• 2011 season

Who's in and who's out in 2011

Martin Williamson February 18, 2011
Nick Heidfeld is making a surprise return in 2011 to replace Robert Kubica © Getty Images
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With the new season only four weeks away, only one team - HRT - has yet to confirm its full driver line-up. We look at the changes which have taken place since the 2010 finale in Abu Dhabi.

Jerome d'Ambrosio (Virgin)
One of four out of five drivers who owe their place to money and/or connections, d'Ambrosio has shown few signs he deserves a chance over other candidates, but being managed by Eric Boullier, the Renault team principal, probably hasn't hampered him.
Prospects Moderate record, moderate car, relative anonymity beckons

Paul di Resta (Force India)
Touted as a likely signing for much of last season during which he was a test driver, the only obstacle appeared to be whether Force India could find a way to oust one of its two drivers. He has pedigree - he won the DTM Championship last year - and confidence - he said in response to a question about Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton's title that: "I don't want to sound big-headed, but I wasn't racing them when they won their championships" - and a family connection - his cousin is Dario Franchitti, the three-times IndyCar champion.
Prospects A driver who will only get better but needs a season to bed in

Nick Heidfeld (Renault
A surprise return in strange circumstances as he steps in for the injured Robert Kubica. In the end he was the obvious choice, carrying with him recent experience, proven speed and a very safe pair of hands. If he can challenge for podiums and wins it might just kick-start his career, which to date has never lived up to the promise of his early years at Sauber.
Prospects He potentially has a very competitive car and as long as he can adapt quickly, he will have the perfect opportunity to prove his critics wrong

Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez finished one-two in GP2 last year © Sutton Images
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Narain Karthikeyan (HRT)
Money - from Indian car maker Tata - which HRT is in desperate need of and it being the year of the inaugural Indian Grand Prix highlights this is all about commercial opportunities. In all honesty, the HRT is likely to be just as far off the pace than in 2010 so Colin Kolles might as well take the money in the same way he did with Sakon Yamamoto. Karthikeyan was India's first F1 driver in 2005 when he showed few signs he had what it takes at Jordan. There's a reason he has not been mentioned as one who could return until this chance came.
Prospects His only real chance of not being at the back comes if HRT takes the cash from someone with even fewer credentials

Pastor Maldonado (Williams)
Another driver who owes his place to cash, this time from the Venezuelan state government. In fairness, he won last season's GP2 title but the year before was comprehensively outdriven by Nico Hulkenberg who, despite some good returns for Williams in 2010, he replaces. Publicly, Williams continues to deny Maldonado's selection is cash-driven.
Prospects Under pressure because of who he replaces, will need to hit the ground running

Sergio Perez (Sauber)
A gamble by Peter Sauber, replacing Nick Heidfeld, but he was runner-up to Maldonado in last season's GP2 and is still only 21. Fast tracked, possibly too soon, because of backing from telecommunications giant Telemex.
Prospects Too much, too soon and his inexperience will count

OUT

Karun Chandhok could still return as a Lotus reserve driver © Sutton Images
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Karun Chandhok (HRT)
Very popular with fans and someone with a guaranteed media future ahead of him, his season at HRT came off the rails when the financial backing which had enabled him to move into F1 failed to deliver. After the British Grand Prix he was sidelined for other drivers who brought in cash. On the plus side a Lotus reserve driver contract looks likely.
What now? Erudite and personable, the media awaits although a return to the cockpit is preferable

Pedro de la Rosa (Sauber)
An ever-present in the sport for more than a decade - mainly as a test driver, but he also managed 86 grands prix for four teams - he turns 40 this month and has almost certainly driven his last race.
What now? A valuable test driver but could well be facing retirement

Lucas di Grassi (Virgin)
Achieved little in his first season and was always going to lose out if someone with more cash backing came along - as he himself said a month ago "if the decision was made on purely technical grounds, I would be staying … but money spoke louder". But in fairness to Virgin he failed to show enough consistency and the writing was on the wall before the year was out.
What now? Will continue to plug away and if he returns will be as a test driver

Nico Hulkenberg (Williams)
The most depressing name on this list for those looking for natural ability rather than a rich backer in the next generation of drivers. Talented, he made a good impression in his debut season with Williams, securing its first pole for six years at the Brazilian Grand Prix … and was rewarded by being replaced with an inferior driver. He turned down a drive with Virgin, opting instead to continue learning as a test driver with Force India.
What now? The one name on this list who will return - if there is any justice in the sport

Robert Kubica's horror crash has ruled him out for at least the start of 2011 © Press Association
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Robert Kubica (Renault)
The F1 world is still reeling from his horror crash at an insignificant Italian rally between tests. A disaster for both Renault and Kubica as their package looked as if it was just about to come together for the start of the season.
What now? Hopefully a very swift recovery and he will be back in the cockpit as soon as the doctors give the go-ahead. Estimations of his recovery time range from five months to a year.

Tonio Liuzzi (Force India)
Endured a wretched 2010 where he seemed to be endlessly taken out because of the mistakes of others, he also put up with niggling speculation over his future with good humour. But despite having a contract with Force India through to the end of 2011, he found himself quietly sidelined. At 30 and with a best of sixth from 63 grands prix, his chance may well have gone.
What now? Rumoured to be in talks with HRT, putting him between a rock and a hard place

Christian Klien (HRT)
A surprise signing near the end of 2010 by HRT, he nevertheless showed enough in three grand prix to raise questions as to what Bruno Senna and Sakon Yamamoto had been up to until then. He was never likely to remain in place in 2011 as he lacked deep enough pockets.
What now? A return to sports cars and, at best, some testing work

Bruno Senna (HRT)
The burden of the family name and a wretched car meant Senna was always going to struggle, but the dye was cast from the moment Klien appeared on the scene and comprehensively outperformed him. Appeared to be facing a year in the wilderness until handed a last-minute reprieve by Renault on the eve of the season.
What now? Has to hope he can impress at Renault enough for someone to give him a second chance

Sakon Yamamoto (HRT)
Seemed happy to be on the periphery of the F1 circus, quietly chugging around at the back of the field, his presence was thanks to a $5 million sponsorship deal. When the money ran out, Yamamoto returned to the shadows.
What now? Will secure only another drive if he finds someone prepared to throw away several million dollars

Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA

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Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA Martin Williamson, who grew up in the era of James Hunt, Niki Lauda and sideburns, became managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group in 2007 after spells with Sky Sports, Sportal and Cricinfo