Four into one doesn’t go at Sauber, so who will get the seat?

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As the paddock continues to speculate about where both Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel will end up on the Formula 1 grid for the 2015 season, there has been some movement further down the field with Sauber confirming the signing of Marcus Ericsson from Caterham.

Ericsson has endured a difficult rookie year in Formula 1, but did manage to match Caterham’s best-ever result with 11th in Monaco before the team ultimately collapsed ahead of this weekend’s United States Grand Prix.

Despite being sidelined, the Swede made the trip over to Austin for the race, and his announcement came as something of a surprise on Thursday. Although he may not race again this year, he will have the start of a new and very exciting time with Sauber in 2015.

So this leaves the problem of a second seat for the Swiss team, with four drivers putting forward very strong cases for claiming it.

When we spoke to Adrian Sutil on Saturday in Austin, he did not have a great deal to say, merely reiterating that Ericsson’s confirmation has not changed his plans for next season. He is thought to have a contract with the team, and although Sauber could compensate him to make way for another driver, the situation is not 100% clear. After seven seasons in F1, he could well be facing the exit if the team opts for a driver with a bigger paycheck.

Esteban Gutierrez is much the same. The Mexican driver would obviously be a big pull for next season with the return of the Mexican Grand Prix, leaving Sauber with a bit of a marketing headache. His on-track results haven’t been all that impressive in either of his first two seasons in F1, although many may argue that he hasn’t really been given a chance by the troublesome cars that Sauber have produced. If he too has a firm deal for next year, Sauber may find themselves with a few payouts to make.

Giedo van der Garde has perhaps the strongest case for a seat, even though he has been in a reserve role all season long. His time with Caterham in 2013 was short but solid, and he too has a good deal of funding that could secure him a place on the grid with Sauber. As he hasn’t had his results record tarnished by the difficult C33, he may be in the running – and, according to the German press, is the man leading the way – for the second seat at Sauber next year.

The only other question is where Sergey Sirotkin fits into the equation. The Russian youngster was due to make his F1 debut this year, before Sauber ultimately opted for Sutil and Gutierrez. He has completed far more F1 running in 2014, and been quite impressive on occasion, but the question about his experience does linger. He would be the ‘wildcard’ option for Sauber if there ever was one.

With Sauber, Ericsson has a second chance after being short-changed at Caterham this year. He proved in GP2 that he is a very adept and talented racer, and whoever his teammate is, he looks set to flourish. Quite whether it is Sutil, Gutierrez, van der Garde or Sirotkin remains to be seen, but all four certainly have a good case going for them.

At the US GP on Sunday in Austin, in spite of the reduced field, Sauber failed to score any points once again after Sutil was crashed into on the first lap for the third year in a row. Gutierrez was the last classified finisher in 15th place.

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Ben Hanley relieved to make Indy 500 debut

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Qualifying for the Indy 500 is never an easy task, especially for a new driver and team, and with 36 cars vying for 33 starting positions last weekend, 34-year-old rookie Ben Hanley knew there was a chance he and his DragonSpeed team would not make the show.

“I wouldn’t say we were very confident, but we wanted to [make the field],” Hanley told NBC Sports. “The biggest thing we were trying to achieve was to not be on track on Sunday in the shootout because it only takes one mistake or one little issue and that’s it, you’re not in the race.”

But Hanley would not have to worry about being bumped from the field. He qualified 27th after making three attempts on Day 1, which was enough to lock the No. 81 team into the show. Not too shabby for a driver and team making only their third NTT IndyCar Series start.

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“That last run everything just came together,” Hanley said. “We trimmed out a little bit more and found a good balance of trim and grip over four [qualifying] laps and it was enough to get us through.

“It was a huge relief to get through in P27. A massive achievement for everybody involved.”

Indeed it was a massive achievement, as DragonSpeed is one of the smallest teams in the garage, with no corporate sponsors and a tiny team of around 20 personnel. Many of those were picked up by the team just a week before qualifying, when members of the team’s regular crew were denied entry into the United States due to visa issues after leaving a sports car race in Italy.

“It was all down to the team organizing some people who were in and around Indianapolis who weren’t needed for the race weekend,” Hanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think many people are going to refuse the chance to work on a car that’s trying to qualify for the 500.”

Though the team made its first Indy 500 on Day 1 of qualifying, the DragonSpeed team did not spend Saturday night out late celebrating. Instead, Hanley said the extra time was spent preparing for the race.

“We went straight on to race prep then for the car, so Sunday was a good day for the guys to take time to prep the car into the race spec and get everything sorted out in a nice, organized manner.”

Following the Indy 500, DragonSpeed will run two other races this season at Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team is hopeful that a good run at Indy will result in an opportunity to run a bigger schedule next season and attract sponsors.

Hanley stated that though he’s happy to have made the Indy 500 starting grid for the first time in his career, the magnitude of his feat hasn’t hit him yet.

“It hasn’t really soaked in yet,” he said. “I think it will soak in on Sunday when we roll out to the grid.

“It was such a huge relief to not be involved in Bump Day. Even just watching [Bump Day] it was intense, especially with the weather. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be involved in that.”

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