The Driver Merry-Go-Round... Musical Chairs in a Lockdown!

The 2020 F1 Season which was due to commence in March got postponed in the light of the pandemic COVID-19 which has wrecked havoc across the world. The calendar has been modified with the mid-summer break being preponed and the FIA hoping to have 15 to 16 race weekends in 2020.

The entire F1 Fraternity is in a state of lockdown but can there ever be calm and stillness in the world of F1??

There is a lot of paddock chatter at the start of every season about drivers moving to different teams, contracts being extended and hints being dropped to the media over every race weekend. The picture becomes clearer only during the mid-summer break, the time around which I used to make the Driver lineup predictions for the upcoming season. 

There have been major updates about Driver Lineups for 2021 since the past week, 2 of the biggest announcements coming in today. 


The 3 Major Announcements this week :

Sebastian Vettel will leave Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team at the end of the 2020 season, Daniel Ricciardo signs for McLaren F1 Team with a multi year deal while Carlos Sainz Jr. makes the jump into the Ferrari seat vacated by Vettel!


The onset of the pandemic meant that no team was able to show their true capability. The FIA also decided to postpone the Technical Regulation overhaul which was due in 2021 to 2022. This means that teams would majorly run the same cars in 2021 ( as they would in a truncated 2020 season ) with their customary upgrades coming in in-season. This also means that drivers who are switching seats will carry vital R&D information to their new teams and this could bring the grid closer and make 2021 even more exciting.  

Lets have a look at teams who have their lineups confirmed and those which still have drives available.


Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :

Mercedes have been the most successful team of the Turbo Era and the partnership of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas ( since 2017 ) ensured that supremacy is maintained. Both are out of contract for 2021 though and there are a lot of takers for the best seats on the grid. Lewis Hamilton, the 6 Time World Champion and Mercedes' Prized Asset was rumoured to have been offered a deal by Ferrari but all the speculation came to an end after the appointment of Carlos Sainz Jr. today. Hamilton is capable of winning more titles and hasn't lost any of his edge so staying put is the logical decision. Mercedes should announce the renewal of his contract soon.
Bottas, who was earlier managed by Toto Wolff, the Team Principal and CEO of the team has been through a hat-trick of one year contract extensions with the team. The availability of Sebastian Vettel for 2021 means that Bottas' chances of contract extension are again down to his performances in 2020 ( if we go racing ). The chances of losing his seat seem bleak ( for now ) but if his performances aren't upto the mark then the team might have to do a rethink and probably convince Vettel ( if he is contemplating retirement ).  
If Mercedes were to consider signing the 4 time world champion ( Vettel ), Bottas would be relegated to a team further down the grid. Renault F1 Team would be the best bet in that case since Mercedes' Esteban Ocon got the nod for a drive in 2020 thanks to the efforts of Toto Wolff ( who might manage Bottas again if he is on the way out ). A lot hinges on what transpires ontrack for the Finn.  

There is George Russell as well ( who is a part of the team's driver program ) but is contracted at Williams till the end of 2021. The 2018 F2 Champion is a fantastic driver but will need more grooming before he is ready for the big jump.



Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Carlos Sainz Jr. comes in to replace Sebastian Vettel for 2021 and will partner Charles Leclerc. Charles Leclerc had a great maiden season at Ferrari beating his more experienced team-mate and a 4 time World Champion in Vettel. He is the future and the team hope to see him as Champion one day!

Vettel joined Ferrari in 2015 with the dream of winning a championship with them, just like his idol Michael Schumacher. 5 years have passed and the dream is yet to be fulfilled. 2020 will be his last chance, if we do have any races. Pre-season tests weren't the most encouraging but a lot can change at races ( as seen in the past ). Vettel had a lot more on his plate during his time at Ferrari than at Red Bull. There were frequent changes in the top brass, strategy calls weren't at their best, there were mechanical failures and then there were rookie mistakes at pivotal moments by the driver himself. He had to do a lot more within the team than just racing and that can take a toll on any individual. Not much has changed as is evident from the results of 2019. Vettel also knows that he might not have preferential status ( which was never the case inspite of public admission by the team ) and decided against renewing his contract. Its interesting to note that he took this decision after spending just one season with Leclerc as team-mate which hints at the fact that all was not well between them ( similar to his only season with Ricciardo in Red Bull in 2014 ).

