MAY 13, 2004
The driver market for 2005
There is much talk at the moment about short lists and deals which are being done for 2005 but the realities seem to be rather different from most of the stories doing the rounds. The excitement about Jacques Villeneuve at Williams seems to be completely unfounded beyond the fact that a conversation may have taken place, initiated by Villeneuve, about the possibilities for 2005. It is our belief that Williams does not even have a formalised list of candidates beyond Mark Webber and is happy to wait to see how the market develops. Not much is likely to happen until Williams moves although Ralf Schumacher's rumoured deal with Toyota appears to be in the pipeline. However, we hear that all is not necessarily done and dusted and that Toyota F1 boss Tsutomu Tomita is currently back in Japan discussing the situation. At the same time there are suggestions that there is a two year deal with an option for Ralf to join the team, with a salary believed to be around $12m a year. With Toyota able to choose from a wide-ranging group of drivers it is hard to see why the Japanese company would want to spend that much on Schumacher who has never been a consistent race winner and in recent months has been completely overshadowed by Juan Pablo Montoya.
Ferrari and McLaren are set for 2005 and elsewhere in the paddock David Coulthard is looking for work, in the knowledge that with the current third driver rules, there is nothing that he can do in F1 next year if he does not land a race drive. There has been much talk that Coulthard would be the perfect man to drive for Jaguar Racing but the team has not shown much interest in that idea.
Renault seems to be happy with its two drivers but obviouly it is in Flavio Briatore's interest to keep up speculation so that he can earn some money by selling Mark Webber's Renault's contract to Williams. We believe that the French team will keep the same two drivers and let Webber go.
Giancarlo Fisichella has another year to run on his Sauber contract and his name has been mentioned as a possible driver in various teams but there are no signs that moving will actually improve his situation, if a Williams drive is not available to him. The Swiss team will probably therefore stay the same as it is this year although it will be interesting to see whether Red Bull continues with Sauber or builds up its relationship with Jaguar Racing. If that happens it might be worth watching for Formula 3000 rising star Vitantonio Liuzzi, who has been a Red Bull driver for several years.
BAR is unlikely to change its driver line-up.
In all probability, the two small teams in F1, Jordan and Minardi, will make their decisions based on money available from drivers. At the moment there is much talk that Jos Verstappen will replace Nick Heidfeld at Jordan. This would be a shame because Heidfeld has done his best at Jordan. Verstappen is unlikely to do much better but if he has money from Trust computers he will be a more attractive package.
Heidfeld might be a candidate for the Toyota drive. He is quick, reliable, German and cheap, which is a decent package even compared to Ralf Schumacher.
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