When Nico Rosberg announced his shock retirement at the end of last year, it was too late to have any significant impact on the driver market as everyone’s contracts had been concluded. Despite half the grid throwing themselves up at Mercedes’s gate, the feasibility factor played a big part in deciding the next driver. After a prolonged two horse race between Valtteri Bottas and Pascal Wehrlein, the latter’s single year experience in Manor was deemed inadequate to be thrown into the sharp end of the grid and so the Finn’s name was finally approved while Wehrlein moved to Sauber where he continues to impress and rake up experience.
So while the conundrum at Mercedes trundled, it was a foregone conclusion that Rosberg’s retirement had actually turned the ‘silly circus’ on its head for 2018. And so as we approach the half way mark of the season, the smolders of the driver market is waking up from its slumber and the whole puzzle is waiting for that one piece to fall in place before others follow suit.
And for 2018 that piece of the puzzle is against all contemporary opinion, not Sebastian Vettel but rather his team mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Kimi has been holding the so called key now for more than a couple of years now as every year since 2014 the speculation as to when the Finn would retire assumes a pivotal position in the driver market but each year the team red doles out a one year contract to him.
This year too the speculation has been riper than ever with potential candidates lined up to take his place but once again if rumours are to be believed then the Italian team is ready to dole out another one year contract to him. So it rests on Kimi whether he’ll continue or not and perhaps Monaco’s snubbing and Hungary’s tactics will influence his mind because only if Kimi steps aside will the driver market take shape.
Ferrari continues to be woven around the German for in him they see their next Michael Schumacher and Vettel too has been vocal since day one to emulate his idol in red. Hence despite the whole Mercedes rumors, the chances that he’ll jump ship are as far fetched as the gap between Mercedes and McLaren on track. With Ferrari snapping right at the heels of Mercedes it makes the decision even tougher and Vettel in doing so would risk his personal legacy. And the fact that Hamilton is contracted until the end of 2019 makes it impossible for Vettel to come to Mercedes.
On the other Ferrari, Perez and Grosjean are in top spot to replace the 2007 World Champion, while the Mexican is the crowd favourite given his consistency and ability to deliver solid results but in Grosjean they’ll have a driver who’ll settle in the role of a No. 2 driver more easily than Perez.
Toto Wolff may harbour the dream of enticing Vettel to Mercedes to make what would arguably be the best German team – German driver bond for the Silver Arrows brand but with Hamilton driving the other Mercedes till 2018, that’s unlikely and maybe this is what prompted Christian Horner to tell the world that maybe the Austrian is trying to convince the German to convince the Italians for a one year deal while the Scuderia are said to be adamant on a three year deal and are reportedly ready to shell out 140 million dollars for the German.
The other Finn i.e. Valtteri Bottas has grown from race to race and as Wolff admitted that signing him is a no brainer, I believe that’s where Bottas would end up with a shiny new multi year deal.