Four of Formula 1’s top drivers will be out of contract with their teams at the end of 2012. This is likely to generate a fair amount of speculation during the season, at least until the futures of these drivers and teams are decided. The drivers are:
Mark Webber – Red Bull
Webber has kept his contract on a year-by-year basis with Red Bull for the past few seasons. Well-regarded in the paddock, his gritty style and determination have won him a fair amount of success. He was in with a chance of winning the Drivers’ Championship in 2010, but disappointed in 2011 as he struggled to adapt to the new Pirelli tyres. If he doesn’t have a better 2012, Red Bull may be tempted to replace him. Lewis Hamilton has been suggested as a potential future team-mate for Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull
Felipe Massa – Ferrari
Massa had a very strong 2008, in which he lost out in the Drivers’ Championship to Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the final race. A massive accident in 2009 saw him out of action for the second half of the season, and since returning in 2010 he has not won a race. Massa was obviously the second driver at Ferrari in 2011, and Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has more than hinted that Massa has only the 2012 season to prove himself.
Possible replacements at Ferrari include Robert Kubica, who is rumoured to have a Ferrari test lined up in June 2012, Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button and Sergio Perez.
Lewis Hamilton – McLaren
Hamilton has proven himself to be one of the great talents of Formula 1. Runner-up in his first season in 2007, World Champion in 2008, and ever-present at the front of the field, Lewis has to be among the most sought-after drivers in the business. His contract with McLaren comes to and end at the end of 2012, and McLaren will be keen to retain him.
Hamilton has been seen talking with Christian Horner of Red Bull, and Horner has openly admitted that he would be happy to have Hamilton in his team. The potential pairing of Vettel and Hamilton is mouth-watering. Domination awaits for such a driver line-up.
Michael Schumacher – Mercedes
Schumacher agreed a three year deal with Mercedes when he returned in 2010. 2012 is the last of those three years, and so far the seven-time World Champion has, by his standards, had no success at all. With no wins and not even a podium so far, he can only view his comeback as incomplete at this stage.
Schumacher, like all top sportsmen, craves success. If he feels that it is within his grasp beyond the end of 2012 and with Mercedes, he will be tempted to stay in Formula 1. Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn has already stated that he would be happy to extend Schumacher’s contract, and Schumacher has not ruled out the possibility. It does not seem likely, however, that he would move to another team. It looks like it is Mercedes or retirement for the German.