What next for Sebastian Vettel :

Vettel still has the will to win. He is one of the top drivers on the grid and with the right team of people around him, can easily bring home his 5th World Title. The only teams capable of giving him that setup are Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 and Red Bull Racing F1, his former employers. Going elsewhere doesn't really make sense. Dr. Helmut Marko has made it clear that Red Bull has no vacancy for Vettel. Mercedes AMG F1 have won 6 Constructors Championships in a row with their prized asset Lewis Hamilton winning 5 Champions in the Turbo Era! Valtteri Bottas in the other seat is out of contract at the end of 2020. 

Would Mercedes want to have 2 serious contenders for the title in each of their cars? It would be a dream lineup but such a move seems highly improbable since Hamilton will have a say in such a decision. It could lead to stressful times and even clashes, something that was a regular feature during the Hamilton-Rosberg partnership from 2014 to 2016. Bottas who joined in 2017 has done a fine job as dutiful team-mate, keeping the best interests of the team always. He has had his fair share of wins but can't match the class of a Hamilton. Hamilton and Bottas share a great equation, so why change something that works? If Vettel was to move to Mercedes..then where would Bottas go? ( Renault probably )

I personally feel Sebastian Vettel will take a sabbatical from the sport. It would be really sad to not see a 4 time World Champion on the grid. I hope I am wrong.


Whats in Store for Carlos Sainz Jr?

Carlos Sainz Jr. has worked hard to get a top drive. A product of the Red Bull Driver Program, he partnered Max Verstappen who was chosen over him for promotion to the A Team ( in-season in 2016 ) by Red Bull. He stayed with Toro Rosso ( now Alpha Tauri ) until his switch in-season to Renault F1 in 2017 and then stayed with them for 2018. He did an exceptional job for McLaren F1 Team ( his employers in 2019 ), bagging a podium, a feat achieved by them after 2072 days and finishing 6th in the Drivers' Standings ( Best of the rest ) in a highly competitve year. He was termed as "hot property" and McLaren chased the others away by signing him on a multi-year deal till 2022. Ferrari would have paid a hefty amount to McLaren to fulfill the exit clause on his contract.

The Spanish Media is overjoyed with this news, evident from the series of tweets which were like a countdown to the official announcement of his appointment ( on  Movistar F1 Reporter Noemi di Miguel's Twitter Handle ). The Spaniard is following the footsteps of his hero and double world champion Fernando Alonso and I am sure he will be a handful at Ferrari! He needed a drive to show what he is truly capable of...THIS IS HIS CHANCE! We wish the best for Carlos Sainz Jr...

Ferrari will have relatively younger drivers in their lineup, something that goes against their tradition of having a mix of youth and experience. Hope they are able to develop a strong package for 2021 and beyond. 

Daniel Ricciardo was another contender for this seat ( equally worthy of it and a multiple race winner ) but I think he would have decided against it because Leclerc enjoys the same amount of attention that Verstappen does at Red Bull. He also saved himself from the politics that come with bagging a seat at Ferrari.    


McLaren F1 Team :

McLaren are on the move, they have been improving since their switch to Renault Power from 2018 and 2019 saw them finish in a strong position ( 4th ) in the Constructors' Standings. They will be powered by Mercedes Benz from 2021 onwards, the return of the iconic "McLaren Mercedes" Partnership - reminiscent of the days of Mika Hakkinen, David Coulthard and a young Kimi Raikkonen! The switch to Mercedes power was in lieu of the new technical regulations but due to the postponement of the same, considerable amount of work will be required on their 2020/21 chassis to accomodate the 2021 spec Mercedes Unit. 

Lando Norris, the McLaren protegee will be partnered by Daniel Ricciardo who makes his way from Renault F1 Team in 2021. Norris had a decent rookie year but will need to iron out the mistakes to bring the team closer to the top and ensure he enjoys an upper hand in the intra-team battle.

