The European Leg of the 2016 F1 Season came to an end last weekend. The 7 "Fly-Aways" remain.
We are entering into a pivotal part of the season, both on and off the track. A lot of changes happened and are going to happen in the world of F1. 2017 is going to be an intriguing year, be it for the new Regulations, Fatter Tyres and the new owners of F1.
This time of the year is also important for those who still are unawares of their drives next year. There are a lot of things that are going to play a big part in deciding their fate for 2017. So who is certain and who is not for 2017? Are there any new rookies joining the fray?
Time to take a quick peek into the "Driver Markets" World!
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are locked down for 2017. The Decision is a no-brainer for both the team and the drivers. Who would want to leave the fastest team on the grid! Could 2017 bring some parity? We shall know next year.
Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :
Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen continue their partnership next year. There was some chatter about Perez getting Kimi's seat for 2017 but Ferrari squashed all rumours by announcing their lineup a lot earlier than usual. Kimi has been a lot closer and beating Vettel in many races. The Iceman's performances drastically improved and letting go of such an asset would be very unwise. Staying with the tried and tested also brings stability in the team, specially for Ferrari who are playing catch-up for sometime now. This pairing has it in them to bring back the years of the "Prancing Horse". I am overjoyed about Kimi's contract renewal. ALL HAIL THE ICEMAN!
Red Bull Racing F1 Team :
Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen have been fantastic in 2016 ( so far ) and the team sees no reason to change its line-up. Max who replaced Kvyat after the Russian GP has been a revelation- winning on his race debut ( youngest driver ), podiums and strong points finishes. True his recent performances and lack of respect for co-drivers leave much to be desired but the youngster's ability cannot be doubted. Ricciardo, the Honey Badger, he is an absolute hit amongst the fans. His demeanour, his character is perfect fit for a team like Red Bull. Performances are never a cause for contention and not persisting with the Australian would be suicidal.
Sahara Force India F1 Team :
Force India improved considerably in the new turbo era and one can say that they are contenders for podium finishes in certain races. Perez bagged his fair share of podiums while Hulkenberg prides in finishing consistently in points. The Latter didn't ruffle many feathers in the paddock but is going about his job in a professional way. He continues with the team. Perez on the other hand was on the lookout for a better drive, a replacement for Kimi was also doing the rounds. Some suggested approach by another works team in Renault. The latest developments suggest that he has re-signed with Force India, probably playing a waiting game before a seat in the top runners opens up in 2018. Wise Decision.
McLaren Honda F1 Team :
Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, 2 Former Champions drove for McLaren since 2015. McLaren are clearly struggling in their new partnership with Honda. Progress is slow and both drivers have been losing patience with the car. Stoffel Vandoorne, the 2015 GP2 Champion is waiting in the wings and putting him in one of the seats would be a great option for the team. The Path was cleared when Jenson Button announced that he was taking a 'sabbatical' in 2017 and would aid in the development of the 2017 challenger. He would have the option to race in 2018 should Alonso choose to retire. This is quite an interesting decision to be honest. Taking a 'sabbatical' could turn out to be a master stroke, as was the case with Alain Prost who won his 4th Championship with Williams on his return to F1 or it could also turn to retirement should the team find someone capable enough to race in 2018 or even persist with Alonso. What conspires over the course of next year no one knows. I personally think McLaren covered themselves against Williams who were vying for the Brit's signature in 2017. Williams is placed well above McLaren for now but 2017 could turn out to be a great leveller.
Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :
Carlos Sainz Jr. is confirmed for 2017. Max Verstappen moved upto the A Team from the Spanish GP while Daniil Kvyat got demoted. Kvyat struggled since then and his performances in the final 7 races would be pivotal in deciding his fate in F1. Red Bull seem to be diplomatic in its answers about the Toro Rosso lineup for 2017. Pierre Gasly driving in GP2 has gained a fair amount of experience in a F1 car. A drive in F1 is long overdue for the Frenchman. I feel its a matter of when rather than whether and internally it seems that the answer for when will be given well before the season ends. Kvyat's management should be exploring and contacting other teams. The Red Bull program looks done and dusted for him.
Williams F1 Team :
Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, a strong pairing will not feature together in 2017. Felipe Massa announced his retirement at the Italian GP bringing to an end an unbelievable career in F1. He will be completing 250 Races at the end of the season and who can forget the narrow miss of the Drivers' Championship in 2008! Valtteri Bottas has expressed his desire to stay at Williams for 2017 but the team don't seem to be in a hurry to finalize their lineup. Frankly, there aren't many options and the team should renew his contract. Bottas has a fantastic management handling his career so this shouldn't be an issue.
