Who could Force India plump for?
With Nico Hulkenberg's departure for Sauber confirmed, it leaves a very desirable midfield seat on the 2013 grid vacant. Sky Sports F1 Online assesses Vijay Mallya's options...
By William Esler
Last Updated: 01/11/12 9:22am
Paul di Resta is likely to be retained by Force India, but who could be his team-mate? We cast our eye over some of the contenders:
The Frenchman could be a contender for a race seat at Force India, or elsewhere in F1 in general, after narrowly missing out on the Formula Renault 3.5 title this year. He retired from the season finale after a clash with eventual Champion Robin Frijns.
The 23-year-old is a member of Ferrari's Driver Academy and was appointed Force India reserve driver in 2012. He made an immediate impact - but not in a good way - with a crash during pre-season testing, limiting Force India's running in Jerez. He has redeemed himself somewhat since then and caught the eye in the Young Drivers' test at Magny-Cours in September, topping the times in both the VJM05 and Ferrari F2012. His Friday practice performances have not been particularly outstanding, but his form in World Series could keep him in contention and ensure that for the third straight season Force India promotes from within.
Speaking to French Eurosport in recent days, he appeared to certainly fancy his chances of making the 2013 grid: "I think next year is my best chance (of getting a race seat). We are working hard. With some good luck - in particular if one of the two drivers leaves Force India - we must continue in this direction."
Sutil has a long history with the Silverstone-based team having driven for them in various guises since 2006 - when he joined as Midland F1's test driver, before graduating to a race seat in 2007 when the team became Spyker.
The German's exit from the team last winter was somewhat controversial with some speculation as to the impact his charge of GBH, for which he was later found guilty of and handed an 18-month suspended jail sentence for, had on the team's decision to replace him with Hulkenberg.
Clearly, though, the 29-year-old remains on good terms with the team and has been a regular in their hospitality unit at races this season. Indeed, Vijay Mallya admitted this week that he would strongly consider re-hiring Sutil should Hulkenberg leave.
The youngest driver in F1 history has been making positive noises in recent weeks about a race seat in 2013, telling his Twitter followers: "Soon you will all know where I will be driving next year."
The 22-year-old was dropped after two-and-a-half seasons with Toro Rosso as the Red Bull junior team opted for a complete overhaul of their line-up for 2012.
Since then, he has taken on the role of Pirelli test driver and his knowledge of the 2013 tyres could be crucial in helping a midfield team get the edge on their competition.
Buemi was the other driver to be released by Toro Rosso at the end of the 2011, but has stayed within the Red Bull stable, acting as test driver for the senior team.
Alongside his testing and demonstration duties in 2012, the Swiss driver competed at the 24 Hours du Mans for Toyota, sharing a car with Sky Sports F1 pundit Anthony Davidson.
The 23-year-old's junior career was unspectacular with second in the 2007 F3 Euroseries the only highlight, and he remains an outsider for the seat.
The Finn has impressed many in the paddock with the job he has done at Caterham, re-establishing some of the creditability he arguably lost during two uninspired years at McLaren.
Kovalainen is out of contract at the end of the current season and has publicly admitted he was looking around for other drives in F1, with even his position at Caterham not looking completely certain. But looking good in an uncompetitive car is one thing and you have to wonder how fresh in the minds of Team Principals' his stint at McLaren remains, the final year of which saw him finish a lowly 12th in the Drivers' Championship.
Looking back on his career - he won the World Series title in 2004 and finished second in the inaugural GP2 Series - the 31-year-old clearly has pace, however, he remains an outsider, with younger drivers with better funding a potentially more attractive proposition.