And they’re off! Usually the musical chairs start a lot earlier in the season. But Ferrari’s decision to re-sign Massa coupled with Alonso’s late departure from McLaren have finally kicked things off – after the last Grand Prix is long behind us.
What does all this mean for the famous and the lesser-known British drivers competing for seats in Formula One? Ladies and gentlemen, please place your bets…
- Lewis Hamilton: secure in his McLaren drive, it’s all a matter of who’ll be sitting next to him in the (likely rather cramped) garage next year, and how they’ll behave towards him. Rosberg and Kovalainen are both high on the list of possible replacements for Alonso, and both are distinctly northern European in outlook – rather than the fiery Latin types who seem to have been been coming a cropper at McLaren recently. Ron Dennis will have to make a decision about what he needs – will he go for a safe pair of hands, another star-in-the-making or someone who will challenge Hamilton to new heights? Outside bets could include both Jenson Button and David Coulthard (see below), promoting Pedro de la Rosa or even taking a flyer on Gary Paffett, although it would be a bit much to hope that lightning will strike Woking two years in a row.
- David Coulthard: our very first thought when we heard this was “Oh shit, there goes DC’s drive.” On one level, it would be desperately unfair – and unproductive – of Red Bull to drop him in favour of Alonso after all the development work he’s done with the team. On the other hand, when was elite sport ever fair? And Red Bull have shown how ruthless they can be with the abrupt dismissal of Christian Klien and the defenestration of the promising Scott Speed from Toro Rosso. No, this one sends cold shivers down our spines – and we’re not wholly convinced about a driver swap that sends Coulthard back to Woking; he seems so much happier since he left McLaren behind him. It might be great for the team but we can’t feel it would be half as positive for DC.
- Jenson Button: we’ve been predicting for a while, more in hope than expectation, that Jense might pitch up at McLaren acting as rear gunner to the Boy Wonder. We’d love to see this but don’t actually expect it any time soon. After all, can Honda really get it this badly wrong two seasons running?
- Likewise, Anthony Davidson might step up to Honda if Jense moved on. But, with that car in the state it’s in right now, and respect for the Honda team at a pretty significant low throughout the sport, he’s probably better off staying where he is. We loved how Super Aguri punched above their weight this season and hope they can do the same again in 2008.
- Test driver Gary Paffett has been kind-of pencilled in for McLaren B team in-the-making Prodrive, so we expect to see more of him next year regardless of what happens elsewhere. A very long shot for a drive in the A-car, however we’re not personally putting money on him.
- James Rossiter is a test driver at Honda right now, so he’s towards the back of the queue headed by Button and Davidson. Similarly Mike Conway, the GP2 driver who’s been flirting with the folks at Brackley recently, might find himself with the opportunity of furthering his Formula One career if there’s movement further up the pecking order. He’s represented by the Blundell/Brundle management company 2MB (which may be why he’s already writing a column for the ITV motorsport site) so expect him to grab any opportunities that come knocking.
* There’s an excellent interview with Murray Walker currently on the BBC site, in which he gives his view on the challenges of being Alonso’s team-mate – listen to it here.