Daniel Ricciardo took the leap and switched to Renault F1 at the start of the 2019 season on a 2 year deal with the hope to be part of a Factory Works Team that can return to winning ways. 2019 wasn't smooth sailing for either with experts and fans questioning the reason behind such a move. His switch to McLaren coincides with the arrival of the reliable and multi championship winning Mercedes engine in 2021. This could be the boost that the team needs to propel themselves to the sharp end of the grid. Daniel Ricciardo was the driver of choice to land the Ferrari Seat ( for most of us ) but this switch isn't such a bad deal after all. He might not be in a Championship winning car yet but will be able to bag podiums and an occasional win. Will 2022 be the same? That is another matter.
Ricciardo and Norris are great entertainers in the world of F1 and the prospect of having them as team-mates will add more fans to an already popular and well known team!

 

Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Red Bull Racing F1 had some tough decisions to make in 2019. Pierre Gasly who had landed the drive alongside Max Verstappen had to be demoted to Scuderia Toro Rosso ( now known as Scuderia Alpha Tauri ) mid-season due to inconsistent performances. Alexander Albon, a rookie got the nod and he didn't disappoint. His performances warranted him a drive in 2020 but come 2021, that seat is once again up for grabs! Max Verstappen is the team leader and his contract extension of 3 years clearly indicate he wants to win Championships at Red Bull. The one who comes onboard as his team-mate will need to be equally good if not better since its important for both drivers to score big in the team's quest to win the Constructors' title again. 

The Contenders - Alexander Albon, Daniil Kvyat & Pierre Gasly. The trio have had a stint with the A Team and are aware of the standards that need to be set to remain in that seat. 
If we don't have any racing in 2020, then the seat by default should land with Albon. The young Thai Driver has impressed the bosses with his consistent drives and almost bagged a podium in Brazil but to be taken out by Hamilton on the penultimate lap last year. 
Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly ( after his demotion ) made a strong case for themselves in 2019, bagging a podium each. 2020 is the best chance to win back the trust of the top brass. Dr. Helmut Marko, the head of the Red Bull Driver Program admitted that Kvyat was back in the reckoning for the Red Bull Seat after his performances in 2019 and Red Bull will take their time ( probably till the end of 2020 ) before making a decision. Dr. Helmut Marko also shunned the possibility of Sebastian Vettel returning to Red Bull.

Albon is the favourite for 2021 ( according to me ).

 

Scuderia Alpha Tauri F1 Team :

Scuderia Alpha Tauri, Red Bull's "B" Team, has been a great launchpad for drivers of Red Bull's Driver Programme. The departures of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniel Ricciardo from the programme have seen their options dwindle. The most promising youngster in their ranks is the Estonian Juri Vips but he is still a year or two away from a F1 Drive. This leaves Red Bull with Alexander Albon, Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly. Albon stays in the A team for 2020 while the other two are retained by Alpha Tauri. 
The trio are in the reckoning for the Red Bull Seat for 2021, so the pair that misses out is likely to be retained by the team for 2021. Red Bull can look outside their program and rope in the services of the next F2 Champion ( if he isn't of any other programme ) or sign another capable F2 driver. Too early to make that call and we shall have a better picture once racing in 2020 kicks off.   

( Jehan Daruvala, the Indian Racer in F2 has also been recruited to the Red Bull Junior Team )


Renault Sport F1 Team :

Renault Sport F1 had a challenging 2019. They snapped up the services of Esteban Ocon ( 2 year contract ) after he was released by Mercedes. Daniel Ricciardo was also offered a long term contract but the talks fell apart and the Australian moved to McLaren F1. 

The empty Renault seat is now a hotbed for speculation. They aren't where they should be but as a works team have a lot of resources and manpower to turn things around. This will attract the attention of the extremely talented but currently on a sabbatical, Fernando Alonso. Alonso had 2 fantastic stints with Renault, winning back to back Championships in 2005 and 2006. He knows the team well, knows how they operate and has the skill set to help them diagnose issues and turn things around. His experience will be invaluable. He will also be a great mentor to a younger Ocon. 

Valtteri Bottas is another option if Mercedes were to release him in 2021. He would have a fair amount of experience and bring in vital knowledge which could help the team build a formidable challenger next year. We shall know soon. The team must weigh all their option before making any decision.

