2015 has been quite a year for F1. The Introduction of new venues, more reliable Engines in the new era of F1 but the most important, entry of youth in the pinnacle of motorsport.
The rookies have impressed in 2015 so far and their abilities have silenced the doubters.
At the Mid point of the season, rumours are rife in the paddock about potential driver lineups for 2016. Not many seats are up for grabs but for some, time to prove their worth is running out.
Who is safe and who is not, time to have a run through.
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 :
The Fastest team in F1 ( Currently ) has steered clear from any paddock chatter by locking down the current lineup of Hamilton and Rosberg with long term contracts. Rumours about drives being available would be the last thing the team would want for themselves as well as for their drivers in their battle to maintain their edge in the current formula.
Scuderia Ferrari F1 :
The Loss of Jules Bianchi has hit both the Team and the F1 Fraternity hard. Sebastian Vettel has a contract. Kimi Raikkonen, as always is in the news about his future in F1. The Finn's contract expires at the end of 2015 and Ferrari has the option of extending it for another year based on the performance this year. 2015 has been a better year for Raikkonen but there is a considerable gap ( 84 points ) to his team-mate which isn't doing his chances any good.
Valtteri Bottas, Williams F1 Driver is being shortlisted as a replacement for Raikkonen and the rumours gathered a lot of steam in the past couple of months. However no formal announcement was made in this regard. Max Verstappen too has emerged as a contender in the past week but for 2017.
Ferrari have emphasized on multiple occasions that Kimi's contract extension / replacement isn't a priority at present. Recent developments suggest that the Maranello outfit will renew Kimi's contract for another year.
Kimi has the speed. In James Allison's words "Kimi is as quick as Seb, only difference is that Kimi has made a couple of mistakes in qualifying to Seb's one." Kimi has also been on the wrong end of reliability in 2 races. Add those results and he would be in contention for 3rd place in the Drivers' Championship.
Raikkonen's decision is the most pivotal in the market and can trigger a lot of movement. Else Status-quo.
Raikkonen has proved his mettle on more than one occasion. He remains Ferrari's Last Champion. Belgium beckons and being the most successful driver there, I am hoping to see the "King of Spa" do well.
Williams Martini F1 :
Williams should be happy with their current lineup of drivers. They have performed exceedingly well since 2014. Massa will continue into 2016. Bottas' future though is questionable. The Finn is young and fast besides being consistent. His performances have caught the attention of Ferrari and seems to be the favourite to sign for them. Bottas has reiterated that no deal with Ferrari is in place and such rumours should stop doing the rounds. Williams on the other hand were instrumental in bringing Bottas into F1 but that shouldn't hamper his chances of moving higher up the grid given the opportunity.
There were some rumours of Nasr stepping up but they were written off when Sauber renewed his contract.
Another rumour that surfaced was that Button was considering a switch to Williams. ( Discussed later ). Alex Lynn, formerly belonging to Red Bull's driver program, signed up with Williams as a development driver. It won't be long before he is ready to step up into F1. So Williams have their hands full.
The Possibility of Bottas to Ferrari looks pretty certain but I feel Ferrari will hold stations for another year.
Red Bull Racing F1 :
Red Bull Racing seems to have their Driver Contracts sorted for next year inspite of talk of a potential offer for Ricciardo. Sometimes the media links every driver with a Ferrari Seat. Red Bull would like to continue with their current crop of Kvyat and Ricciardo considering the position they are in. Losing their Quadruple World Champion Vettel to Ferari didn't do them any good. Red Bull must keep their lineup stable to rebuild and mount a new challenge.
Sahara Force India F1 :
Force India too preserved their lineup of Perez and Hulkenberg for 2015. Both Drivers performed well so far. Perez has been overshadowed by Hulkenberg. Hulkenberg is another candidate for the Ferrari Seat for 2016 but substantial sponsorship backing besides a height disadvantage is hurting his chance of moving higher up the grid. Haas F1, a new team in 2016 with Ferrari Power should consider him as a candidate. If none comes calling, the Hulk will stay at Force India. Perez is best suited to Force India with the abilities he possesses. Perez should continue with Force India as he enjoys a great relationship with the team.
GP2 has some candidates willing to take the big leap but I feel the team must stick with their old guns and build a solid platform for the future.
