Sunday, 1 September 2013

2014 starts to take shape - A look at the 2014 driver market

The summer months traditionally welcome speculation regarding who's going where next season and 2014 is no different.

As well as some confirmed movements, as usual the rumour mill is full of stories about who could be going where next season. Here's just a few of the main talking points:


Ferrari's 2014 driver pairing?
With Mark Webber's imminent departure to Porsche's WEC campaign, a spot has opened up at reigning champions Infiniti Red Bull Racing. Whilst logic would dictate that Daniel Ricciardo will get the seat, that's not necessarily the case.

Ricciardo, a member of Red Bull's driver development program, has driven for Scuderia Toro Rosso (effectively Red Bull's 'B Team') since the start of 2012 and despite team mate Jean Eric Vergne also being part of the Austrian firm's development program, the Frenchman doesn't look to be in contention for the seat.

However, despite seemingly already having one foot in the door at Red Bull, Ricciardo faces competition from 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen.

Raikkonen's two year contract with Lotus concludes at the end of the 2013 season and despite his current team expecting him to stay, a chance at racing for the team that has been top of the tree since 2009 may be to big an opportunity to turn down.

Red Bull aren't the only top team with an opening. Scuderia Ferrari's Felipe Massa is also out of contract at the end of 2013.

The Brazilian has had a rather underwhelming season to date and has scored less than half the point that team mate Fernando Alonso has accumulated. That said, Ferrari team principle Stefano Domenicali has said openly that Massa is his favourite choice for next season and despite a similar situation occurring this time last season, he was re-signed back then too.

However, if Ferrari are to to mount a challenge for the constructors title, they may need to look elsewhere. Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg, Force India's Paul Di Resta and Ferrari protege Jules Bianchi have all been linked with the drive alongside Alonso.

Whilst Hulkenberg and Di Resta have made it no secret they'd welcome a chance to drive for Ferrari, Bianchi is expected to either remain at Marussia or move to a midfield team. Sauber could be a possible destination for the Frenchman with the Swiss squad set to ink a new deal to use Ferrari engines for next season.



Harvick will replace Newman at SHR
2014 will welcome various high profile driver changes, two of which are at Stewart-Haas.

SHR have signed two of the Sprint Cup's hottest properties, also incidentally two of the series' hottest tempered.

Kevin Harvick moves over from Richard Childress Racing after 13 seasons in the #29. He's also expected to take his Budweiser sponsorship to his new squad.

To make room for Harvick, Ryan Newaman departs and as of yet, hasn't got anything confirmed for next year.

Despite driver and team co-owner Tony Stewart insisting that the team could not accomodate a fourth car next season (alongside Stewart, Harvick and Danica Patrick), his partner Gene Haas defied that and signed Kurt Busch. So much was Hass' desire to sign the 2004 champion, he even decided to fund his entry himself though his Haas Automation company.

Time's up for Montoya at EGR
Other big stories are that AJ Allmendinger makes a full time return driving the #47 JTG Daugherty Toyota Camry, currently occupied by Bobby Labonte and that Juan Pablo Montoya will leave EGR's #42 after eight seasons and will be replaced by Kyle Larsson.

Brian Vickers will return to full time competition for the first time since 2011 taking over the Michael Waltrip Racing #55 car which he is sharing with Mark Martin and MWR boss Michael Waltrip.

With Harvick vacating RCR's #29 car, it is thought that the team could return to running with the fabled #3 with 2011 Camping World Truck Series champion Austin Dillon behind the wheel.



Hinchcliffe has options
A lot of IndyCar's driver movements depend on one man - James Hinchcliffe.

The Canadian's contract is up at the end of the year and despite winning three races so far this season, it's not a forgone conclusion that he'll stay put. Of course, it is a possibility, and a strong one at that, but what else could happen?

If he were to move on, Chip Ganassi racing appears to be the only realistic option for him.

If he were to go, team boss Michael Andretti has been working on a rather unexpected signing - Juan Pablo Montoya.

Yes, former F1 racer who's just lost his NASCAR ride could make a return to American open wheel racing where he won the 1999 Indy 500 and CART series.

Now 37, the Colombian would have to prove he's still got it but he'd be a welcome addition to the IndyCar grid.

What next for Bourdais?
Sebastien Bourdais is another driver with an unsure future ahead of him. The four time Champ Car champion is admittedly happy in IndyCar, but his Dragon Racing team isn't really thought to be able to provide Bourdais with the championship challenging package he'd like and despite offering him one of the few paying drives in the field, whether Dragon Racing can move forward next season is dependant on sponsorship.

He could stay, or he could move to a seat with a team higher up the grid with Ganassi or Andretti being touted as possible destinations.

However, the fact that Sebass will stay in IndyCar is not a certainty. He also has options in the new United Sports Car Series with 8 Star.



The big seats in the WRC next year are all yet to be confirmed. Whilst Volkswagen are expected to stick with Jari-Matti Latvala and Sebastien Ogier, Citroen and newcomers Hyundai have no concrete plans as of yet.

Citroen, preparing for life after Sebastien Loeb, appear to be evaluating Kris Meeke for a full time seat after giving him Dani Sordo's car for Rally Australia. That said, Sordo won the rally beforehand in Germany so he can't be discounted completely.

Mikko Hirvonen's position in the team could also be under threat with the Fin yet to claim a victory in 2013 and having only one win since joining Citroen at the start of 2012.

Could Kubica be in the WRC next year?
Another name linked with a Citroen drive is Robert Kubica. The Pole has impressed in WRC2 this season and is thought to be in line for either a full time WRC campaign or/and a part time WTCC campaign, both with Citroen. Whether or not either of those possibilities comes to fruition, it's clear that Citroen and Kubica do have a future together.

As previously stated, Hyundai haven't confirmed who will be in their cars when they return to the WRC next year Juho Hanninen, Bryan Bouffier and Chris Atkinson have all carried out development work for the Korean manufacturer recently.



Loeb will move to the WTCC
Citroen are joining the WTCC grid next year and have signed Sebastien Loeb and Yvan Muller to drive for them full time.

The other works teams Lada and Honda are yet to confirm who will drive for them but it is expected that there'll be no change for either of those teams. Meanwhile, another team with manufacturer backing is thought to be joining the grid, details of which are yet to be revealed.


Porsche join the WEC in 2014
As we know, Mark Webber and Porsche are returning to the international sports car racing scene next year with a full time LMP1 program in the WEC. He will be joined by Neel Jani and current Porsche factory drivers Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas. Two more drivers are also expected to join on a part time basis.

Toyota have confirmed their entire 2013 team of  Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre, Kazuki Nakajima, Anthony Davidson, Stephane Sarrazin and Sebastien Buemiwill all stay for a third year after being signed for the teams return in 2012.

Whilst Audi haven't announced anything, it's widely regraded as certain that their entire driver lineup will be unchanged for next season, meaning that Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler, Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Loic Duval will all stick with the German manufacturer full time next season. Marc Gene, Oliver Jarvis and Lucas di Grassi should also retain their Le Mans drives.

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