Heikki Kovalainen is thought to be the favourite to replace Luiz Razia in the second Marussia F1 entry should the Brazilian's sponsorship problems deny him a grand prix debut.
Razia was confirmed as Max Chilton's team-mate on day two of the Jerez group test, but has so far failed to appear at either of the subsequent sessions in Barcelona, amid rumours that the backing on which he secured his seat failed to materialise.
The 2012 GP2 Series runner-up had been in contention for several rides over the winter, and expressed his disappointment when Chilton was confirmed as team-mate to veteran Timo Glock before Christmas – having considered himself to still be in negotiation for the seat when the announcement was made – but subsequently took the German's place when it became clear that Marussia needed a paying driver rather than one with a salary that had to be met.
Razia's absence from the track in Barcelona has naturally set the rumour mill into overdrive, with a short-list of replacements quickly being formed. Along with Kovalainen, Kamui Kobayashi, Vitaly Petrov and Narain Karthikeyan all appear having lost their previous seats over the winter, while Jules Bianchi, who was passed over by Force India this week, also appears to be a candidate.
It is former Caterham favourite Kovalainen who seems to hold the upper hand, however, with the Finnish media suggesting that he has already met with Marussia for a seat fitting after offering his services free of charge for 2013. Kovalainen lost his place at Caterham after refusing to become a 'pay driver' and instructing his management team not to chase sponsors just to keep him in F1.
“Nothing is certain until it is certain,” MTV3
Oskari Saari admitted, “but the fact that discussions are taking place is a fact.”
Kovalainen, meanwhile, took to Twitter
to play down the speculation.
“I see some false reports out so let's make a correction on 2 points - I'm still an IMG client and we haven't signed anything with anyone,” he posted on Friday afternoon.
The UK's Sky Sports
channel, which is covering the Barcelona test live, has also suggested that a seat fitting is imminent at the Marussia team, almost certainly confirming that a new face will be in the MR02 over the weekend. Chilton has enjoyed extra running as a result of Razia's problems, but the team will want to give any new signing a chance to become acquainted with the car on the final days of testing before the F1 circus heads to Melbourne for the opening round in two weeks' time.
Speaking to the broadcaster, Marussia sporting director Graeme Lowdon admitted that Razia's problems were a fact of life in the top flight, but insisted that team would do the right thing in resolving the issue.
"That's the nature of F1,” he said, “That kind of speculation is completely understandable [but], from our point of view within the team, it's our job to make the right decision for the team - and that includes making the right decision for the drivers.
“We've got a very good relationship with both of the drivers, [but] it's not unusual to see this kind of speculation. I'm sure [replacing a driver before the first round] has happened before and I'm sure it'll happen again. That's the nature of F1."Who do you think will be in the second Marussia at the opening round of the 2013 F1 world championship in Australia? Have your say here....