Woah, what’s going on?

Sorry for the lack of blogging of late. What with new job, new child and the start of the world cup, I have been somewhat busy. No excuse, I know.

Anyway, I thought I’d just jot down a few thoughts that I’ve got running around my melon at the moment – as much to try and compartmentalise and make sense of them to myself, as much as to bring you some semblance of comment or opinion.

So, in the words of Marvin Gaye – Woah, what’s going on?

The issue of tyres in 2011 has become something of a mess. The basic synopsis is thus: The FIA and Michelin agreed terms, but the teams and Bernie weren’t happy that the deal had been done without consulting them. All of a sudden up crops Cooper/Avon and Pirelli with rival bids. Cooper/Avon is quickly dismissed despite the company’s links with Bernie, and Pirelli, new GP3 supplier in 2010, almost immediately appears to be the most likely choice. The tyres will be cheap, but the company won’t put as much into the sport in terms of trackside signage etc. Michelin’s bosses declare themselves somewhat upset that their sure deal has fallen through, and come back in at the eleventh hour in Turkey to try and salvage the deal. Their tyres will be more expensive, but they’ll provide more trackside signage of which the teams receive a cut.

Pirelli currently supplies the GP3 Series

Then there are the tech regs. We’re expecting tyres to stay at 18 inches for the next two years before switching to low profile tyres in 2013. Any new tyre deal will need to be run for a minimum of three seasons, meaning that whoever comes in will have to do so under an agreement that they will have to design two types of tyre. For Pirelli this will be something of an annoyance, but for Michelin it is all fairly simple as they still have the moulds for 18 inchers from their last F1 appearance, and they have low profile tyres in use in sportscars.

Then there’s the role of the FIA. It now seems clear that one of the reasons Jean Todt has been so quiet is that the role of the FIA President in Formula 1 has been enormously marginalised by the increased strength and power of FOTA. FOTA’s decision to wade into the tyre debate came after the teams felt the FIA President had overstepped his mark by as good as agreeing terms with Michelin before they’d even been consulted. Now there is the argument that the FIA should not be involved in the decision at all because with the teams paying for tyres this is a commercial issue. Not so, says the FIA, as the choice of tyres is a sporting a safety issue, and thus of course involves the FIA. But if it involves the FIA, then the FIA has broken its own rules as the supply deal was never officially put out to tender.

I asked Martin Whitmarsh, FOTA Chairman, in Canada whether this was all essentially politics, and the FIA President stamping his feet, Rumplestiltskin style, in order to get himself heard for the first time in his Presidency. He simply gave me one of those knowing looks, smiled, and laughed, before giving me a beautifully neutral answer.

Whatever the political factors behind the decision, we now understand that the deal will be announced with Pirelli shortly.

All of which leaves us with little time to develop the tyres before next year. There has been much talk that the work will be carried out by Nick Heidfeld in a Toyota F1 car, as this is the easiest way to avoid any conflict of interests and any team gaining an advantage.

Ah, but hold on a minute. Nick Heidfeld is Mercedes’ tester. So what you ask? Well for some, myself included, the last thing anybody wants is a return to the days when teams become so engrained with tyre companies that a certain type of tyre was designed almost exclusively for that one team. In the 2000s it was Bridgestone and Ferrari, and the Ross Brawn / Michael Schumacher / Ferrari / Bridgestone combo reaped massive rewards. Today, in a car designed for someone else and on tyres designed for the sport rather than for him, Michael Schumacher is struggling to show us any sign of his apparent genius. Sticking Heidfeld on tyre testing duties would, I feel, be a massive mistake and a big step back to the days of old as it would hand an advantage back to Mercedes.

You want a great tester, with a feel for tyres, no conflict of interest, and with relevant recent F1 experience, you call Anthony Davidson. Simple as.