Button who was tipped to replace Massa according to some tabloids opted for a sabbatical so the second seat is up for grabs. Perez has an outside chance but would not want to jeopardize his chances of switching to Ferrari in 2018. I believe GP2 driver Alex Lynn will get promoted from his Development Driver Status. Lance Stroll, F3 Driver is also in the reckoning. Many tabloids suggest he is ready for the big leap. He has the skills, just hope he has the maturity to race at this level. One cannot write off someone like Kvyat if he opts to leave Red Bull's program but then again, every race result would be important for him.
Haas F1 Team :
Haas F1, the debutants of 2016 have both seats available for 2017. Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez would be keen to renew, the former being more successful for the team. Grosjean left Renault in 2015 with the sole intention of joining Ferrari in a couple of years and his "audition" at Haas has been decent. Gutierrez's return to full time racing has been marred with problems. Ferrari will have a big say in the decision making and would encourage the team to hire somebody from their Ferrari program - Raffaele Marciello from GP2, Charles LeClerc and Antonio Fuoco from GP3 the contenders. LeClerc for me is the best bet. Persisting with Grosjean would be logical decision. Sadly, Gutierrez might have to return to being a Reserve Driver for Ferrari.
I hope I am proved wrong!
Renault Sport F1 Team :
Jolyon Palmer, the 2014 GP2 Champion and ex-McLaren driver Kevin Magnussen were the challengers representing the Renault Sport F1 Team for 2016. Neither have a contract for 2017. An insider known to me had hinted about Palmer being in the team for only one year and the team would have to be convinced to continue with him for 2017. The decision had been made even before the season began it seems! Magnussen is young and still maturing in F1. The Team needs someone with experience, someone who would help develop their car and help them move up the field. They are a works team, so the onus of being a front runner is big, for whoever they sign. Grosjean is the only one that comes to mind but the Frenchman spent many years in Oxfordshire. To think of a reunion would be downright absurd. The team has next to zero options when it comes to hiring experience. Bottas is available but would he be willing to move down the grid and help the team move up? Illogical. Kvyat could get the drive and maybe Magnussen a contract extension. Esteban Ocon, their reserve driver up until the Belgian GP is also an intriguing case. He has been sponsored by Genii ( former owners of the team ) and is also a part of the unofficial "Mercedes Driver Program". His career path is chosen so his chances seem bleak. Antonio Giovinazzi is one independent driver in GP2 that comes to mind and is extremely talented. Carmen Jorda? Well it would be a proud moment to have women racing in F1.
Renault is a works team and have their work cut out for the upcoming season. Spending money on hiring will not be a challenge but getting a mix of experience and youth will be. One must not forget the learning curve is steep so it won't be smooth sailing. Patience is key.
Sauber F1 Team :
Sauber, a team riddled with financial issues are searching for a potential buyer. A takeover is on the cards and if it does come to fruition, Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr's could be up for the taking. Both are pay drivers and helped the team to stay above board this year. No disrespect to either but I feel they were hired a season too early. There were more mature drivers in the feeder series but the fatter sponsorship got the job done for the duo. The situation today is the same in the feeder series. If the team were to decide on making only one seat available, Ericsson will get the boot ( according to me ). Sergey Sirotkin got a taste of F1 in the past and would be eyeing a promotion. Ferrari will have a say too ( not as much as in Haas' case ) and hiring one of their academy drivers would bring in benefits for the team. It will be an interesting to see who is onboard for 2017. I believe Nasr and Marciello would be in the Blue Overalls for 2017.
Sauber are the slowest team on the grid and its sad to see them struggle like this. The team that had the knack of springing surprises must return to scoring points again. Peter Sauber earned the reputation of hiring quality in F1, a known fact amongst the paddock and the fans. I hope that their financial issues are resolved and the team is back at doing what it does best - bringing the best to F1!
Manor Racing F1 Team :
Manor, cash-strapped and essentially a testing ground for the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team had a brilliant 2015 ( under the old name Marussia ) and an even better 2016 ( so far ). Pascal Wehrlein is a revelation. Rio Haryanto not so much. The Latter too was a pay driver and rushed into the sport earlier than he should have been. His inability to deliver on the sponsorship side sadly saw him lose his seat to Esteban Ocon who immediately warmed up to the task and looks set for delivering strong finishes for the team in 2016. Re-signing both is the way forward. True they have limited resources and funds to live with but their drivers are punching well above their weight. The sky is the limit.
2017 promises to be a challenging year for all the teams. New Regulations might bring more parity. There is still a lot that 2016 has to offer and the next few weeks should clear the air about who ends up where.
Till then, fasten your seat-belts and enjoy the ride!