Just days after it was claimed that he was preparing to remain at Lotus Renault GP as reserve driver, Bruno Senna appears to be staking a claim to the second seat at Williams.
LRGP team principal Eric Boullier last week confirmed that there was an opportunity for Senna to remain at Enstone in 2012 [see story here
], but admitted that he expected the Brazilian to continue looking for a race seat. Only two confirmed vacancies remain on the grid for next season - at Williams and HRT - although some doubt remains over the identity of the second Caterham driver given the ambiguity in statements supporting Jarno Trulli's contract extension [see story here
Although a return to HRT has not been entirely ruled out by the Senna camp, a move to Williams, while still a step backwards from the Renault seat he occupied through the end of 2011, would be a better alternative. The Grove team, with which the Brazilian's uncle made his final F1 appearances, has no shortage of suitors however, with erstwhile team leader Rubens Barrichello also attempting to fend off the interests of Adrian Sutil and, according to some reports, Senna's former LRGP team-mate Vitaly Petrov.
Brazilian sports new outlet Globo Esporte
reports that Senna has been spotted visiting Williams this week, and claims that the 28-year old 'underwent some physical tests and met with engineers'. The Brazilian is known to have access to sponsorship - with backers such as Embratel having helped him replace Nick Heidfeld from the Belgian GP this season - which would make him attractive as team-mate to the well-heeled Pastor Maldonado, but experience of the Renault engine will also help Senna's cause, with Williams reuniting with its former supplier from next year.
The former GP2 racewinner will not be the only driver with sponsorship considering a move to Williams, with Sutil's links to Medion computers and Petrov's to various Russian backers both likely to be of interest, and Barrichello showing his intent to return for a 20th season by building his own funding portfolio, rumoured to be around $5m by Germany's Auto Motor und Sport
Having been ousted from LRGP, along with Senna, Petrov has been linked to several rides - currently vacant or not - and, while the stories suggesting he may replace Timo Glock at Marussia in 2012 have cooled a little, he remains a key component of what remains of the annual F1 'silly season'. The latest rumour has the Russian possibly heading to Caterham, to fill the seat apparently confirmed as Trulli's as recently as Monza in September.
“[I] suspect Vitaly Petrov may re-emerge at Caterham in 2012,” former BBC
commentator Martin Brundle wrote on his Twitter
feed, “Music has stopped, there'll be a mad scramble for seats.”
While race seats may be at a premium with just over a week left in 2011 - the phantom Caterham ride having also been linked to Daniel Ricciardo and Jerome d'Ambrosio before the Australian's confirmation at Toro Rosso, a number of back-up roles remain available, and it may be that Petrov has to settle for one of those in order to maintain his links to the top flight. Indeed, signing with Caterham behind
Trulli may be an option, particularly with the Italian's team-mate, Heikki Kovalainen, admitting that he may not be with the Hingham squad long term.
The Finn has restored his reputation after two year's with Tony Fernandes' team, but would not rule out moving on to better things if Caterham does not become more of a force in the next year or so.
“I want to see what we can do together and let's see what is the situation in the summer,” he was quoted by Finland's Turun Sanomat
, "It depends on the car's performance. I can not give an exact percentage but if we continue to develop next season then [the chance of staying at Caterham] is high. Otherwise, it is small.”
With a greater number of young talents on the market this winter - add Toro Rosso refugees Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi to a handful of GP2 and World Series aspirants - the scramble for seats, as Brundle put it, is likely to be 'mad'. Alguersuari, however, has done his hope of being picked up no harm by the way in which he handled his somewhat surprising exit from STR.
"I'm sure ALG feels angry + disappointed, but he's smart to position it like that," Brundle tweeted, "Other teams will respect rather than avoid him. Very impressed by ALG mature words on news."
Although Brundle subsequently suggested that the Spaniard would be a good fit at HRT - pointing out the benefit Kovalainen has gained from dropping down to Team Lotus after disappointing campaigns at Renault and McLaren - it is thought unlikely that Alguersuari will partner Pedro de la Rosa next season, with new team boss Luis Perez Sala admitting to 'long conversations with other drivers'. Instead, Spanish newspaper AS
has suggested that Alguersuari may be a candidate for the reserve seat at Mercedes, positioning himself as a potential rival for Force India's Mercedes protégé Paul di Resta when Michael Schumacher re-retires.