Commentary

Driver lineups up in the air as F1 Silly Season takes shape

Is Lewis Hamilton looking to leave McLaren Mercedes? Is Kimi Raikkonen happy at Ferrari? Is there a team to which Fernando Alonso is not connected? Dan Knutson separates fact from fiction as the F1 Silly Season hits high gear.

Updated: July 24, 2008, 5:19 PM ET
By Dan Knutson | Special to ESPN.com

Lewis HamiltonTorsten Silz/Getty ImagesRumors of Lewis Hamilton leaving McLaren Mercedes may be greatly exaggerated.

Lewis Hamilton will switch from Vodafone McLaren Mercedes to Ferrari next year. Nico Rosberg is leaving Williams Toyota for McLaren. After just one season at McLaren, Heikki Kovalainen is heading back to ING Renault.

Really?

Maybe the Silly Season rumors about the F1 driver market won't all come true. In reality, the lineup of many teams, especially the top squads, will remain unchanged in 2009. But that has not stopped the rumor mill from churning out all sorts of wild speculation.

Here's a team-by-team roundup of fact and fiction.

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
2008: Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen
2009: Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen
The Lewis Hamilton to Ferrari story started at a party Mercedes-Benz threw for the F1 fraternity at the German Grand Prix. As Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali was leaving, Hamilton's father and manager Anthony Hamilton caught up with him for a brief chat. A reporter from the London Times witnessed the meeting, snapped a photo and wrote a story the next day.

Soon it was spread all over the internet.

The truth?

"Anthony just came up behind me and just said hello and that's it," Domenicali said. "It's nice to see how these things can grow."

Mercedes-Benz's racing chief Norbert Haug pointed out that Ferrari would never make such a blatant bid for Hamilton. Things like this, he said, are done in secret in hotel rooms, not in the shadow of the Mercedes grandstand.

McLaren rarely reveals any details about its drivers' contracts, but back in January it announced it had signed Hamilton for five years.

The message to other teams was clear: Hands off Hamilton until after 2012.

"I'm comfortable where I am, so there's no talking being done anywhere else," Hamilton said.

Ferrari
2008: Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa
2009: Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa
When Michael Schumacher announced his retirement at the 2006 Italian Grand Prix, Ferrari said it had signed Kimi Raikkonen for 2007 through 2009 and extended Felipe Massa's contract through 2008. Massa's deal has since been extended to 2010.

Raikkonen says he has not made up his mind if he will continue racing after 2009, but he also says he plans to finish his career with Ferrari.

"We still have long-term relationships with our drivers, so really there is no rush," Domenicali said. "I can see a lot of discussions going on, but on that respect, on our side, we are very happy about the situation that we have now."

BMW Sauber
2008: Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica
2009: Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica (?)
BMW Sauber has a policy of not announcing next year's lineup until late in the season, and only then saying that the drivers have one-year deals.

There is no way BMW Sauber is going to let rising star Robert Kubica get away, and the team is happy with Nick Heidfeld as well. But will they be back in 2009?

"We have not taken a decision for next year," BMW's motorsport director Mario Theissen told reporters at the German Grand Prix. "The intention is to announce next year's lineup sometime between August and September, but before that I won't comment on apparent opportunities."

ING Renault
2008: Fernando Alonso and Nelson Piquet
2009: Fernando Alonso and Nelson Piquet (?)
After one unhappy season with McLaren, Fernando Alonso is back with Renault, with whom he won two championships. But how long will he stay? His Renault contract was for 2008 and 2009, but it's rumored that there are performance clauses that would allow him to leave at the end of the year.

But Alonso will delay any decisions.

"I've said many times that now, in July, is not the right moment to talk about the future," he said. "I will need time. I need to concentrate now on the championship because it's clear that we need to improve our results compared to the first half of the season."

Alonso's name is frequently linked with Ferrari, but how long will it be before a seat opens there?

Renault has yet to say if Nelson Piquet will be back in 2009, but his second place in the German Grand Prix raised his stock considerably.

Red Bull Racing
2008: David Coulthard and Mark Webber
2009: Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel
Red Bull's 2009 lineup is cut and dried. Mark Webber has a new contract for 2009 and Sebastian Vettel, who replaced Scott Speed at Toro Rosso, joins Webber next year to replace the retiring David Coulthard.

AT&T Williams Toyota
2008: Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima
2009: Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima (?)
Willi Webber, the manager of the retired Michael Schumacher and up and coming driver Nico Hulkenberg, caused all sorts of Silly Season furor when he told the German newspaper Sport Bild that Nico Rosberg would drop Williams for McLaren.

"He [Rosberg] has a clause in his contract Williams can surely not fulfill," Webber said. "Rosberg will replace Heikki Kovalainen, who will change back to Renault."

But Rosberg is the cornerstone to Williams' rebuilding program, and team owners Frank Williams and Patrick Head have said that his contract is not for sale at any price. Rosberg remains loyal as well.

"I am at Williams [in 2009]," Rosberg said. "I am committed to it 100 percent."

And Kovalainen says he will be back at McLaren for a second season.

"I am planning to stay here for a long time," he said.

Williams has yet to confirm Kazuki Nakajima for 2009.

Panasonic Toyota Racing
2008: Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock
2009: Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock (?)
In its early days Toyota seemed to change its driver lineup every season or two, but in recent years it has gone for consistency. Expect Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock to continue with the team in 2009.

Honda
2008: Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello
2009: Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello (?)
Honda's team principal Ross Brawn said at the German Grand Prix that the team had signed Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello again for 2009. But he later said negotiations were still going on.

"We are moving towards a solution with the two drivers we have," Brawn said, "but nothing is done yet."

Barrichello and Button both said that they did not have new deals in place but they wanted to remain with Honda.

"I would like to stay at Honda next year," Button said. "I think it's a good team to be with for the future. I was asked by another driver where he thought he should be, but it's not an easy decision for many drivers if you're not in a Ferrari or McLaren."

Was that other driver Fernando Alonso checking out Honda?

"No, I can't remember who it was now off the top of my head!" replied a grinning Button.

Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari
2008: Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Vettel
2009: ?
Sebastian Vettel's move to Red Bull opens up one seat at Toro Rosso. Will it be filled by one of the protégées from Red Bull's Young Driver Program?

Sebastien Bourdais has faced a steep learning curve in his switch from Champ Car to F1. Toro Ross will keep him on for 2009 now that he will have a full year of experience.

So far, Toro Rosso bosses Gerhard Berger, Dietrich Mateschitz and Franz Tost have not commented on drivers for next season.

Force India Ferrari
2008: Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil
2009: Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil (?)
Vijay Mallya, the new co-owner of Force India, said at the beginning of the season that he was satisfied with his driver lineup.

"Giancarlo Fisichella and his presence in our team have assisted us in the car development enormously," Mallya said. "Apart from working with the engineers to find that extra tenth in the car, he has also been a great motivator of Adrian Sutil, who has a huge amount of talent and whom I think with experience will become better and better." Fisichella has a contract for 2009, and expect Sutil to be back as well.

Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.

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