And as for the Toyota… well here’s another interesting thing. Rumours in Canada were rife that one of the prospective new teams intend to use the 2010 Toyota which never saw the light of day as the basis for their 2011 car should they be given the entry. It’s a very sensible plan, and would allow the team in question to enter the sport with a firm foundation and what looks, from the photos we’ve seen, to be a very tidy car indeed. Simply take off the double diffuser, stick KERS back in, and you’re ready to run.

The team rumoured to be talking to Toyota about using their racer which never raced is ART, and it is just the kind of sensible decision I would expect to come from Nicolas Todt and Frederic Vasseur.

My one fear in all of this is how ART will be perceived if the team is given the nod for F1 in 2011. I fear that the media at large will come down hard on the FIA and on Jean Todt, claiming nepotism and a conflict of interests should his son’s team be granted a grid place in Formula 1. But any such suggestions will be made to score cheap political points. ART is, from what we know of the prospective entries, by far and away the strongest potential new F1 team. It has big funding in place, and in terms of class there is perhaps no other team at a sub-F1 level which has consistently proved itself to be so strong – be it GP2, F3 or GP3. There is no better team out there than ART.

But if ART end up using as a basis for their car, the very same car that was used to develop the new 2011 tyres, then again a conflict of interests will no doubt be called, and if it is overlooked then the relationship between Jean and Nicolas will again be questioned. It shouldn’t be so, but I fear it is just too easy for some to look at the shared surname and forget the individual achievements of each man on their own merits.

What of the other new teams, I hear you ask? From the entries we know have gone in, only Epsilon seems to stand any real shot at a grid space. But for a team determined to build its car from scratch at its fantastic facility in Spain, a decent lead time is running short.

The chance of an American team making the grid in 2011 is also not completely out of the realms of possibility. I had a great chat with Parris Mullins, one of the men behind the still-born USF1 project, and the good news is that he now represents a group of big investors who want to start an American F1 team. Following the USF1 mess, the even better news is they don’t want to do it from scratch. Instead, they want to buy an existing team and to turn it, piecemeal, into an American team – Force India style. Bring in the sponsors, and little by little, make it American. Win hearts and minds, to adopt a well-used Americanism.

The two teams that we know are on shaky ground right now are Sauber and Toro Rosso. Sure, HRT has its problems, but with Colin Kolles on board and rumours that Geoff Willis wants to do a Ross Brawn on the team, they are looking OK. Instead it is two former race-winning teams that look the most in danger.

On present form, you’d have to say that Toro Rosso is the better option of the two, but the infrastructure at Sauber is pretty impressive. A big investment may yet be the only thing to save Sauber. The team launched its C1 (Club One) initiative in Canada which is a project to bring in sponsors who do not wish to have big branding on the car, but to remain anonymous. While my colleague Dieter Rencken has written a fascinating piece on this subject on his Daily Grapevine column on autosport.com, I have my doubts over the scheme. Afterall, haven’t we seen this before? Isn’t this simply the Honda earthdreams concept under a different name? Sure, in today’s economic climate big business doesn’t want to be seen to be frittering its money away, but those companies are unlikely to be sponsoring anybody right now anyway – their boards simply wouldn’t allow it. The days of something for nothing just do not exist. If someone, anyone, is putting money into a project, I don’t think anybody can be naive enough to seriously believe that they wouldn’t want an increased public perception of their brand in return. It didn’t work for Honda, so why should it work for Sauber? Perhaps that makes me naive. It’s certainly an interesting debate.

But the Americans may not be the only saviours on the horizon. With Sergio Perez a leading light in GP2 and Esteban Guttierez leading the way in GP3, the racing prospects of the Mexican nation are looking very good indeed. And with one of the world’s richest men, Carlos Slim, known to be interested in F1, could we yet see one of the struggling teams take on a Mexican flavour?

When asked about this back in Turkey, the repeated word from a high level source at Sauber was, quite simply, “We have a very good relationship and dialogue with Carlos Slim.” Is this why Guttierez remains under the wing of the team? Could we see a Mexican investment in Sauber? “Sauber Slim” anyone?

