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Sizing up F1′s remaining free agents for last 4 seats

Dec 16, 2013, 12:00 PM EDT

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With Sergio Perez (Force India) and Adrian Sutil (Sauber) finding homes last week, the F1 grid is down to its final four remaining seats, the second Sauber, second Marussia and two Caterhams. Here’s a look at who is left and some of their potential upsides and downsides:

PAUL DI RESTA, 12th in 2013

  • GOOD: Consistent points-scorer who’s occasionally starred, notably in Bahrain and Canada this year. Doesn’t overextend the tires, a good trait to have.
  • BAD: Has had a few too many dropouts from Q1 for a driver in his machinery level.
  • VERDICT: Worse than the “bad” is the fact the Scot brings no budget, and thus he’s almost a certainty to return to DTM in 2014. He is F1-worthy talent, though.

ESTEBAN GUTIERREZ, 16th in 2013

  • GOOD: Matured and developed over the course of his first season, especially given the limited testing opportunities. Every race weekend was a trial by fire.
  • BAD: Was made to look worse than he was by virtue of lining up alongside Nico Hulkenberg at Sauber. Like di Resta, too many eliminations in Q1.
  • VERDICT: Has potential, and has some budget, and could probably make a step forward in his second season if Sauber thinks he’s worth it. Otherwise, a year as a reserve driver likely beckons.

CHARLES PIC, 20th in 2013

  • GOOD: Two years of race experience and a few noteworthy moments in 2013’s first half.
  • BAD: Frequently anonymous and has made way too many mistakes in the few moments he has been noticed.
  • VERDICT: Hasn’t done enough at either Marussia or Caterham to think a third year would be anything better. Perhaps sports cars would fit him.

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN, 21st in 2013

  • GOOD: The most experienced free agent on the market.
  • BAD: Simply did not deliver in the two races he drove for Lotus.
  • VERDICT: Could still lead Caterham’s efforts if they opt for a veteran-youngster lineup.

GIEDO VAN DER GARDE, 22nd in 2013

  • GOOD: Higher peaks at Caterham, especially in qualifying, and really developed as the year went on.
  • BAD: A handful of clunky mistakes, notably in Canada and Japan, and not otherworldly talent-wise.
  • VERDICT: Opposite Kovalainen at Caterham makes sense on paper, if the budgets align. Like Pic, would sink or swim in a second year, but did enough to merit a chance.

MAX CHILTON, 23rd in 2013

  • GOOD: Finished every race, proof he doesn’t make too many mistakes, and posted a great qualifying effort at Suzuka.
  • BAD: Shaded teammate Jules Bianchi by a wide margin, and was consistently the slowest driver in the field.
  • VERDICT: Young, reliable and with a hefty budget, all but certain to return to Marussia in 2014. The question is whether he can find anywhere from four to six tenths a lap regularly.

POTENTIAL ROOKIES

  • Sergey Sirotkin: The Russian is still in line for Sauber’s second seat provided the budget comes through and his FIA superlicense is granted, but would face a steep learning curve.
  • Marcus Ericsson: The Swede was rumored for a seat at Caterham. Like Chilton, rather underwhelming in his GP2 seasons although he has two feature wins.
  • Alexander Rossi: The American, as Caterham’s reserve driver, starred in his FP1 outings in Montreal and Austin this year and won the GP2 finale in Abu Dhabi. Another year as reserve would do him no harm, but would likely need to find budget in order to step up.
  • Fabio Leimer: The Swiss driver won this year’s GP2 title but like 2012 champ Davide Valsecchi, doesn’t appear to have a clear path to a race seat with a lack of funding.
  • Sam Bird: The Englishman, long Mercedes’ reserve driver, is way too talented to have not had his F1 opp. But not enough of a budget to make it happen.
  • James Calado: The Englishman made a handful of FP1 appearances for Force India. Talented enough but like the others, hard to see where he slots in without a budget.
  • Robin Frijns: The Dutchman, formerly Sauber’s reserve, seems destined for the same fate as the others – rideless without a budget.

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