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
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.
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
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
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.
With the engine deal recently sorted out as Sauber decided to stick with Ferrari with the latest 2018 spec and a multi-year deal on top of it, driver change at Sauber is in most probability a certainty for next year. With Ericsson the de facto owner of Sauber given his links with Longbow Finance, its Pascal Wehrlein whose seat is under threat and in case of no seats opening up anywhere on the grid, the Mercedes protege’s career could be in the doldrums despite performing so brilliantly.
Replacing him could be Ferrari’s juniors Antonio Giovinazzi or Charles Leclerc with the latter on a record
spree in F2 right now and is deemed to be the next big thing in racing. Giovinazzi will face competition for the Sauber seat and his crashes in China and during a couple of FP1 duties has dented his reputation with only his Australian Grand Prix performance and Italian nationality going on in his favour and the simulator work he is putting in at Maranello.
With all the focus currently on sorting the engine issue, on the driver front for Fernando all the top teams have closed their doors and it seems that Fernando has shifted his focus from chasing a third world title to the triple crown and recently saying that this year’s Indy
But the name that he has carved for himself in Indy means he does not need McLaren’s support as plenty of top Indy teams have offered him a seat. So Fernando needs to decide how long he will dabble at F1 and waste what are his prime years and pass on a full time stint in WEC which is necessary for his Triple Crown dream and would require greater involvement from him.
So if Fernando does calls it quits, who’d replace him? McLaren-Honda are still in the development phase and as such require an experienced driver. Button is contracted to drive in place of Fernando, a deal etched with exactly the above said situation in mind, but Jenson Button has fallen out of love with F1 and quite vocally so and hence it’ll be interesting to see whether he can be forced to drive all year long.
If not Button then who? perhaps McLaren could look into the Formula E pool of drivers but with the current F1 cars a different beast altogether, they’ll be wise to stick to within those within the sport and Carlos Sainz Jr would be an obvious choice, whether McLaren is something the Spaniard would choose or not is a different story.
Nico Hulkenberg is on a multi year deal and given that he’s currently punching above the car’s weight he is Renault’s number 1 driver right now.
Palmer, on the other hand, has failed to make a case for himself having been shaded completely by his team-mate and his seat is under threat from, what could be F1’s biggest comeback story since Kimi, Robert Kubica.
Another option on Renault’s list is Carlos Sainz Jr. and Renault has clearly shown interest in
While Gene Haas has conveyed his wish that he wants the current pairing in 2018 again, Grosjean would definitely jump at the Ferrari opportunity if it comes his way or maybe if he’s snubbed, he could very well walk away from the team.
Toro Rosso is in a precarious situation with its drivers as on one hand it has Sainz who does
To make matters more dire, Red Bull has Pierre Gasly waiting on the sidelines, having won GP2 and currently is asked by Red Bull to compete in Super Formula so as to not waste his one year. So Toro Rosso is maybe waiting for the whole Sainz saga to clear up before deciding who the incoming Frenchman would replace and it explains why despite Horner dropping the hint that Kvyat will be signed on for 2018, no confirmation has come up as of now.
So in end its Kimi and Alonso who, independent of each other, hold the key to whether the domino effect would be felt in the whole driver market or not.