It is yet to be officially confirmed but I am reliably assured that Charles Pic has signed to drive for Marussia Racing in 2012, with an option to stay with the team in 2013. Pic was due to test for both Virgin and Team Lotus this week, but I hear that the latter test has now been called off as a result of the deal being done. Timo Glock is already under contract to the team and will be Pic’s team-mate – unless one of the big teams makes him an offer, in which case I believe he has a contract that would allow him to leave. I am not sure how one defines a top team (probably based on the results of the previous season), but he could probably leave if offered a drive with Lotus Renault GP. That might leave the slim possibility that Jerome d’Ambrosio could stay at Marussia next year. The team likes him and I think he has been one of the quiet revelations of the year. Matching Glock when one had no F1 experience is no mean achievement.
Sadly, I think Lotus Renault GP is looking more and more towards a pairing of Vitaly Petrov/Romain Grosjean, and so Jerome will need to look elsewhere, and without money behind him it is going to be tough to get a job. He deserves better. I feel much the same way about Adrian Sutil. There is no doubt he is quick and he had ceased to be as wild as he used to be, but he is not seen as a very technical driver, and his adventures in China this year will not help his cause. Nonetheless he deserves a drive. I guess that he is probably number three on the wish list at Williams, behind Kimi Raikkonen and Rubens Barrichello, but the team’s target really does seem to be the Finn. I hear that he is looking for equity in the team (which Sir Frank Williams is not going to give him, no matter how much money he may bring from his financial backers). Frank does not necessarily need the money, but the fact that he has gone back to Qatar after Dubai suggests that there are still is to be dotted and ts to be crossed on the deal with QNB.
French fans are hoping that there could be at least one or two Frenchmen in F1 next year with Jean Eric Vergne believed to be a strong possibility for a ride with Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2012 and Grosjean looking increasingly likely to land a drive with Lotus Renault GP. The fourth Frenchman on the market is Ferrari test driver Jules Bianchi, who has been mentioned in connection with a couple of teams. With interest in F1 in France reviving and more input from Renault, there is a strong case for the return of a French GP. There is a plan for an event at Paul Ricard to alternate with the Belgian GP, but this is not expected to be settled until after the forthcoming French elections next year.
One point of interest in Abu Dhabi was the status of Scuderia Toro Rosso. The team was inundated with guests from Aabar, which is (ostensibly) just a sponsor. From what I hear the deal is rather more complicated than it appears. The word on the street is that Aabar wants to buy a chunk of the main Red Bull drinks company. Red Bull is a vast and very successful business, but the fascinating thing about it is that it is not owned by Dietrich Mateschitz, the man who takes all the credit for the success. In truth the firm is split 49-49 between Mateschitz and Thailand’s Chaleo Yoovidhya, who marketed the original Krating Daeng, on which Red Bull is based. They gave the remaining two percent to Chaleo’s son Chalerm, because he had introduced the two, but it was agreed that Mateschitz would run the company everywhere but in Asia. In the Asian markets Krating Daeng continues to be sold, but there is plenty of potential to expand sales. So perhaps Aaabar is keen to buy the Thai end of the operation and want the Italian team to promote the product in that region… This could have any number of effects on future driver choice.
It is perhaps worth noting that last weekend in Suzuka, the final round of the KF1 World Karting Championship resulted in youngster Nyck de Vries winning the title. He is already part of the McLaren young driver scheme. The runner-up in the title race was an Anglo-Thai racing driver called Alexander Albon, who is the second youngest driver in KF1 this year. Albon is already sponsored by Red Bull, and Chalerm Yoovidhya is a big fan… It will at least four or five years before either driver is ready for F1 but remember both names.