The recently released Nico Hulkenberg is also an option for the team. The German failed to capitalize whenever an opportunity arose and might not bring anything new to the table...so his chances of being re-signed are low.

Renault lost the services of F2 Driver Jack Aitken ( who was their reserve driver ) to Williams but they have a good pool of talented drivers who will eventually be F1 worthy soon. 



Racing Point F1 Team :

Sergio Perez, the faithful one, announced that he would be sticking with the team for another 3 years. Lance Stroll's contract is due for renewal at the end of 2020 but he is likely to stay put. His Billionaire Father Lawrence Stroll has invested heavily in the team after saving it from going into administration in 2018. His acquisition of the Aston Martin brand brings an added impetus. There is a new factory on the way in 2021 and the team will be rechristened as Aston Martin Racing F1, so long term plans are already in place. There have also been reports of Toto Wolff, the current team principal and CEO of Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 moving to the team since he holds a stake in Aston Martin. I see it as highly improbable. Mercedes will do everything to retain their winning combination.
On the Driver Front, it seems the pairing of Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll will stay. The team need continuity in this rebuilding phase and the duo offer a right mix of Experience and Youth.


Haas F1 Team :

Haas F1 persisted with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean for 2020. It was a big surprise to retain the duo considering the fact that they don't get along and have brought a fair share of pain to the team with their on-track errors and tiffs. They need to improve their performances in 2020 to help the team come back up and make the bosses view the team's participation in the sport as a profitable and feasible venture. Both drivers are out of contract in 2020 and I see Grosjean being released by the team.  

Magnussen is fiesty but is more consistent of the two which tips the scales in his favour. I see him being retained for 2021.

Nico Hulkenberg will be a great option for the team. The German was initially resistant to a move lower down the grid but was willing to bend in order to save his F1 Career last year. Haas had made their decision by then. They should consider him for 2021 though. He is quick and more dependable than their current lineup. His not-so-amicable interactions with Magnussen ( in the past ) will pose a hurdle should the team have such a pairing.   
I see Louis Deletraz ( a Renault protegee ) and Haas' test driver for 2020 as another contender for the seat. The promotion will hinge on his performances in F2 where he has been racing for the past 4 years and improving steadily. 


Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Team :

Alfa Romeo is going through a massive rebuilding phase. Kimi Raikkonen provided them with a mini revival of sorts in the first half of 2019 but the lack of updates sent them backwards in the second half. Antonio Giovinazzi on the other hand had a much better second half with performances improving with each passing race. The duo were retained for 2020 but come 2021, both seats will be up for grabs at this team.

Antonio Giovinazzi deserves a drive in 2021. One must remember that he hadn't raced competitively for 2 years and he will go from strength to strength in 2020. He has the skills to be in a top team and Scuderia Ferrari will be closely monitoring his progress..who knows he might eventually get the call up to partner Leclerc in the Prancing Horse!

Kimi Raikkonen, my hero, is in the twilight of his glorious career and 2020 is slated to be his last year in F1. We are yet to go racing in 2020 and the delay of the new regulations to 2022 might tempt him to stay on for another year at Alfa Romeo. The team that gave him his debut way back in 2002 have reiterated that he is free to race with them as long as he wants, his expertise being pivotal in their revival. He has also been mentoring his team-mate with regards to racing in F1.

There are a few talents from the Ferrari Drivers' Program waiting in the wings should a seat become available - Mick Schumacher, the son of the legendary Michael Schumacher has been fast tracked into F2, Callum Illot ( who tested for the team last year ), Marcus Armstrong and the F3 Champion of 2019 Robert Schwartzman.



Rokit Williams F1 Racing Team :

Williams F1, one of the oldest teams of the sport have lost their way in the Turbo Era. There have been the slowest on the grid for quite sometime but there are glimpses of hope from the results in the second half of 2019. George Russell, the 2018 F2 Champion is retained and contracted till the end of 2021 while Nicolas Latifi, the 2019 F2 Runner Up bagged the second seat for 2020. He brings a significant amount of funding with him, something desperately needed at the team and this will definitely work in his favour for 2021.