Lotus F1 :
Grosjean and Maldonado continued into 2015 for Lotus F1. Grosjean should continue in Lotus. I don't see him going elsewhere. Maldonado has been reckless to be frank and its high time for Lotus to open up a seat. Maldonado might have a fat sponsorship with him but his failure to bring him consistent results is costing the team dear. Jolyon Palmer, the reserve driver is the current GP2 Champion and has every right to graduate into F1. This might be the last year for Maldonado according to me. Palmer seems favourite to land a drive in 2016.
Scuderia Toro Rosso :
Toro Rosso, Red Bull's "B" Team recruited 2 rookies in Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. Verstappen joining F1 at a tender age of 17. Both have performed well so far in the season and Toro Rosso might opt to retain them both, maybe until the time is right to move to the Big League.
It would be very difficult for any driver from the Red Bull Program to grab a seat in 2016. The Best anyone can manage would be to become the 3rd Driver.
Sauber F1 :
Sauber F1 has been instrumental in bringing the best into F1. Many greats began their careers in F1 through Sauber. The Team dismissed any rumours about their drivers fairly quickly by confirming new contracts for Nasr and Ericsson. Marciello, a Ferrari Driver Program graduate, might have to wait another year and prove his mettle in GP2 if he wants a seat with the team, courtesy of Engine Suppliers Ferrari.
McLaren Honda F1 :
McLaren's new partnership with Honda began in 2015. They hired the services of World Champions Button and Alonso ( Dual WDC ) to assist them in their quest to return to supremacy. However their poor form and reliability has left the duo frustrated. Alonso expressed that he is slowly losing interest in the sport. He is happy to be a part of the challenge being faced but he is slowly losing the excitement he had about the sport. Alonso didn't re-sign with McLaren only to leave prematurely. He will dig deep and bring home the results and McLaren need to keep him interested to stay.
The situation with Button is very different. Button has been with the team for a fair amount of time and quite frankly, lived in the shadow of his team-mates. He has been in the news on many occasions with questions being raised about his abilities. The toughest was last year when McLaren bided their time in renewing his contract. Magnussen, his team-mate from last season, stepped down to 3rd driver and is waiting in the wings hoping to land a drive in 2017. To complicate matters, McLaren's protegee, Stoffel Vandoorne is performing brilliantly in GP2. He must get a drive sooner rather than later. Vandoorne should win the championship this year and failure to absorb him into the F1 team will leave him with few options ( A GP2 champion can't return to the feeder series ).
McLaren has to decide. Soon.
Manor Marussia F1 :
Manor, the buyers of Marussia brought in Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens for the 2015 campaign. Both have brought home satisfactory results. Merhi has been outshone by his team-mate on many occasions. There were rumours of Merhi's seat being up for grabs in 2016 but the bosses at Manor have reiterated that holding onto both for 2016 is the priority. The team wants stability going forward but as is the case with smaller organizations, nothing can be taken for granted. Fabio Leimer, the 2013 GP2 Champion bagged the reserve driver's seat and I won't be surprised to see him challenge for a drive in 2016.
Haas F1 :
Haas is the new kid on the block. It might be early days but there is a lot of buzz surrounding the team's entry into F1 in 2016. Haas has enjoyed a close relationship with Ferrari who will eventually supply them the engines. Ferrari will have a say when it comes to hiring the pilots for 2016 ( for at least one seat ). Estebaan Gutierrez, 3rd Driver at Ferrari currently should return to the starting grid in 2016 with Haas.
Haas must sign someone who is quick and can bring home the results consistently. Their intentions are clear - they want to be a top running team in F1. Nico Hulkenberg will be the perfect candidate for the job. But will the bosses at Haas consider him worthy? Surely they must!
To Summarize, Haas has 2 places, Lotus should have 1. Little movement elsewhere according to me.
F1 is a very funny sport. A lot of things can change overnight. We still have 2 races left in the European Leg of the season. More Rumours are bound to emerge, some totally absurd. Its tough for both the teams and drivers to operate in such a competitive environment, but compete they must. This post might be a bit earlier than it should have been. Nevertheless the silly season has thrown up enough speculations for the F1 Fraternity and Fans to keep them engrossed for months.
Who goes, who stays, only time will tell. Some might already know their fate..some might be in the dark...it will all be revealed soon...
The Season isn't over yet. We still have 9 races to go.
Time to put all that aside and prepare for the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix. I shall be at the race supporting Kimi. There will be updates from the Grand Prix once I return.
Have a great week and enjoy the race everyone!