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The Formula One driver market - who goes where in 2009? 23 Oct 2008

Helmet of Fernando Alonso (ESP), Renault, Chinese Grand Prix 2008, Shanghai, Sunday, 19 October 2008. © Martin Trenkler / Reporter Images Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Honda Racing F1 Team and Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1 in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Chinese Grand Prix, Race Day, Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China, Sunday, 19 October 2008 Sebastien Bourdais (FRA), Toro Rosso, Chinese Grand Prix 2008, Shanghai, Sunday, 19 October 2008. © Martin Trenkler / Reporter Images Takuma Sato (JPN) Scuderia Toro Rosso Formula One Testing 17-19 September 2008. Jerez, Spain. Bruno Senna (BRA) iSport International.
GP2 Series, Rd 4, Practice and Qualifying, Magny-Cours, France, Friday, 20 June 2008

With the 2008 Formula One season rapidly reaching its climax, the bulk of the teams have already settled their driver line-ups for next year. However, there are still a few notable question marks. We take a team-by-team look at who is definitely going where for 2009 - and review the speculation on the remaining unknowns…

The recent announcement that Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa will continue their Ferrari partnership at least until the end of 2010 should have been enough to quell the Raikkonen retirement rumours. However, there are still those who would have you believe the Finn could turn his back on the Scuderia - and Formula One - at the end of the year. The man himself is insisting the loss of his drivers’ title - possibly to his team mate - will only inspire him to come back stronger in 2009. And given his revived form in recent races, only the most cynical would disagree.

No question marks here, even in the headline-hungry F1 press. Lewis Hamilton is securely signed until the end of 2012 and Heikki Kovalainen has been confirmed for a second season with the Woking team.

BMW Sauber:
Now a proven race winner, rising star Robert Kubica was no doubt high on the shopping list of many a team boss for 2009. In the end the Pole opted to stick with BMW, for one more season at least. Nick Heidfeld’s qualifying problems prompted the team to delay their ’09 announcement, but with those now solved the team are keeping their faith in the German, ensuring an unchanged line-up. Unadventurous maybe, but the consistency could be key to their increasingly realistic title ambitions.

If a prize were given to the man at the centre of the most ‘silly- season’ rumours it would go to Fernando Alonso. First he was linked to a 2009 Ferrari drive (a link that assumed Raikkonen would retire), then BMW Sauber were mooted as his favoured destination, and then Honda confessed they were courting the former champion. At the end of it all the smart money is on the Spaniard staying put, especially after back-to-back wins in Singapore and Japan in a much improved R28. Who is his likely 2009 team mate? Nelson Piquet’s future remains uncertain. Even by rookie standards he has committed a fair few howlers, but some more mature drives in recent rounds could save the day. If they don’t, Renault have some impressive GP2 talent on their books in the shape of Brazilian Lucas di Grassi and Frenchman Romain Grosjean.

Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock have proved a consistent and competitive pairing in 2008 and both will continue in 2009. It will be Glock’s second season and Trulli’s fifth with the Japanese team, who still await that elusive first win.

Toro Rosso:
At the start of 2008 a Toro Rosso seat wasn’t a highly sought-after drive. Six months and a race win later it’s a very different story. With Sebastian Vettel departing for Red Bull Racing there’s at least one ’09 vacancy up for grabs. Gerhard Berger has admitted he’s having a tough time making a decision on Sebastien Bourdais (who in turn has said he can’t wait around forever). The multiple CART champion has spent much of the season struggling with a car ill-suited to his driving style, but has started to come good of late. The alternatives? Super Aguri refugee Takuma Sato impressed in a recent test, as did the team’s Swiss reserve driver Sebastien Buemi. And then, of course, there is Bruno Senna, nephew of Berger’s great friend and former team mate Ayrton. Come crunch time and Bourdais’s increasingly polished performances could well keep him on board. Expect a few more turns of the rumour mill regarding his ’09 team mate, though.

Red Bull Racing:
Another clear cut line-up here, with Mark Webber retained and Monza winner Vettel stepping up from Toro Rosso to replace the retirement-bound father-to-be David Coulthard.

Oft lauded as one of Formula One’s hottest young talents, Nico Rosberg’s star has had precious few chances to shine this year. Perhaps no surprise then that there was talk of an all-German tie-up at BMW Sauber. That speculation came to nought and Rosberg stays put for 2009, along with Japanese team mate Kazuki Nakajima, whose quietly confident showings have not only impressed Frank Williams, but have also been more than enough to keep Rosberg honest.

Honda have one of the most experienced and successful line-ups on the grid and both Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello are keen to remain for 2009, when a host of regulation changes could help Ross Brawn get the Japanese team back on course. But neither driver has been confirmed, most likely because Alonso’s future plans remain uncertain. In the unlikely event that the Spaniard is tempted away from Renault, who would be for the chop? According to reports it’s Barrichello, with some even suggesting that Honda bosses in Japan are keen to replace the veteran Brazilian with a younger name regardless of the Alonso outcome.

Force India:
Comments from team owner Vijay Mallya would lead you to believe that Force India’s line-up of Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil is a dead cert to remain unchanged. However, there has been no official announcement - and no end of conspiracy theories regarding alternatives. Does test driver Vitantonio Liuzzi really have a clause in his contract guaranteeing him a 2009 race drive? Do Force India’s talks with McLaren regarding a potential technical tie-up really mean Mercedes’ DTM star Paul di Resta is in line for a seat? Like Toro Rosso, Force India is a team whose 2009 plans still prompt far more questions than answers. Watch this space...