File photo of Kimi Raikkonen during the FIA World Rally Championship WRC Rally Finland in Lahti, Finland. AFP/Lehtikuva/ Martti Kainulainen
As the Formula One season heads towards its season finale in Brazil this weekend, the focus shifts on to the traditional game of musical chairs played between drivers in various stages of their F1 careers.
Rookies and sophomores look for a platform to showcase their talents in the hopes of getting a drive with a midfield team. Established drivers in top six teams look to be handsomely rewarded for their talents by getting long-term contracts or hang on for dear life, depending on how they have been performing. Established midfield drivers shown up by youngsters look for teams willing to sign anyone with decent pace. A new addition to this bunch is the 'senior citizens' club; with Pedro de la Rosa, Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher seemingly the founding members.
Drivers within the last two categories along with a former F1 champion are the focus of the speculation surrounding next year's driver line up and all points converge on the Williams F1 team. Adrian Sutil, Barrichello and Kimi Raikkonen are all the focus of who will drive at the former world championship dominating team that has fallen on hard times recently.
Sutil is reportedly on his way to Williams as Force India are keen on signing Nico Hulkenberg to partner Paul di Resta. With Vijay Mallya selling half of his stake in the team to Sahara for 100 million dollars, the money brought in through Sutil's personal sponsor Medion has become less vital to the team. A team like Williams, however, which has taken to floating the team on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange to raise money would be more receptive to a driver like Sutil.
While the German has put in some strong performances in his four seasons with Force India, he has been occasionaly upstaged this year by Scotland's Paul di Resta. This makes the prospect of Williams signing Raikkonen all the more likely as the 2007 world champion continues to hold talks with the team that will be upgrading to Renault engines from next year.
Another unknown in the mix is Venezuela's Pastor Maldonado. Believed to have been signed to the team due to being backed by the country's state owned petroleum company, the 26-year-old has, however consistently gotten the better of Barrichello, the most experienced F1 driver of all time in his rookie season. The low cost-option for the team at the moment seems to be to retain Maldonado and sign Sutil as Raikkonen is likely to have some steep demands given his profile within the sport.
Bottom to lower middle connection
With the signing of De la Rosa, the other seat at HRT and Toro Rosso also becomes a point of focus. Daniel Ricciardo impressed with his performances for HRT after the team agreed to let the Australian driver 'audition' his talents for Red Bull driver manager Helmut Marko. While it is possible that the team continues to field the Aussie, he may have done enough to move up to one of the two Scuderia Toro Rosso seats. With the ultimate target, of course, being a possible Red Bull Racing seat that looks most likely to be Mark Webber's as and when he decides to call it a day.
The final major point of focus is the Renault team that is anxiously waiting on good news from Robert Kubca, who suffered a near career-ending crash while rallying prior to the start of the season. The team has steadily slid down the F1 grid after starting the season with a podium position and have clearly missed the Pole's speed and skills as a development driver. Nick Heidfeld proved to be an unsatisfactory replacement and was replaced by Bruno Senna.
Despite his recent outburst, it seems unlikely that the team will drop Vitaly Petrov as the Russian has a big name sponsor in Lada (Russia's largest car company) well and truly behind him. Should Kubica not recover in time for the 2012 season, Frenchman Romain Grosjean is also waiting in the wings after being sent back to GP2 following some unconvincing outings in 2009.