DECEMBER 28, 2001
The driver market in 2003
McLaren has its two drivers under contract and so if Mika Hakkinen does decide to make an F1 comeback it is going to have to be with a different team. Ferrari has a deal with Michael Schumacher but has yet to decide anything with Rubens Barrichello beyond the end of 2002. BMW Williams has Juan Pablo Montoya, Ralf Schumacher and Jenson Button all under contract for 2003 and will have to find an alternative home for one of the trio. Much will depend on the performance of the drivers in 2002 but the recent spats between Ralf Schumacher and the Williams management are based on real sentiments, even if they have been denied. If Ralf fails to deliver the goods in 2002 the team will not hesitate to off-load him.
Renault Sport will be interesting as Jarno Trulli is thought to have a one year deal for 2002 and Button is in a similar position. Waiting in the wings is Fernando Alonso and Renault is expected to take a good solid look at Jacques Villeneuve who will be out of his BAR contract by the end of 2002. Olivier Panis is also out of contract at the end of the year. The new team boss David Richards is smart enough to know that it is not a great idea to change both drivers at the same time so it is expected that he will lock a deal with Panis away as early as possible.
Jordan is likely to keep the same drivers for 2003 but Jaguar will probably have a change as both Eddie Irvine and Pedro de la Rosa are coming to the end of their deals. Although team boss Niki Lauda likes Irvine, the money being earned by the Ulsterman is well in excess of what his results deserve and it is hard to imagine that the company will agree to as big a deal. Irvine may take a drop in salary to stay in F1 but it does not seem very likely at the moment.
The early races of the year will, as usual, be very important in the formulating of the F1 pecking order. Usually by Monaco time all the excuses have been heard and the decisions will start to be made but in one or two cases we would expect deals to be done early to avoid possible disruptions.