The driver market may be pretty well sorted for next season, but that doesn’t mean the news has stopped in Formula 1. There are still a lot of fascinating stories bubbling under the surface, and the next few weeks look set to be really rather intriguing.

Why F1′s exciting new dawn may have to wait

Part of the new track in Bahrain © http://www.sutton-images.com

I’m getting a little bit worried about tomorrow’s F1 race, because from what I have seen so far of the weekend, the incredible battle that everyone is expecting may be under threat of not showing up.

This fear comes not from the competitive differences between the teams you understand, but from something far easier to resolve… and something which wasn’t even a problem two weeks ago.

The new sequence of corners at the Bahrain International circuit between Turn 4 and the old Turn 5, have added almost a kilometre to the circuit length and half a minute to overall laptimes. They’re a challenging combination of tight and technical corners, designed to add some extra spice to the track… only, they’re not quite coming up trumps.

The problem, you see, is that this new part of the track has been ill conceived and ill designed. Quite apart from the fact that there simply isn’t enough track length between corners to allow anyone to have a decent stab at a passing move, the track width is so slim that you can barely fit two cars side by side. To the naked eye, it appears almost half the width of the rest of the circuit.

So if this new part of the track wasn’t designed around the purpose of introducing more overtaking opportunities, then why put it in at all? Sure these seven extra turns now make Bahrain the second longest circuit on the calendar, but nobody’s going to care when all they’ve done is create crap racing.

And if you think I’m being overly pessimistic, may I point your attention to today’s GP2 Asia race.

Two weeks ago, GP2 Asia raced on the old circuit, the original circuit. With overtaking being pulled off at Turns 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 11, 12, 15/16 and, believe it or not, 13 and 14 throughout the weekend, the main feature race two weeks ago had me on my knees in the commentary box and in need of some strepsils. It was, without question, one of the greatest races I have witnessed in my lifetime.

Compare that to today. The extra corners served not to spice up the show, but to create one long procession. You’d never have believed we were at the same track.. because in many ways, we weren’t.

The new section didn’t allow good overtaking. Indeed only two moves were pulled off there all race and both of those were balls to the wall passes that owed more to luck than judgement. It’s also incredibly bumpy… so much so that pole sitter and today’s winner Luca Filippi has taken to wearing a gumshield, a sporting safety device more usually seen on the rugby field than in a racing car. Third placed Charles Pic has reported that he is suffering from huge blisters on both hands following today’s race… soemthing he certainly didn’t have after winning here two weeks ago!

Sure, you can argue it’s only GP2 Asia, and not representative of F1. But GP2 Asia cars were designed around the concept of ground effect and to allow overtaking. F1 2010 has not been. So if the new track turned one of the most exciting races I’ve seen into one of the most dull… what hope of a good F1 race? The 24 drivers who took part in today’s race featured only a few changes from those who competed a few weeks ago, so did they all just forget how to race? I don’t think so.

Factor in also that the new teams in F1 are not on the pace of those at the front of the grid, and there is also a potential problem… namely that between Turn 5 and Turn 12, quicker cars will not be able to pass slower cars. Even if they’re lapping them. All this will do is create anger from the leading drivers to the backmarkers at a time when the 107% rule is already being debated in unduly high decibels.

But if we are to be fair we must point out right now and before the race even begins that it will not be the Virgin, Lotus and HRT drivers’ fault if they cannot get out of the way of the quicker cars in this new section, but that of the circuit designers. Anywhere else, and there might have been space to pass… but not on a track that’s as thin and as comparative a shade of its former self as Lindsey Lohan.

They usually say that a boring Sunday GP2 race doesn’t leave much hope for the main event.

As such, I’m hoping for an epic support event tomorrow morning. If it doesn’t arrive, we may have to wait a few weeks for F1’s exciting new dawn to truly arrive.

Campos Out, Kolles In… Team Saved?

The future of the Campos Formula 1 team is set to be clarified by the end of the week, with sources close to the squad informing me that team founder Adrian Campos is set to part company with the squad after its takeover by former Jordan, Midland, Spyker and Force India boss Colin Kolles.

