The Formula 1 driver market remains in a state of flux after Ferrari’s confirmation of Fernando Alonso’s arrival in 2010 failed to trigger the expected rush of announcements.
Renault acted quickly to name Robert Kubica as the Spaniard’s replacement, but that was the only direct reaction to the Alonso news. With only Red Bull and Ferrari having officially confirmed both drivers by the Brazilian GP, and several expected signings yet to be formalised, the situation is unlikely to become transparent until well into the winter.
Matters have been complicated by the arrival of four new teams in F1 next year, by uncertainty about the future of the Qadbak/Sauber team, and by lingering doubts about Toyota’s commitment ahead of the board’s long-awaited review of its F1 programme in mid-November.
In addition, even teams that appear to have healthy budgets are keen to keep a lid on retainers, which has slowed down the market further as top drivers push for what they believe they are worth. For that reason Jenson Button had not yet re-signed for Brawn when he won the title in Brazil. The expected moves by Nico Rosberg to Brawn and Rubens Barrichello to Williams have also yet to be confirmed.
Alonso had long been linked with Ferrari, and in fact has had a firm contract for 2011 for some time. The arrival of Santander as a major sponsor encouraged Ferrari to find a way to bring the Spaniard on board one year early, however, despite having a contract with Kimi Räikkönen. The Finn will be paid in full – his salary is estimated at $25 million – to walk away.
Kubica’s move to Renault is a logical one as he was keen to find a seat where he could grow into the role of team leader. He was briefly a member of Flavio Briatore’s driver programme and had his first F1 test in a Renault in 2005.
Räikkönen now holds the key to the driver market. A return to McLaren to run alongside Lewis Hamilton remains his most attractive option, but he is demanding what he believes to be his market value. Sources suggest matters are complicated by the fact that he only wants a one-year deal. He also has a firm offer from Toyota, which is keen to secure a big name and has no drivers signed yet. Adrian Sutil and Timo Glock are among the favourites for the second Renault seat.