The announcement of Felipe Massa’s retirement and Jenson Button’s demotion to reserve driver at McLaren sent shock waves throughout the sport during this year’s Italian Grand Prix. It was universally agreed everyone was pleased to see Stoffel Vandoorne finally be handed a full-time ride with McLaren, but Button’s talents being lost to midfield teams, who may need an experienced driver to fill a void. The decision by Ron Dennis and associates to rearrange their driver line-up for 2017 was shrewd and assuring: Vandoorne finally gets his chance, Button is kept on board to please sponsors as McLaren’s British commercial representative, whilst if Fernando Alonso decides to retire from F1 earlier than expected, Button would be a competent and reliable substitute.
Here is my perspective of the future of the sport’s current incumbents:
Huge interest circulating, but no concrete decisions yet
Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez have refuse to refute rumours linking to other teams. Hulkenberg has a contact which ties him to Force India until the end of 2017, but has made no secret of his desires to land Kimi Raikkonen’s seat at Ferrari, when the Finn’s current deal finishes. Perez is linked to Williams, which would be a move sideways, and Renault, where huge investment into their 2017 car may yield immediate rewards. The team have made no secret of their desire to retain both drivers for the foreseeable future, so therefore have not talked about replacements.
A bump in the road for the American new boys
The two G’s of America’s only F1 teams are very much part of the silly season rumour mill. There has been condemnation over Romain Grosjean’s ability to perform the role of team leader, something which has disgruntled Gene Haas and reports link Grosjean returning to Renault (named Lotus when he drove for them). Esteban Gutierrez continues to polarise pundits over his ability; he has outpaced Grosjean recently, but is unable to rid himself of his knack of failing to finish able 11th. Reports of his poor feedback have circulated, so maybe the clock is indeed ticking on the cordial Mexican’s career. If Gutierrez does remain in F1, though, it will be mostly likely to be a second season with Haas. Prospective GP3 champion Charles LeClerc has emerged as a contender for a seat at Haas, along with Alexander Rossi.
So far, so good
Pascal Wehrlein is expected to spend a second season at Manor for 2017, but some feel this is a waste of his sizeable talent. Some believe Mercedes would help to accelerate his progress by placing him in the soon-to-be vacated second seat at Williams, allowing the German to compete in midfield battles more regularly instead of trundling at the rear of the grid. Rio Haryanto was recently demoted to the position of reserve driver after Pertamina’s funding extinguished, but his associates have made noises about new sources of sponsorship, which may help Haryanto return to a full-time seat in 2017 at Manor. An option to retain Esteban Ocon is on cards, as long as the Banbury-based squad can negotiate the conundrum of his intertwined contracts with Renault and Mercedes.
A year in transition
Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer have done little to impress pundits this season. Magnussen’s P7 at Russia remains his only highlight thus far, whilst Palmer threw away a potential points finish when he spun at Hungary, running in P10 beforehand. Sponsorship funding will be key to the future of these youngsters, although no interest has been affirmed from rival outfits as of yet. Cyril Abiteboul has spoken of the need for a “charismatic” driver to lead the Enstone-based squad, which was possibly the French boss pillorying the efforts of his team’s incumbent drivers. Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez, Romain Grosjean and Esteban Ocon have been mentioned to be targets for this iconic outfit.
A light at the end of the tunnel?
This season has proven to be a truly state of affairs for this Hinwil-based squad. A takeover by Longbow Finance, though, has been stated to be securing Sauber’s future, although one cannot always take these statements literally in the rapid, cut-throat world of F1. Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr have not had a car in which either has had the opportunity to impress; indeed, this season has been the nadir of Sauber’s Grand Prix racing history. With little money to spend on development, their current drivers are hoping Monisha Kaltenborn is not eyeing up other drivers, as no rival teams have expressed interest in their services. Nasr, however, was once Williams’ test driver and many feel the Grove-based squad would welcome his injection of Banco do Brasil cash. It would make commercial business sense to replace an ageing Brazilian favourite with another emerging Brazilian talent, appeasing sponsors and retaining global identity.
What became of the broken hearted?
Carlos Sainz has been confirmed for a third season at the Faenza-based squad, although some feel this will be his last if a promotion to the Red Bull senior isn’t beckoning. A move to Renault has been rumoured, although the Spanish press have also stoked rumours of a move to Force India or even Ferrari. A potential move to the Maranello-based squad may tempt Sainz, but he would do so at the age of just 23- his lack of experience with politics within a team entrenched by Machiavellian tendencies may deter him, though. His cerebral and embattled team-mate Daniil Kvyat is fighting an intense battle to save his F1 career; his relations with Franz Tost and Helmut Marko are believed to be at ground zero and with no hints of interest from rival teams, Kvyat’s best hopes lay with an undisclosed Russian backer buying him a seat at Williams, Sauber, Manor or Force India.
F1’s Tottenham Hotspur
The Grove-based squad is yet to confirm Valtteri Bottas for a fourth season, but many feel it is just a matter of applying pen to paper. The career prospects of Finland’s best prospect have flatlined, with interest from Ferrari seemingly a distant past. With Felipe Massa’s retirement at the end of this season confirmed, the speculation over Williams’ second seat escalated when Jenson Button announced his role with McLaren for the next two years. Lance Stroll, Nasr, Kvyat, Perez, Wehrlein are just several out of many names linked to this seat, but some feel their inclusion may be a stop-gap solution for the foreseeable future.