The driver market still awaits what the next step Fernando Alonso will make. But, the Toyota’s future of Ralf Schumacher has been resolved with Ralf’s announcement yesterday. Not at all unexpected – Ralf is out. In a face saving fashion he made the announcement himself, making it look like his own decision. This opens Toyota’s door for somebody new. To whom ?
Timo Glock has been mentioned several times and his GP2 champion title will not do much harm to his F1 ambitions. There are also 2 young Japanese drivers in the Toyota Young Driver Programme – Kohei Hirate and Kamui Kobayashi. Then there is Kazuki Nakajima, currently a test driver in Toyota powered Williams team. So if Toyota would like to have a Japanese driver racing for them, they have plenty of choice… Last week Massa rumours (connected with Alonso to Ferrari rumours) were circulated too.
This was rubbished by Jean Todt however, who made it clear that both Massa and Raikkonen have contracts with Ferrari for 2008. Todt has no intentions not to respects the valid contracts. But, as GrandPrix.com points out, that is Jean Todt talking, and there is not any guarantee yet that he will keep his position in the Ferrari team. I am not yet ready to fill up the blanks in the Ferrari 2008 line up…
Flavio entered the picture admitting openly that he invited Alonso back to Renault, should he be able to get out of McLaren. He also ridiculed the suggestion that Alonso will be racing in the red car alongside Raikkonen. His view makes a lot of sense:
“First of all, after this experience at McLaren, Alonso will think 27 times before facing new adventures in other teams, and besides Todt already has two good drivers. And lastly I wonder: would it be positive to team up Alonso and Raikkonen? The time when you could have two strong drivers in the team are over. Now it’s important that the roles, number one and two, are clear, otherwise you risk to destabilise the team.”
If this move materializes, then Fisichella’s Renault days are pretty much over. There is very little chance for Heikki to be dropped after the recent string of good performances and 2nd place finish in Japan – the only podium for Renault so far this season. However, there was an interesting suggestion from one of the commentators on F1Fanatic – Renault getting Alonso back from McLaren in exchange for Heikki Kovalainen. I do not know how much would Flavio be ready to let Heikki go, but it would bring him Alonso back and also make some Nelson Piquet Jr. related decisions a bit easier. Still, bad news for Fisi on horizon, whatever angle you look at his situation from…
Renault may not be that competitive this year, but good news for them is, they know what caused their problems this year. Also, unlike McLaren and Ferrari, they are already fully focused on their 2008 car development. With traction control gone next year, the driver skills will be much more important than now. So, to get a driver like Alonso back to the team would make lots of sense for Reanult. The package of Alonso / Renault / TC free grid may be a formidable force.
As for Alonso, he made it clear, he does not even contemplate sitting out next season. Important reason is the traction control.
“Next year there will be an important change in the rules, removing all driving aids and it’s a season you have to race. It’s important to adapt to the cars, which will basically be completely new.”
I haven’t seen any firm confirmation about Hamilton for 2008 (correct me if I am wrong) but I can’t see him going anywhere. He will be in McLaren next year. I also still haven’t seen any firm confirmation on Webber, but I believe that his confirmation in Red Bull for next year is a mere formality. BMW is set, Toro Rosso is set. Super Aguri have not made any official announcement yet, but they did say they plan to retain their drivers line up for the next year. With several new sponsors on board, the takeover may no be imminent and Sato and Davidson probably safe.
So who are those who might still move up, around or out?
Button, Rosberg, Sutil, Alonso – should not have to worry about a race seat for 2008, but may still move around
Liuzzi, Ralf Schumacher – no seats
Fisichella – likely to loose his Renault seat
Nelson Piquet, Karthikeyan, Timo Glock – may smell a chance
Yamamoto – if Sutil stays, he is out
Teams with vacancies:
McLaren, Renault – probably
Honda – if Button moves
Williams – if Rosberg moves or if Wurz is out
Prodrive however did not many official announcements yet. There are rumours that they have secured the budget to pay McLaren for cars, they have a main sponsor (new to F1 apparently) but … For them to be able to run the McLaren cars they need the new Concorde agreement… If the teams do not come to any agreement before end of the year, the current one may roll over to 2008. Under the current Concorde agreement customer chassis are not allowed… So whether Prodrive makes it to the grid or not, is not exactly in their hands (unless they build their own car) and drivers betting their F1 future on Prodrive’s seat may be taking a bit of a risk…
Read also: 2008 Driver Rumours Part 7