So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu…
Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow.
The off-season does present a double edged sword to the Formula 1 driver, it offers him a touch of respite from the stresses and strains of months of hard competition, but it could also offer the complete opposite. For those who didn’t have contract negotiations during the season, winter is the time to get things nailed down, or not. The 2012 grid will be without several familiar faces we’ve become accustomed to, some will must certainly be missed (for sentimental reasons), while others barely had the time to really make a real impression on the sport. Either way, let’s take a moment to appreciate the departed.
The Brazilian’s persistence in securing a 20th season in Formula 1 perhaps prevented what should have been a well earned celebration of the longest careers in the sport. A parade, ticker tape and countless career celebrating VTs should have been unwrapped in Brazil (maybe just the latter), but instead of acknowledging that money is a bigger concern for Williams than experience at the moment he’s slipped away to America. From a sentimental view it is a shame, just as much from experience vs pay driver argument , although his vast developmental experience and knowledge should see in back in a driver or advisor role in the future. Barrichello may not be on the grid this year, but it is heartening to see his passion and drive to compete is wholly intact, testing for IndyCar and considering the Indy 500.
Much assurance has been given that losing his seat was not on conjunction with his then impending court date and subsequent ruling, however it has left what was a good season somewhat tarnished. Teamed with Paul di Resta, he gave the impression he was a little unprepared for what the rookie brought and found himself overlooked on race day. This said, he pulled out some fantastic performances after the summer break showing the consistency he demonstrated in 2010. Having been with the same team since his debut in 2006, it seem likely the near future will be outside Formula 1. “Either there will be a surprise or we will do a plan-B,” his manager Manfred Zimmermann was quoted as saying.
HRT may have taken their sweet time in announcing their driver line up for 2012, but the delay didn’t offer the Italian a chance to hold onto his seat. Liuzzi’s comments this year ranged from ‘I have a contract until 2013′, to ‘modern Formula 1 contracts are worthless’ to ‘being sick of pay drivers’. It’s clear that he is frustrated by the current trend in the sport for lower ranked teams to perhaps consider bottom lines before experience, but it’s been a part of the sport for some time and something uneasily accepted. Being on the starting line up for the fresh faced Red Bull, he’s been at a variety of teams at almost the wrong time in each instance. Liuzzi had signed up for I1 Supercar Series alongside Jacques Villeneuve and Giancarlo Fisichella, but it has been postponed until 2013 to increase interest in Asia beforehand.
Jarno Trulli joined the grid way back in 1997, driving for both Minardi and Prost in his rookie year before cycling through Jordan, Renault, Toyota before joining Caterham F1 (then Lotus Racing) in 2010 in their rookie year. In short he’s not lacking in experience, but apparently his pockets aren’t quite deep enough for his knowledge to be sufficient. Nonetheless the Italian driver is proud of the time spent helping to establish the team, despite being replaced by Vitaly Petrov just before the second pre-season test. “I want to take this chance to thank Tony, Kamarudin, SM Nasarudin, Riad, Mike and everyone in the team for the two seasons we had together,” Trulli said. “From zero we built up and established a solid F1 team. I’m really proud to have been part of it. I understand the decision the team has made and I want to wish to the whole team the very best of luck for the season ahead.”
Brought on to replace Robert Kubica he was widely acknowledged as a safe bet, he made a good start with a podium in Malaysia and continued to rack up the points until he was unceremoniously dumped for Bruno Senna after the Hungarian GP. Legal proceedings were started and were settled without going to court, when Heidfeld left he was two points clear of Petrov which begged the question, why? Senna’s appointment and Renault’s then much discussed money woes suggested it was a financial decision although this was denied. What perhaps is more galling than his car catching fire, twice, was that at the end of the season Petrov had only managed to discover and extra five points. For 2012 Heidfeld is taking to endurance racing with Rebellion Racing to contest the three opening rounds of the WEC, including 24 Hour Le Mans.
When Toro Rosso let both of their drivers go there was a ripple of surprise, but for the young driver programme coordinator Dr Helmut Marko it was because he considered them not to be championship material. Good enough to race, but not good enough for the top step. The Spanish driver tweeted this two of days before the launch of the new Toro Rosso car, “You won’t see me this year running but i ve to say that f1 has given me huge experience in life. Thank you all for your support!”. Having turned down a drive at HRT, which would have echoed McLaren with a complete national line up, saying it would have been a step back, his plans for 2012 are uncertain. However talks circulates the possibility of joining Mercedes as their third driver. Alguersuari has revealed that he was verbally confirmed for the 2012 season by Toro Rosso which subsequently made him reject ‘a very good offer’.
Popular with fans and pundits alike due to a personable attitude and voracious thirst for Formula 1 facts, Chandhok only managed a single race in 2011 for Team Lotus in Germany and hopes remain in touch with a possible third driver seat somewhere, although it looks unlikely. Yet to complete a whole season in Formula 1 he finished his first after Silverstone, and he spent most of 2011 as a test driver returning a car to pits with bits missing. However his 2012 is sorted with a seat with JRM Racing that will enable him to compete in the WEC as he hunts down a Friday testing role in Formula 1.
As to be expected the range of rumours surrounding the Polish driver’s return start at the believable to the ridiculous. But with his absence from the grid stretching into a year, whether he will be able to make a return at all remains a troubling question for him and his fans. Slipping on the ice early this year, he reinjured and broke the leg he injured in his rallying accident which set his rehabilitation back further, making a tough situation worse. The most persistent rumour though is that of a return with the help of Ferrari, who were reportedly interested in him for the 2011 season. As it stands the month that has been picked to test his ability behind the wheel is June, but as the months pile up the likelihood of a return slim down, but there is no denying that if his talent has not been hindered his return would be most welcome and deserved.
There are some faces that won’t be making it back to the grid full time, but instead will be taking a step back and occupying the third seat.
Paul di Resta may have been the highest ranked rookie driver of 2011, but d’Ambrosio was the only first timer to finish ahead of a more experienced team mate. No mean feat, made impressive with a backmarker car that usually requires experience to squeeze out the extra performance, and made more impressive that Timo Glock was with the team the year previous. He may not have a full-time role out on the track, but being managed by the team principal of a Formula 1 team doesn’t hurt and will be joining Lotus this year as their third driver.
Just like Jaime Alguersuari he was dumped by Toro Rosso and branded a ‘non winner’, however he was picked up by the big sister team Red Bull Racing to become their third driver, and in a odd twist for Toro Rosso as well. But this role won’t permit him to have a go in the Kinky Kylie predecessor, he’ll have a great view on race day from the garage but drive time will be restricted to the simulator currently. The Swiss driver’s latest season didn’t go as planned when his finished ten points adrift of his team mate, but things are looking up as he is able to keep in touch with the dominant force in Formula 1 at the present time. It seems to be the go to standby for drivers cast off this year, and Buemi has expressed a wish to join the WEC and contest the 24 hour Le Mans.