Out with the old and in with the new… F1 drivers struggle to keep the cut-throat pace

As I’m sure the F1 fans among you will know, there’s been plenty of change with regards to teams and their drivers for 2012. Depending on which side of the fence you sit on and where your allegiances lie, these changes could be viewed as a good thing, or not quiet so.

In an ever-evolving sport hell bent on the search for speed, many seem to be struggling to keep up. There has been little room for sentiment as teams take a cutthroat approach to contracts in 2012 and beyond. As my title suggests, some of F1’s most experienced old hands are being replaced by young and promising, but nevertheless inexperienced up and comers.

Rubens Barichello looks unlikely to find a seat for 2012 due to Williams’ change of heart. Leaving it so late in the date has left Ruby without any chance to prepare a backup plan that could see him leave the sport without the proper send-off he deserves.

Rubens Barichello, left in doubt over next season

Similarly, Adrian Sutil, who has served his team with loyalty throughout its many buy-outs and re-brands from Midland in 2006 to the present-day Force India, has been left hung out to dry. Arguably, his replacement, Niko Hulkenberg has been awarded Sutil’s seat on merit, but like Barichello, the decision has been left so late that Sutil will struggle to regroup and find a seat for 2012.

Possibly the most controversial decision is Toro Rosso’s replacement of the now experienced Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi with young guns Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric-Vergne.The team defended their decision to oust both their drivers, quoting the team’s ethos as a team existing for the soul purpose of giving young drivers a chance in F1. Alguersuari and Buemi’s has obviously been and gone, allowing Red Bull hopeful Ricciardo and Abu Dhabi young driver champ Eric-Vergne to fill their shoes. Once more, the team’s late decision has left both outgoing drivers with a seat for 2012.

In my opinion it is a shame to see so many qualified F1 drivers going to waste.

Of course, more understandable decisions include the axing of Virgin (now Marussia) rookie Jerome D’ambrosio and Renault (now Lotus) driver Vitaly Petrov. If you haven’t the skills to deliver, F1 rarely offers you a second chance. I guess Petrov will consider himself unlucky to be axed – had his team not decided to cease development of the 2011 car, a handful of decent results could have helped him retain his 2012 seat. Replacing the two will be Charles Pic and Roman Grosjean, respectively.

I won’t of course, forget to mention Bruno Senna, who also showed promise when he stepped in to replace Nick Heidfeld mid-season, before suffering the same fate as Petrov, as the team’s competitiveness dried up. He too, is without a seat.

Providing a little consolation is a return to F1 for Kimi Raikkonnen and journeyman Pedro de la Rosa. This pair of seasoned pro’s make up the only experienced F1 driver traffic making its way into the sport, in contrast to the jam of talent on the way out.

Raikkonnen makes a return to F1 with Lotus

As far as I can see, the problem lies with the teams. Drivers shouldn’t be left in the dark until it’s too late. If a driver were to go searching for a new team before the end of the season (as Lewis Hamilton was suspected of when snooping around the Red Bull garage mid-season) it would be perceived as disloyal to their team. I think this would be completely justifiable given the cold shoulder some of F1’s greats have received this winter.

Decisions regarding line-ups should be forcibly made as early in the season as possible so that if a driver is given the boot, he is left plenty of time to find himself a new team.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for new talents making a name for themselves in F1 – just not at the expense of existing talent losing out. After all, some drivers who have lost seats are being replaced by drivers the same age and others, which makes no sense at all.

The likes of Sutil and Barichello, although they may have already give their best to the sport, they’d provide a team with valuable experience with which to move forward – especially young teams such as Marussia, Caterham and HRT.

Adrian Sutil's 5-year spell in F1 looks at an end

Alguersuari too, who still has many years ahead of him in F1 in my opinion, has been robbed of the chance to make a name for himself sooner.

If this is the way F1 teams continue to treat drivers and their contracts, who’s to say who’ll be the one to make way next? Schumacher, Webber, Massa, Liuzzi, Trulli etc? With so much talent out their hungry for a seat, they all better start growing eyes in the back of their heads…

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About Mike O'Keeffe

I live and breath racing. Especially, F1. Here you'll find an ocassional word or two on the ins and outs, the highs and lows and the controversies of motorsport's pinnacle.
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