Whilst its good news that the Russian companies have agreed major partnerships with the Sauber Formula 1 team, it leaves a huge question mark over who will drive for the team in 2014. The companies involved are the Investment Corporation International Fund, the State Fund of Development of Northwest Russian Federation and the National Institute of Aviation Technologies, which should give the team a long term future and a better development drive.
Current drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez, and third driver Robin Frijns are all under some sort of contract for 2013. With all the uncertainty over Sauber’s future in recent weeks, Hulkenberg’s future was also up in the air, with Sauber coming out and saying they wouldn’t stop Nico walking away from the team at the end of the year. Now will the events of today change that? Possibly.
Nico Hulkenberg is a Formula 1 superstar in the making. He is a seriously quick driver, proven last year by leading the Brazilian Grand Prix in the Force India. This year however has been rather disappointing, with a Sauber that has underperformed, especially after last years podium challenging car. Ferrari, Red Bull & Lotus have all been linked to the German driver, so Sauber would have their hands full trying to keep hold of him anyway. If none of those drives were to materialise, then maybe Sauber will retain his services. He has scored all of their 2013 points so far after all, and even lead in China briefly.
His current teammate Esteban Gutierrez faces a more uncertain future. Its obvious that the money he brings in from Carlos Slim & his Mexican associates isn’t needed as much for next year as it was for this, so it could possibly be a single year in Formula 1 for the Mexican, who admitted pre-season that he was unsure he was ready for F1. Maybe that’s true, as he’s struggled at times to get out of the first qualifying session, and hasn’t come close to matching Hulkenberg in race trim. Perhaps too much too soon for the Mexican, but you can’t blame him. You have to look at his sponsors for throwing him in at the deep end.
Reigning Formula Renault 3.5 champion Robin Frijns is another driver currently on the books at Sauber, and will be getting some seat time at the upcoming Young Drivers Test at Silverstone, along with Auto GP World Series driver Kimiya Sato. A drive for 2014 for Frijns could have been possible with the current set-up at Sauber, but now the Russians are involved, it seems to have become less likely a promotion to a race seat will happen.
Because of this guy – Sergey Sirotkin. The 17 year old from Russia comes as part of the package deal that saved Sauber’s bacon. Already looking to get some free-practice action later in the year, its been heavily predicted Sirotkin will be the youngest driver in Formula 1 history come round 1 of the championship next year. However, like Gutierrez and his Mexican money, will Sirotkin struggle in the top level of motorsport? Possibly, 17 or 18 is no age for a racing driver, and experience in lower formulae is essential for a strong career. Could another year in Formula Renault 3.5 or indeed in the GP2 series help him progress? Possibly.
At the time of writing this, I cannot think of any other driver that could theoretically drive for Sauber next year. I can see Hulkenberg leaving for Ferrari or Red Bull, but I could also see him stay at Sauber. Gutierrez I fear is one year and done in F1, unless another team grabs his Mexican money & sponsorship deals. Frijns? Possibly will end up as a test driver for another team, but I fear will miss out on a race deal for another year. Sirotkin I feel certain will be a 2014 race driver. His teammate is currently unknown.
What do you think?