Barrichello back in Williams frame
Formula 1 always goes a little quiet over Christmas, but one team that has been making waves - both publicly and behind the scenes - are Williams.
The team that dominated F1 for much of the 1980s and 1990s are one of only two outfits still with an obvious vacancy in their driver line-up - the other being back-of-the-grid HRT.
And it seems that Rubens Barrichello, the veteran who has driven for the team for the last two seasons, is back in with a chance of staying with them for 2012.
Rubens Barrichello had been tipped to vacate his Williams seat. Photo: Getty
Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado is staying on in one of the cars after an up-and-down rookie season in 2011 - his position in the team is secure thanks to a multi-million sponsorship deal with his country's national oil company.
But the second seat is still up for grabs, and while Williams are not the attractive proposition they were in their glory days, they are the only decent choice for a whole host of drivers wishing to continue their F1 careers.
These include Barrichello, German Adrian Sutil, Brazilian Bruno Senna, Toro Rosso rejects Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi and Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi.
Sutil, who had an impressive second half of the season for Force India, has been the favourite for some time, but the situation appears to have shifted recently.
My sources tell me that Barrichello, who appeared to be out of the running as his 19th season in F1 drew to a close in November, has come back into the frame and now has a reasonable chance of a Williams drive in 2012.
Barrichello has been arguing for some time that, with the huge ructions going on at Williams through 2011 and over the winter, it would make sense to have a known reference in the drivers.
"With all the changes for next year on the engine side and engineers," he said at the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix, "it would be clever from the team to keep the drivers and keep on going. I'm not pushing them, I'm just trying to show them that is the way to do it."
You can see his point. The team are changing engine suppliers, replacing Cosworth with Renault, and have undergone a wholesale restructure of the design department, with a new technical director, head of aerodynamics and head of engineering.
New tech boss Mike Coughlan is admired as being very clever, but his last role as a technical director was with the now-defunct Arrows team, who collapsed in 2002. As chief designer of McLaren after that, he was involved in the spy-gate scandal that engulfed the team in 2007 and for which he was sacked.
The technical changes at Williams were made even more seismic when it emerged on New Year's Eve that not only was co-founder Patrick Head stepping down as director of engineering, he was also resigning his position on the F1 team's board, thereby cutting all his ties with the sport.
It had long been known that Head, one of the most respected engineers in the history of the sport, would no longer have an active role in the day-to-day F1 operation, but it was a surprise to hear he was not going to be on the board of directors.
Head has insisted that his decision to end his day-to-day F1 role was based on feeling his relevance in F1 was diminishing.
In Brazil, he said: "I certainly didn't have an ambition to stop my involvement in Formula One with a season like this last one we've had behind us.
"But when I have a look at what specifically I can do to assist Mike Coughlan and (chief operations officer) Mark Gillan and (head of aerodynamics) Jason Somerville, I came to the conclusion that it isn't really enough to justify me carrying on doing the same thing."
He will still be involved at Williams through their subsidiary company Williams Hybrid Power and remains close to team boss Sir Frank Williams, who will doubtless be turning to him for advice on a regular basis.
All the same, many will consider it unwise that a team in such flux, and with such a grave need to improve, will not have on their board the guidance and wisdom of a man who not only co-founded the company but who was directly responsible for seven drivers' championships and nine constructors' titles.
Why will he not be there? Williams and Head were both unavailable for comment on Monday. I'm told, though, that his difficult relationship with chief executive officer Adam Parr was a part of Head's decision to step down.
Ironically, Head's departure may ease Barrichello's path to a return.
Head is forthright character and I'm told he had grown tired of the Brazilian's complaints about the team's difficulties.
With the 65-year-old no longer involved, that on the face of it is one less barrier to Barrichello being in the car again.
It seems, though, that all the driver hopefuls will have to wait. Williams are in the process of sponsorship negotiations with the Gulf state of Qatar, and they take primacy over a final decision on drivers.
With more than a month until the start of pre-season testing on 7 February, there is plenty of time to sort out drivers. After all, it's not as if Williams are struggling for choice.