If Mercedes were to exercise the option of hiring George Russell in 2021, then Williams have a considerable pool of talent from their programme to replace the Brit - Reserve Car Driver Jack Aitken, Dan Ticktum, Roy Nissany and even Jamie Chadwick who could bring the return of females into F1 after 43 years!



I think Nyck de Vries, the 2019 F2 Champion also deserves a special mention. The talented Dutchman who finally won the coveted title couldn't find a drive in F1 for 2020 ( quite unfortunate ) and is plying his trade in Formula E. I do hope that he is considered by some team and doesn't fade into oblivion like Davide Valsecchi, the 2012 GP2 Champion!

I would love to see him in the Black and Yellow of Renault F1 and if he does...then remember that you first read it here!


The 2020 F1 Season hasn't even kicked off and it feels like 2021 is already upon us. The news of Drivers with New Drives have made many of us forget that they still have a full season of racing left with their current teams! Time is flying by in 2020.

Such have been these lockdowns in the time of COVID-19.... and the F1 Fraternity have been playing Musical Chairs!

The Driver Merry-Go-Round...Desperate Times call for Desperate Measures

The summer break is coming to an end and the second half of the F1 Season is due to kickoff in Spa ( Belgium ). The time for contract renewals for the drivers is nigh and the Paddock is abuzz with theories and rumours of who goes where. 

Which teams are certain of what they want in 2020? Which aren't? Will any rookies get a shot in 2020? 

Lets have a quick peek at how the teams could stack up..


First Up, Teams will both drives sealed...


Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Sebastian Vettel and Charles LeClerc will continue their partnership in 2020. Its the right decision for Ferrari who are still playing catch-up with Mercedes in the Turbo Era. Hopefully the duo can help the team build a potent machine for 2020.


McLaren Racing F1 Team :

McLaren were the first to lock down their drivers for 2020. Carlos Sainz Jr and Lando Norris will continue with the Woking based Outfit. McLaren made the right call by not delaying this decision. Sainz is having one of his best years in F1 while Lando is slowly coming upto speed. Red Bull Racing which runs a driver program would be ruing the decision of letting Sainz go. Their options have dwindled after Ricciardo left for Renault and there was a possibility that Sainz could have been snatched up had McLaren not moved quickly; so credit to McLaren.



Teams with one spot available...


Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :

Lewis Hamilton continues with Mercedes for 2020 ( a no-brainer ) while Valtteri Bottas is out of contract. Mercedes has Esteban Ocon, their Protegee from the Driver Program waiting in the wings. The pressure is increasing on Bottas with every mediocre drive. The Finn started the season on a great note but his performances dipped and his seat is now under serious threat from Ocon. 
Will Mercedes bite the bullet and replace him with Ocon for 2020?

Bottas has been with the team since the last 3 years and enjoyed a great relationship with Hamilton. His performances were important in helping the team win the Constructors' too. Maintaining consistency like Lewis over the course of the season is what he lacks and if he can address that in the second half, he should be able to retain his seat. Esteban Ocon on the other hand is young, talented and Championship material. The fact that he has beaten Verstappen in the lower series speaks volumes about his abilities. However I believe Ocon's appointment might unsettle Lewis in the team. The team might end up having another Nico - Lewis situation and even jeopardize their Constructors' title fight.The flip side to this is by not offering Ocon a seat they would be wasting a talent in his prime. Ocon was also a part of the Renault Driver Program and there is a seat available there for 2020. Citing Renault's performances this year, it will be difficult for them to be on the sharp end of the grid. Would Ocon want another season in the midfield melee or opt to sit out another year if Mercedes do decide to persist with Bottas? Its a very difficult decision for the Frechman and sitting out of the sport for 2 seasons would mean premature closure to his F1 career. I do hope the best for him but I don't really see Mercedes taking the drastic step of not renewing Bottas for 2020. It would be better for Ocon to pursue a seat at Renault.


