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NASCAR Formula 1

Latin American Battle for the “Vaccant” Sauber Seat

Image courtesy of Williams F1 Team

The Sauber F1 team is leaving much for want in regards to their 2014 lineup. Sergey Sirotkin is as good as confirmed as a 2014 race driver, but their second seat remains frustratingly, but perhaps tantalizingly unclear.

There are three scenarios as viable options for Sauber’s “vacant” seat. The word “vacant” is quoted as the seat is neither truly vacant, as no announcement has been made about a driver departure, nor is it confirmed. Thus, the frustration begins.

The first and most risky route for Sauber to take is to re-sign Esteban Gutierrez for 2014. His performances so far have been solid if unspectacular, but considering the magnitude of his teammate’s talent, the scope of the car’s shortcomings and his monumental lack of quality preparation, not much else can be asked of him, really.

Gutierrez has been on a pretty decent run lately, however, and Sauber hasn’t hesitated to make their appreciation known. Their sympathy for the young Mexican’s steep learning curve is quite public and understandably so, so it is nice to see that Gutierrez is making progress.

His excellent performance in qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix two weeks ago is testament to the progress he has made so far, and the team is expecting the same and more from the Mexican this weekend as they hunt down Toro Rosso in the constructors’ standings.

Taking this into account, then, and you would expect Sauber to give Gutierrez another chance in 2014. A clear foundation has been laid this season for a successful and potentially surprising, 2014 campaign. But Sirotkin poses the biggest threat to the longevity of Gutierrez’s career. Sauber is under no illusions that 2014 will be one of the most financially and mentally taxing seasons ever in the history of the sport.

A record number of races and huge technical and logistical costs will only be exacerbated by having two drivers with a combined total experience of just one year. Because of this, keeping Esteban on for another year seems like the right thing to do, but it is also the riskiest.

The second option for Sauber is to sign Felipe Massa. While the Brazilian remains adamant that a top seat is what he is aiming for, we all know that no top team in their right mind would sign Felipe after his lackluster performances at Ferrari in the past three years.

That said, his experience would do wonders for Sauber as they head into the 2014 season. Massa’s past connections to the team from 2002-2005 only enhance the prospects of a Sauber/Massa reunion. While his tenure at the team was nearly a decade ago, many of the same personnel are still at the team and they could use their past experiences to aid in a potential return.

As many of the teams have said this season, any form on continuity for 2014 will be vital. Perhaps this, and some rumored sponsorship from Brazil, is what could seal Massa’s place, or Gutierrez’s for that matter, at Sauber next year.

The third and final option has only emerged in the past 24 hours, and that is for Sauber to sign Rubens Barichello. The most experienced Formula One driver in the history of the sport, Barichello brings with him a wealth of knowledge and experience with him to any team he drives for.

He has, however, been away from the sport for two years know. Looking at Michael Schumacher‘s and Kimi Raikkonen‘s returns to the sport, it is difficult to pinpoint how Barichello’s would compare, but one can only assume it would look like the two aforementioned drivers’: not what was expected.

Barrichello’s age is the most concerning aspect of this development, though. At 41, Rubens is no spring chicken, and Massa at age 32 and Gutierrez at 21 offer up vastly greater potential in terms of years of contribution. Barichello is way past his prime, and this fact would only serve to hinder Sauber as they embark on the 2014 season.

Sauber is in the midst of a troubled season right now. If they want to start fresh in 2014, then they need a fresh lineup. Barrichello is a great, likeable and highly-respected guy, but will he actually be of any help to a Formula One team anymore? I think not.