With testing for the new Formula One season due to begin in less than a month, there are still two seats available on the 2013 grid.
Only 11 teams and 22 drivers are expected to make the first test on February 5th at Jerez due to HRT’s apparent demise in the close season.
So far, only 20 drivers have been confirmed for next season and this has left an intense battle for the final two seats, with places at Force India and Caterham still available.
Let’s look at the contenders for each drive.
1. Jules Bianchi
The promising Frenchman is a member of Ferrari’s Driver Academy and drove for the British-based team in nine Practice 1 sessions during the 2012 F1 season.
Nico Hulkenberg’s move to Sauber has given him a chance to partner Paul di Resta and the 23-year-old is widely tipped to fill the vacancy created by Hulkenberg’s switch.
There is also a persistent rumour that Force India are looking to secure Ferrari engines for 2014 when major new regulations come into play, and Bianchi’s signature for 2013 could be a sweetener to such a partnership.
2. Jaime Alguersuari
The talented Spaniard drove in 46 Grand Prix for Toro Rosso between 2009 and 2011, becoming the youngest-ever driver in Formula One history at just 19.
His controversial departure from the team led to a testing role with F1 tyre supplier Pirelli in 2012, and it was thought his valuable knowledge of the newly-constructed 2013 tyres could have led to a seat with a big team next season.
However, such prospects failed to materialise and Alguersuari is now one of many drivers linked with Force India.
Despite decent financial backing, the 22-year-old is expected to miss out on the seat and has been in talks with teams in the popular German Touring Car Championship (DTM) about a 2013 drive.
3. Bruno Senna
The nephew of the late great Ayrton, Bruno stopped racing for 10 years after his death. This stunted his improvement as a driver, but his talent still endures. Coupled with hefty financial backing from Brazil, Senna is in with a good chance of taking the seat at Force India.
But the Brazilian will have to improve on his race performances for Williams in 2012, where a lack of practice time (Valtteri Bottas drove his car in several Practice 1 sessions) cost him in race trim.
Is also a candidate for the vacant seat at Caterham, where his vast sponsorship may prove irresistible.
1. Vitaly Petrov
Having saved the team’s season in the final Grand Prix of 2012 in Brazil with a lucrative 11th place (securing them a cash windfall for 10th in the constructors’ championship), Petrov might have expected a quick offer of a drive from Caterham for 2013.
Instead, Caterham employed Marussia’s Charles Pic and the Russian is now fighting to save his F1 career. Significant backing from Russia and the added possibility of huge media and corporate attention in the run up to the inaugural Russian Grand Prix in 2014 makes Petrov an attractive prospect for the F1 minnows.
2. Giedo van der Garde
The Dutchman impressed during his six Practice 1 drives for the team in 2012, and despite an average GP2 season in which he finished 6th overall, van der Garde is a serious contender for a 2013 seat.
Like so many other drivers, he carries good financial backing. His age, 27, is a potential obstacle to a deal while his inexperience, allied with that of Pic’s, also hampers his chances of securing a 2013 spot, with Caterham unlikely to pick two drivers with only an aggregate of one season’s experience between them.
3. Heikki Kovalainen
The experienced Finn is unwilling to provide the millions that Caterham want to keep his seat for 2013. Having had three outstanding seasons with the team he has been discounted. Should the team wish to call on his knowledge again, he would provide the perfect balance for Pic’s unpolished talent, but he looks set to suffer the same fate as fellow veteran Rubens Barrichello.
My picks for remaining 2013 seats:
Force India: Jules Bianchi
Caterham: Vitaly Petrov