Aston Martin Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Red Bull is enjoying a resurgence with Max Verstappen. Pierre Gasly, the "underperforming" team-mate has already been replaced by rookie Alexander Albon from the Belgian GPMax has a contract till the end of 2021 but the other seat is up for grabs and Albon has a golden chance to prove his worth in the second half of the season. Gasly, whose been demoted to Toro Rosso will feel a little hard done but according to Red Bull, he was given enough time to come upto speed. In a closely contested Constructors' Championship with Ferrari, Red Bull needs both drivers to be right up there and Gasly failed to deliver. Kvyat would have been a better replacement than Albon but the Russian has a history with the team and that was the hindrance in not being selected with the A Team. Albon should do well and I see him land the seat for 2020. However Red Bull will be ruing the decision of letting Sainz Jr go a couple of years back. 


Renault Sport F1 Team :

Renault acquired the services of Daniel Ricciardo which was a masterstroke for 2019. The Australian continues for 2020 while Nico Hulkenberg is due for a contract renewal. Will the renewal happen? I have my reservations. He currently holds the controversial record of the longest number of races without recording a podium. He has made mistakes when opportunities for a strong finish came knocking ( Germany ). Esteban Ocon who was a part of their Driver Program is also waiting in the wings. If Ocon is to land the seat ( latest reports suggesting that ), Hulkenberg could try for a team like Haas, though he isn't best buddies with Kevin Magnussen. The chances of him switching to another series like WEC or Formula E seem more likely. If Ocon doesn't land a drive with either Mercedes or Renault, it will be a great loss for F1. Unfortunately there are less than 20 spots available every year..and some have to be turned away.


Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team :

Kimi Raikkonen's contract runs out at the end of 2020 and he is doing a brilliant job of keeping Alfa Romeo in the midfield mix this year. Antonio Giovinazzi is going through a baptism of fire. The Italian has scored a solitary point and will have to produce some solid drives in the second half to land a drive for 2020. Antonio is being mentored by Kimi and there have been moments when he has shown snippets of what he is made of. Hopefully the team persist with him and give him another chance to establish himself as a solid consistent racer. They do have a Development program but it would be a horrendous decision to promote another racer, the others simply aren't ready.


Rokit Williams Racing F1 Team :

George Russell is confirmed for 2020. Robert Kubica is out of contract. Williams are consistently off the pace vs the rest. The recent rounds have seen them make progress and Kubica even grabbed the unlikely point in Germany. However over the course of this season, its Russell who has had the measure of Kubica. Williams is a team that needs money and Kubica with his considerable financial backing is one of the favourites to retain his seat. The only threat would come in the form of another driver with a similar financial clout. Williams is in a rebuilding phase so they might not be too keen to sport youngsters on the grid. Time will tell who bags that seat.


Teams with both seats up for grabs...


Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :

Toro Rosso has both seats up for grabs in 2020. Daniil Kvyat has been fantastic this year and retaining him should be a no-brainer. Gasly returns to Toro Rosso for the second half of 2019 and I believe he will be there in 2020 also. Red Bull's driver program is short on talent and I don't see any from their roster that deserves a F1 drive. Albon who has been promoted to the A team from Spa has a great chance of cementing himself as a solid number 2 to Max ( even become a race winner himself ). 


Sportpesa Racing Point F1 Team :

Racing Point hired the services of Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez for 2019. Lawrence Stroll, Lance's Father brought in a number of sponsorship deals ( some from Williams Racing ) and there is no doubt that he will ensure his son continues with the team for 2020. Sergio Perez, the faithful one has a great financial backing in Telmex and I don't see his seat being under threat either. Racing Point is in a rebuilding phase. The team will look to continue with the same pair to ensure their development isn't hampered both ontrack and off it.


Haas F1 Team :

Haas, the biggest underperformer of 2019 is going through a torrid time with its drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen. The duo locked horns ontrack in 2018 and had to be banned from racing each other to not jeopardize the team's chances. 2019 is a repeat. Romain's woes continue while Kevin Magnussen is as fiesty as ever. Haas might not renew Romain's contract for 2020 citing his poor performances over the past 2 years. Kevin should stay put but Haas has to look for a replacement for Romain and he mustn't be a rookie. Guenther Steiner, the team principal has made this clear in one of his recent interviews ( They do have Louis Deletraz & Pietro Fitipaldi waiting in the wings ) The only candidate that comes to mind then is Nico Hulkenberg, should he lose his seat at RenaultHowever its no secret that Magnussen and Hulkenberg aren't the best of mates; so it might be a case of "out of the frying pan into the fire". Haas have their hands full.


