel like I’m an asset to the team.”
Providing the Brit stays at Force India and they give him a challengeable car then Di Resta could have his best season yet in 2014.
For Hamilton and Jenson Button, a change of teams is very unlikely. Hamilton signed a three-year-old last year and has been impressing in his debut season for Mercedes. The Brit qualified on pole in five races however only finished in that position once. Hamilton could be a serious contender against the Ferraris if he irons out his poor starts. It seems he still hasn’t fully adapted to life in the W04 and struggles in the wet. Hamilton had a good season considering he didn’t have any influence over the design of the car.
Without the spotlight of Hamilton in the McLaren team, Button’s season coasted at a consistent pace. He signed his 2014 contract last month dashing talk that Red Bull and Ferrari were interested in his services.
The only major climate waiting to unfold is surrounding driver contracts. Two Brits will remains at their respective teams, another is highly likely to stay put, while Chilton’s future is firmly in the palm of the Marussia hierarchy.