It is understood that Kolles has put up his own money to buy the team and to start to pay off the team’s debts to car designer Dallara, in order to get the team to the first race in Bahrain. As recent online rumours have stated Team Principal Jose Ramon Carabante will remain in place, although it remains to be seen whether Danielle Audetto will also stay at the squad as he and Kolles experienced something of a rocky relationship during Audetto’s time at Super Aguri when he and then Spyker-employed Kolles disagreed somewhat over the concept of customer cars.

All in all, it’s actually good news as far as the team is concerned as Kolles’ apparent investment and takeover may well have saved the jobs of a good group of people and assured one more new team’s place on the 2010 grid. A team name change so late in the day could prove difficult, although there are believed to be some pretty serious potential investors in the wings who might make the establishment sit up and take notice.

When Kolles’ name was first mentioned as a potential investor, it was done so alongside rumours of a Volkswagen takeover of Campos. Although Volkswagen denied the reports at the time, the company is not being so negative today, and is merely refusing to confirm or deny that they are in talks with the team. It may seem like a technicality, but it is actually a million miles away from their previous flat denial.

Volkswagen’s apparent and potential interest in F1 comes at a time when the majority of the motor manufacturers have pulled out of F1, and as such any new manufacturer entrant would be big, and hugely positive, news. Moreover, Volkswagen has a number of brands which could sit well within F1. From Volkswagen itself there is also SEAT at the cheaper end of the market. The company also owns the Audi brand and at the very top end, Volkswagen was of course involved in that most epic of cars, the Bugatti Veyron.

My colleague Joe Saward has today mused that SEAT would be a neat fit for a Spanish-based F1 team, and it is worth mentioning that Rally legend and absolute Spanish hero Carlos Sainz, who now races for Volkswagen in the Dakar, has been spotted at F1 testing checking out how things work.

To my mind however, it is Audi which would make the most sense for any potential Volkswagen involvement. Audi is a big brand and serves the car market from small city run-arounds to high powered supercars. From the A3 (read overpriced VW Golf), all the way up to the simply glorious R9, Audi is an aspirational auto brand, and one which would sit well in Formula 1.

Audi already races at Le Mans and in the DTM, and is a hugely successful marque in its own right. A transition to Formula 1 wouldn’t therefore be completely out of left field.

Now factor in these little nuggets… Colin Kolles runs Audi A4s in the DTM and Audi R10s at Le Mans and in the Le Mans Series.

Dallara designed the Audi R8, one of the most succesful racing cars in the marque’s history.

See where I’m going?

Oh… and wouldn’t it just look a bit special, too? Huge thanks to Kim Stapleton for letting me use his incredible mock-up of an Audi F1 car.

OK, I’m just speculating because there is, as yet, absolutely no confirmation that Volkswagen really is talking to the team… but there are enough links there to make you think that these rumours might actually have some substance to them.

Either way, I fully expect to see Colin Kolles confirmed as the new owner of the Campos F1 team by the end of the week. It’s hugely sad for Adrian Campos himself, who is a man I like very much. He had a dream to go racing in Formula 1, and if it is ultimately the case that his dream has had to end then I, for one, will be very sad that it has come to such a conclusion. He’s a racer, pure and simple, and similar to the guys at USF1 one feels that if the size of their hearts were only matched by the extent of their wallets then we’d have two mega little teams in F1 this year.

Kolles’ takeover may also have other ramifications. Bruno Senna was signed up to the original Campos team, but had to bring no money with him on the basis that the team could use his image and name to attract sponsors to the squad. They have failed in this regard, and given that Senna’s contract was with Adrian Campos and his team, one wonders how stable that deal will be with the team’s new owner. Frankly I think they’d be crazy to get rid of him. He’s fast, he’s young, he’s got bucket loads of potential and he’s also hugely marketable in the right hands.

