Formula One's driver lineup for 2012 will be almost complete before the end of the current season, after Force India boss Vijay Mallya agreed to Adrian Sutil's request to bring forward his decision on next year's team. Mallya had initially said he would wait until mid-December to finalize the two drivers for next season, but speculation that Sutil would be replaced by the team's reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg had prompted Sutil to ask for that decision to be fast-tracked.
"The announcement can be done in December, but as a driver I need a decision before that as I want to secure my future in Formula One," Sutil told the F1 official website. "That is why I am trying to get a decision in the next two to three weeks, to make sure that I am also racing in Formula One in 2012." After a meeting with Sutil, Mallya said "I have been requested to decide earlier, and so I will respect that need and take an early decision." Sutil, current driver Paul di Resta and Hulkenberg are thought to be the only three candidates for the two seats.
Di Resta has long-standing ties to current Force India engine supplier Mercedes and both he and Hulkenberg are also thought to be longer-term candidates for the Mercedes works team. "All three drivers are there and all three are very much in contention, three top class drivers as far as I am concerned," Mallya told Autosport.
"But only two can sit in the car, so that is going to be a difficult one for me." Sutil has an edge in experience on the other two candidates and also brings considerable personal sponsorship, but Mallya said money was not an issue, having recently sold a minority stake in the team to Indian investment group Sahara. "We don't need pay drivers," Mallya said. "We never have had that need and we certainly don't want to sell a seat in the car. So the sponsorship that comes is not relevant as far as I am concerned." Mallya praised Hulkenberg, who lost his drive at Williams despite delivering a surprise pole position in last year's Brazilian Grand Prix, as the Grove outfit opted for the significant sponsorship deal attached to his replacement Pastor Maldonado.
If Sutil is dropped by Force India, he may end up at Williams, which is expected to part ways with veteran driver Rubens Barrichello. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen has been linked with a comeback at Williams next year but should that not happen, Sutil is considered a leading contender. With next season's drivers locked up for the top four teams: Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes, speculation is centering on Force India, Williams and Renault. Renault has four candidates for two seats.
Top of the pecking order is Robert Kubica, who missed this season after serious injuries sustained in a pre-season rally crash. If he is fit to return, he will be a certainty to take one seat, if not there are three main contenders for the two seats. They are current drivers Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna â€” both of whom can bring major sponsorship deals to the team from the Russian and Brazilian markets â€” plus runaway GP2 champion Romain Grosjean. Renault confirmed at the Indian Grand Prix that Grosjean will drive in the Friday practice sessions for the remaining two races of the season, and he is considered a good chance to get a second bite at F1 after an error-strewn single season as Fernando Alonso's teammate at Renault.