Analysis: Fight for Force India and Caterham F1 seats nears end

The fight for Formula 1's leading seats may have been over months ago, but the battle for cockpits further down the field remains intense as judgements loom on the final two vacancies

Analysis: Fight for Force India and Caterham F1 seats nears end

Force India and Caterham are the only remaining outfits that have yet to finalise their line-ups, but with just one month to go before the start of 2013 testing, decisions are now expected within days.

The increasingly tough economic climate worldwide means that teams at both ends of the grid have had to be more mindful of commercial considerations when it comes to drivers, which is why neither outfit is having an easy time making its choice.

Force India: Bianchi vs Sutil

The Force India vacancy is a plum seat, with Nico Hulkenberg having shown at the Brazilian Grand Prix that the team has the capability to fight right at the front.

Although Paul di Resta has not yet been confirmed, his performances last year left the team in no doubt that he justified another opportunity for 2013, so his place is secure.

Towards the end of last season, the list of candidates for the seat alongside di Resta stretched to double figures though, as youngsters like Luiz Razia, out of work men like Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi, and current racers like Bruno Senna and Kamui Kobayashi vied to fill Hulkenberg's place.

Although each driver had varying amounts of sponsorship behind him, Force India CEO Otmar Szafnauer told AUTOSPORT at the end of last season that the decision would ultimately rest on ability rather than backing.

He made it clear his preference was for speed to ultimately win out, because that would be the only way of ensuring both its men performed.

"I am a believer that you need someone like that," he said. "Not everyone does, and it is a subconscious thing.

"You think you are driving the best you can, but there is nothing like competition for us humans to really sharpen our focus, attention and skills in all sort of stuff. If you have competition you end up driving yourself more."

That process has culminated in the selection whittling down now to what appears to be a straightforward decision between veteran Adrian Sutil and rising star Jules Bianchi.

Sutil: No legal issues preventing return
Bianchi 'ready for F1'

Sutil has the experience and speed to keep things moving forward after Hulkenberg, and would bring some funding from his long-term backers.

Bianchi would be more of a gamble on the driving front - because he has yet to race in F1 - but he has the added attraction of closes ties to Ferrari.

The Frenchman has been retained as part of the Ferrari Driver Academy for 2013, and a long-term deal could tie in to a potential engine partnership for 2014 and beyond.

Ferrari is currently working on sorting out its future customer engine plans, and may need to secure another partner with Scuderia Toro Rosso likely to make the move to Renault after this season.

The final call on Force India's drivers rests with team principal Vijay Mallya, who will need to weigh up both the short-term and long-term benefits of either candidate.

Caterham: Petrov, Senna or van der Garde?

At Caterham, there is an equally tough decision to be made as to who will partner youngster Charles Pic.

The Leafield-based outfit may have secured its 10th place in the constructors' championship at the 11th hour with Vitaly Petrov's result in Brazil, but it remains eager to bolster its commercial situation even more.

Heikki Kovalainen is unlikely to be kept on for another year, with the leading candidates for the role now being Petrov, Bruno Senna and Giedo van der Garde.

Kovalainen accepts 2013 chances slim
Van der Garde 'making huge strides'
Senna: I would be stronger in 2013

Petrov added nearly $10 million to Caterham's coffers with his 11th-place finish at Interlagos that got the team back in the top 10 of the constructors' championship, so there is an obvious reason to retain him.

Furthermore, Petrov has the potential to unlock more sponsorship from Russia with the Sochi Grand Prix looming on the horizon for 2014.

However, Senna has valuable backing behind him right now, and has the kind of profile and attitude that the team would benefit from.

Like the decision facing Mallya, Caterham has candidates who each easily justify their place, but in the end there is only space for one man.

2013 Formula 1 line-up so far: Red Bull Sebastian Vettel Mark Webber Ferrari Fernando Alonso Felipe Massa McLaren Jenson Button Sergio Perez Lotus Kimi Raikkonen Romain Grosjean Mercedes Lewis Hamilton Nico Rosberg Sauber Nico Hulkenberg Esteban Gutierrez Force India Paul di Resta seat still available Williams Pastor Maldonado Valtteri Bottas Toro Rosso Daniel Ricciardo Jean-Eric Vergne Caterham Charles Pic seat still available Marussia Timo Glock Max Chilton 
shares
comments
The big stories of 2013 in Formula 1

Previous article

The big stories of 2013 in Formula 1

Next article

Red Bull says late-season upgrade hurt Mark Webber

Red Bull says late-season upgrade hurt Mark Webber
Load comments

About this article

Series Formula 1
Teams Force India , Caterham F1
Author Jonathan Noble
The delay that quashed Aston Martin’s last F1 venture Plus

The delay that quashed Aston Martin’s last F1 venture

Aston Martin’s only previous foray into Formula 1 in the late 1950s was a short-lived and unsuccessful affair. But it could have been so different, says NIGEL ROEBUCK

Formula 1
Apr 10, 2021
Verstappen exclusive: Why lack of car-racing titles won't hurt Red Bull's ace Plus

Verstappen exclusive: Why lack of car-racing titles won't hurt Red Bull's ace

Max Verstappen’s star quality in Formula 1 is clear. Now equipped with a Red Bull car that is, right now, the world title favourite and the experience to support his talent, could 2021 be the Dutchman’s year to topple the dominant force of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes?

Formula 1
Apr 9, 2021
Are we at peak F1 right now? Plus

Are we at peak F1 right now?

For many, many years Formula 1 has strived to do and to be better on all fronts. With close competition, a growing fanbase, a stable political landscape and rules in place to encourage sustainability, 2021 is on course to provide an unexpected peak

Formula 1
Apr 8, 2021
How crucial marginal calls will decide the Red Bull vs Mercedes battle in F1 2021 Plus

How crucial marginal calls will decide the Red Bull vs Mercedes battle in F1 2021

The longer Red Bull can maintain a performance edge over Mercedes, the better the odds will be in the team’s favour against the defending world champions. But as the Bahrain Grand Prix showed, many more factors will be critical in the outcome of the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship

Formula 1
Apr 7, 2021
How Williams’ new structure adheres to a growing F1 trend Plus

How Williams’ new structure adheres to a growing F1 trend

Williams held out against the tide for many years but, as MARK GALLAGHER explains, the age of the owner-manager is long gone

Formula 1
Apr 6, 2021
When a journeyman driver's F1 career lasted just 800m Plus

When a journeyman driver's F1 career lasted just 800m

Nikita Mazepin’s Formula 1 debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix lasted mere corners before he wiped himself out in a shunt, but his financial backing affords him a full season. Back in 1993 though, Marco Apicella was an F1 driver for just 800m before a first corner fracas ended his career. Here’s the story of his very short time at motorsport’s pinnacle

Formula 1
Apr 4, 2021
The nightmare timing that now hinders Mercedes Plus

The nightmare timing that now hinders Mercedes

Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton took victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix despite, for a change, not having the quickest car. But any hopes of developing its W12 to surpass Red Bull's RB16B in terms of outright speed could not have come at a worse time.

Formula 1
Apr 2, 2021
How Raikkonen's rapid rise stalled his team-mate's F1 career climb Plus

How Raikkonen's rapid rise stalled his team-mate's F1 career climb

Kimi Raikkonen’s emergence as a Formula 1 star in his rookie campaign remains one of the legendary storylines from 2001, but his exploits had an unwanted impact on his Sauber team-mate’s own prospects. Twenty years on from his first F1 podium at the Brazilian GP, here’s how Nick Heidfeld’s career was chilled by the Iceman

Formula 1
Apr 1, 2021