All this comes on the day that we are hearing that USF1′s base in Charlotte is up for sale. There is talk that a rift is starting to appear in the team between those pulling their weight and those who are not, and I understand that Peter Windsor is making his way over to Europe to try and find a solution to save his dream before all is lost. Peter’s worked his backside off trying to make this team happen, and I really hope it all works out, even if it’s not the 100% pure American squad which he’d hoped for.

Even the usually smug StefanGP’s not having a great time. Despite team owner Zoran Stefanovich saying he’s on the verge of announcing his drivers (he’d do well to get an F1 entry first), we’re hearing he hasn’t paid Toyota for their car yet and as such all of those goodies could be back up for sale soon as well.

Expect these stories to develop quickly, as with less than a month to go until Bahrain, there is very little time to get deals done.

Lola and the struggles of the newboys

There are a lot of stories doing the rounds today about the futures of the Campos and USF1 teams, as questions continue to circulate as to whether either of them will be racing in Bahrain or, for that matter, whether we’ll see them at all in 2010. After FIA President Jean Todt admitted that the Concorde Agreement allowed for teams to miss three races before they would be kicked out of the championship, the FIA yesterday went on the offensive telling teams that there would be no excuses for missing even a single event.

Of course the sad thing in all this is that we really shouldn’t be terribly surprised to see the new teams struggle. The FIA’s failure to force through the 2010 budget cap under which it had accepted the new teams’ entries has undoubtedly shortened their prospects of not only success, but of their very survival. It seems to me to be pretty incredible for the FIA to allow no excuses for new teams to miss races in 2010, given that it was the FIA who promised a budget cap that failed to materialise. One would have thought that it would serve the FIA’s purposes to try and protect its new breed, rather than to grant them life and then leave them out in a blizzard to freeze.

One must now seriously question the due diligence process conducted on the FIA’s part of the prospective new teams, and how it was that of the numerous proposals put forwards, so many strong admissions were passed over in favour of teams which we can now quite clearly see did not have the funding in place to make a decent go of things. Because, and here’s the thing, we’re not even talking about big budgets here… we’re talking about that 40 million budget cap. As things stand, it would appear that neither USF1 nor Campos are even close to that magic number because even if the budget cap had come in, it now looks unlikely that the teams in question would have been able to make it.

That said, one must also say that these new teams have, perhaps, massively underestimated the challenge from both a sporting, technical and commercial perspective.

All of which must leave the likes of Prodrive and Lola, teams who know the challenge and could have risen to it, feeling pretty sick. Here we had two racing companies with a rich history, strong commercial and technical teams, and the funding to do things properly. Thanks to the manner in which the new teams were chosen however, both have now pulled their hats out of the ring and would likely be unable to fill the void should any new team fail to make it.

All we and the FIA are left with is StefanGP, an unknown quantity in racing and business terms, but an organisation which has filed a complaint against the FIA with the EC and employed Mike Coughlan, a man with an almighty black mark against his name in the FIA’s eyes, to work at the squad. Seems incredible the FIA would even give the team the time of day, doesn’t it? But what other option do they have?

The Lola MB01 in the windtunnel c/o Lola

Should any new team fail to make it and the FIA be able to admit another team into Formula 1, Lola would seem to be the best option. That said, I have it on pretty good authority that although the team stands by its mantra that they exist in “a state of readiness” to jump into F1 should the call arrive, it would actually take Lola the better part of six months to be fully prepared. Not only that, but without the budget cap I doubt very much that Lola would wish to become involved with F1 at all.

Having been turned down in the initial process, I understand that Lola even went as far as to contact USF1 at the tail end of last season to offer support with the design of their Type 1, given that Lola had a 2010 car fully designed and ready to rock. USF1, however, is understood to have turned down the offer. When I was over in Charlotte, NC, a few weeks ago, all that existed in the USF1 factory was a single tub. If rumours leaking out of FIA sources are correct, the team hasn’t even booked its crash tests, let alone passed them.

