Will Gray

Gray Matter: Will new talent get a chance?

Will Gray

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The 2010 F1 entry list still has 11 spaces (pending Sauber's entry acceptance) to be filled - but as Formula One tests its latest crop of hopefuls do any have a real chance of winning a place on the grid?

Grand Prix fans have become used to seeing the same names lining up year after year - and in recent seasons the few drivers who did make it in ended up making a quick exit.

In 2008, Nelson Piquet and Sebastien Bourdais were the only two to make their F1 debuts, while Timo Glock returned to the grid. In 2009 there was just one newcomer, Sébastien Buemi, at the opening race and by the end of the season the three new faces that had arrived in 2008 had all disappeared, replaced by debutants Roman Grosjean, Jaime Alguersuari and Kamui Kobayashi respectively.

Now, however, the addition of five new teams for 2010 has given F1 the chance to create the biggest influx of new talent in years.

Bruno Senna and Nico Hulkenberg have already been announced as new names on the grid and right now the remaining potential spaces for new talent are as follows: Mercedes Grand Prix (1), Renault (1), Toro Rosso (1), Lotus (2), Campos (1), USF1 (2), Virgin (1) and Sauber (2 if they are allowed entry by the FIA).

If Renault pull out, as is rumoured, their only signed driver Robert Kubica is likely to find a spot somewhere else on the grid, while Toyota refugee Jarno Trulli is hotly tipped to take the lead at Lotus. Mercedes GP (nee Brawn) will take a driver with experience, even if the dream tie-up with Michael Schumacher fails to happen, so that leaves the number of available spaces at seven.

Heikki Kovalainen, Nick Heidfeld, Giancarlo Fisichella, Kazuki Nakajima, Kobayashi, Grosjean and Alguersuari all raced last year but currently don't have seats - and it is hard to see at least two or three of those names missing out on a grid spot next year. So that takes us down to around four spaces.

The new outfits are all yet to hit the track so only three teams at the Jerez test - Toro Rosso, possibly Renault and possibly Sauber - have potential places up for grabs, although all new teams will have one eye on the performances produced this week.

So 15 different drivers have hit the track: Red Bull trio Brendon Hartley, Daniel Ricciardo and Mirko Bortolotti, Formula Renault 3.5 champion Bertrand Baguette, F3 Euro Series champion Jules Bianchi, IndyCar driver Mike Conway, Japanese F3 championship driver Marcus Ericsson, GP2 driver Oliver Turvey, American Indy Lights champion JR Hildebrand, British DTM driver Paul di Resta, F2 champion Andy Soucek, Formula Master race-winner Alexander Rossi, Formula 3 Euro Series driver Esteban Gutierrez, Chinese driver Ho Pin Tung (pictured), and GP2 race winner Lucas Di Grassi.

Most of those are still working their way up the career ladder, aiming for testing roles at best, and the only drivers realistically looking at a full-time drive could be one of the Red Bull drivers (there's a space at Toro Rosso), Baguette (who tested for Sauber on Thursday), Di Grassi (who is well hooked up with Renault) and, apparently, Spaniard Soucek.

After setting the fastest time on the opening day of the test, Soucek oozed confidence about getting into Formula One, but admitted he did not have the budget to secure a drive with the most likely place, Spanish team Campos Meta.

And that is the unfortunate thing for all those drivers with aspirations in Jerez. Most of the remaining spaces are likely to be at teams that need financial support from the chosen driver - so no matter how fast the young guns go, it will be what's in the bank that decides which remaining newcomers make it to the grid for 2010.

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