I believe that Lola still wants to be in Formula 1, but only if the price is right and should the timing be such that the team can join the sport without endangering its business and its reputation as it did back in 1997. For that reason, I can’t see Lola now selling the IP to its 2010 F1 car, even if USF1 did come knocking.

With the preparation the team put into its 2010 F1 programme, Lola is an even stronger business and racing team than it was 12 months ago and, ironically enough, could be in an even stronger position to make an F1 debut in 2011 should a space open up, than it would have been in 2010.

Whitmarsh – FOTA and McLaren willing to help new teams.

Martin Whitmarsh © http://www.sutton-images.com

McLaren’s Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh has pledged that Formula 1 will do all it can to help the sport’s new teams succeed, as the financial and sporting future of at least half of F1′s new entrants looks to be in jeopardy with a matter of days to go until pre-season testing gets underway.

His comments come just a day after Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo reignited the discussion surrounding the provision of customer cars to new teams in order to aid their transition to F1.

“I think we, as McLaren and myself as chairman of FOTA, recognise that we will do all we can to demonstrate that new entrants are possible in F1,” he said at today’s launch of the McLaren MP4-25.

“It is clearly tough for the new teams to come into the sport. We know how difficult it is, with all the experience and resources we have, to be ready for the start of the season. So it must be very difficult for any new team. I don’t think we should apologise for that. F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and if it was easy for anyone to get out their chequebook and go motor racing at the highest level next year, then we would really not have been working as hard as we should have been as established teams.

“We don’t want any team to fail, we should be doing all that we can within the F1 community. I think FOTA has been a coming-together of all of the teams for the first time in the history of F1. The spirit that exists in F1 is unique now, certainly in my 20 years of experience in the sport. So I think we will do what we can, but ultimately if there are teams that just don’t have the capability or resource or underestimated the task of being at the highest level of motorsport in the world, then some you can help and some you can’t.”

Whitmarsh maintained that McLaren remained open to the possibility of supplying customer cars, but expressed his surprise that none of the new teams, save for the as yet still mysterious Stefan GP, decided to take up the option of buying Toyota’s completed 2010 racer.

“I think philosophically McLaren believes that it is important F1 entrants develop their own cars, however, we are pragmatists and we have demonstrated in the past a willingness to provide customer cars. We remain willing, but I don’t know we are ready to do it quite before Bahrain if a team needs it.

“Ironically quite a lot of these teams had an opportunity to acquire a Toyota chassis. Toyota built two cars that were available from Christmas, and I am rather surprised that some of them did not do that – they rather looked a gift horse in the mouth. That was, perhaps, the wrong decision but nevertheless they had their own reasons for that decision. We have to see in the coming weeks or months whether we can help those new teams to be there to add to the flavour and diversity of F1.”

Only five seats left as Pedro signs for Sauber

Pedro de la Rosa's testing pitboard © http://www.sutton-images.com

One down, five to go. Pedro de la Rosa’s confirmation this morning as a BMW Sauber driver has completed one further piece of the 2010 jigsaw, leaving just five vacant seats on this season’s grid: one at Renault, one at Toro Rosso, one at Campos and two at USF1.

Pedro’s return to a race seat had been expected for some time, although his ultimate destination remains a relative surprise. Until very recently a move to the new Campos squad had been mooted, for it was under the guidance of Adrian Campos that de la Rosa reached F1 back in the late 1990s. Campos himself had held out tremendous hope of signing his former young charge but recently admitted he had given up all hope after finding Spanish sponsors to be fairly non plussed about the idea.

De la Rosa’s abilities as a test and development driver in Formula 1 are pretty much unrivalled in this modern era, with only the likes of Montagny and Davidson in my opinion coming close. Thus what he brings to a team in his technical ability to deliver a quick car makes him an almighty asset. The intensity on Martin Whitmarsh’s face in conversation with Campos towards the end of the season certainly gave the impression that McLaren did not want to let the Spaniard go without a fight, but with limited testing agreed for 2010 there would have been little chance for de la Rosa to have made an impact on the MP4-25.

His worth to BMW Sauber, or Sauber or whatever it’s going to end up being called, is therefore vast. After a season of immense under-achievement in 2009, Sauber needs to get back on the right tracks this year and with the inexperienced Kamui Kobayashi in the second car, the team needed a man with experience to head up the team. In de la Rosa they have experience and class and if Kamui is smart he will learn all he can from Pedro.

Spare a thought however for Nick Heidfeld and Christian Klien. Heidfeld, as a BMW Sauber driver for the last four seasons and a Sauber driver for three seasons before that, will have been hoping that the vacant Sauber seat would be his. Today’s news thus forms the second massive disappointment for him in the last month, following his rejection by Mercedes in favour of Michael Schumacher. His racing options for 2010 are running out. And fast.

Christian Klien will be distraught. A dedicated tester for BMW Sauber for the last two years, he had hoped to be taken on by the team as a racer for 2010. With no racing experience in F1 since 2006, his sole realistic option of a race seat this season has also now gone.

Campos will also be gutted. De la Rosa was exactly the kind of driver the team needed to push the development of their new car in testing, and his experience would have benefitted Bruno Senna, thus far the team’s only confirmed driver, immensely. Speaking with Bruno a few weeks ago when I went to see him in Brazil, I know how much he was hoping to have Pedro as a team-mate so this news will come as something of a blow for the whole Campos outfit.

The big question now is who will fill the remaining five seats in Formula 1.

Renault is by far the most sought after seat. Nick Heidfeld would have to be considered to be in contention at the team given his experience and working relationship with Robert Kubica, but to my mind he doesn’t fit the bill. He’s not part of the dynamic young breed and his results don’t stand him out as one of the experienced drivers you’d break your back to sign. Yes he’s speedy, but is he speedy enough? Two rejections in a month say he’s not. Jacques Villeneuve’s links with Gravity Management and the team’s new owners make him an enticing possibility and the PR from bringing another champion back to the sport would be pretty handy. But is it realistic?

Then there’s the aforementioned Montagny. It is worth remembering Renault hasn’t won a championship since they dumped him as their test and development driver and to my mind that is not a coincidence. He’s currently racing for Peugeot at Le Mans, so a move to Renault would make waves in France, too. All in all it makes perfect sense.

There are also the former Super Aguri boys. Takuma Sato is still hungry and superbly fast, and is a huge draw in Japan. His return to F1 would be big news and a popular move by the team. Anthony Davidson made a spectacular shift in jobs last year, becoming one of the most entertaining and insightful commentators in F1, but he is a racer and deserves a seat if there is one in the sport. And just as with Pedro and Franck, his car development skills are phenomenal.

Toro Rosso’s a strange one. Alguersuari wasn’t abysmal last season and it would be good for the team to give him another shot, but it is a foolish man who tries to second guess what Red Bull is going to do with its young drivers. By that token, Daniel Ricciardo could get the job and from his testing form he’d be an exciting prospect. But with Ferrari engines in the back, might we also see the Scuderia’s tester Giancarlo Fisichella in a Toro Rosso? It’s not out of the realms of possibility but would not fit in with the general ethos of the team.

It seems that the other three seats will fall down to budget. Kazuki Nakajima has been rumoured to be close to the second Campos seat with a budget of around $10million, while Vitaly Petrov and Pastor Maldonado have long been linked with the squad. From what I understand of the situation the latter two became so embroiled in a fight for the seat that the battle to outbid each other put both outside their realistic budget, thus setting the whole process back.

And as for USF1… your guess is as good as mine. Heidfeld? Klien? Maldonado? Jose Maria Lopez is understood to have a pre-contract in place that will give him the seat if he can raise $8million, but that remains to be seen. By leaving their decisions to the very last minute however, the team may yet be able to land themselves a couple of pretty nifty drivers at bargain basement prices because if they leave it much longer, they should have the only two seats left in the sport.