These are my predictions ( my views based on my assessment ) taking into consideration the information collected in the last few weeks. I might be completely wrong when the lineups are confirmed officially by the teams. 
Hulkenberg, Bottas, Grosjean and Gasly have the second half to prove their worth to their current employers or give better auditions to prospective drives..The clock is ticking and Desperate Times call for Desperate Measures...

The Driver Merry-Go-Round...As Unpredictable as it can get

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Drivers, one of the most important assets for a team to attain success in F1. A team can have state of the art facilities, great financial resources, a very talented bunch of engineers and mechanics who can build a race winning and probably a championship winning car; but all this comes to naught if the man behind the wheel cannot bring home the desired results. Sometimes a car is only as good as its driver and we have seen instances in the past when good drivers drove mediocre cars and produced decent results.


This year, the Driver Markets Scenario can be termed the silliest of them all. There are various theories circulating in the paddock and barring 2 teams, each team has at least one seat on offer for the 2019 season. 

I shall make a conscious attempt of exploring the possibilities of driver lineups for 2019 based on all the information that I could glean off team insiders, reporters and friends from the F1 paddock, but first those who have locked down their drives for 2019.


Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :

Mercedes is in a fierce contest with Ferrari for supremacy this year. Their focus is solely on retaining both the Drivers' and Constructors' Titles; so its no surprise that they announced their driver lineup with no changes fairly early in the season. Drama due to media speculations can become a big distraction for a team in a highly stressful environment so kudos to them for steering clear. Valtteri Bottas will partner Lewis Hamilton for 2019 with an option to extend for another year for the Finn.


Renault Sport F1 Team :

Nico Hulkenberg is on a long term contract with Renault but the team from Oxfordshire acquired one of the hottest properties of 2019 - Daniel Ricciardo! His acquisition left the entire F1 Community in shock and awe. What triggered this decision? Will it prove to be a masterstroke or a debacle? Lets try to answer these questions.

What triggered this decision?

Daniel Ricciardo is a successful product of the Red Bull Driver Program and enjoyed a fair amount of success with the A team since 2014. However he is yet to win a Championship with them and with the arrival of a much younger Max Verstappen ( almost all believe he will be a World Champion eventually ) maintaining parity is becoming a challenge. The Biggest Factor that has triggered this decision though is that Red Bull switches to Honda power for 2019. Honda's return to F1 is a fiasco. The situation hasn't changed much in 2018 and Toro Rosso has suffered their fair share of retirements. Will Red Bull be a force to reckon with in 2019? Aerodynamically yes, in power hungry circuits, an emphatic no. I would be surprised if they even manage to be on the podium regularly. Mercedes shut the door and Ferrari refused to offer Daniel a drive. Only one Works Team remained. A team with the resources to return to the top end of the grid, win races and even challenge for Championships - Renault F1. 


Will it prove to be a masterstroke or a debacle?

Red Bull are 3rd in the Constructors' at the summer break, 141 points ahead of Renault. Renault is yet to score a podium since their return to being a full works team while Red Bull notched up 3 victories this year. Statistically its a howler of a decision; for many it is like going from a front running team to a mid table team. However 2019 and 2020 will give us a very different story.

Let us look at 2 recent examples of such decisions : Lewis Hamilton's switch to Mercedes in 2013 and Fernando Alonso's switch to McLaren Honda in 2015. 

Mercedes were nowhere near the front in 2012 or 2013. McLaren was one of the cars that could challenge the dominance of Red Bull but come 2014, the advent of the 1.6 V6 Turbo era and the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team were untouchable. They have won 4 titles on the trot while McLaren have slipped back into oblivion. Lewis' decision to switch at the end of 2012 was viewed as a disaster by some, the results thereafter suggest a totally different story.

Alonso tried to win a title at Ferrari for 5 years. It was not to be. He chose to return to McLaren in 2015 with the hope of returning to the top step of the podium and rolling back the years to the golden era of Senna and Prost ( who ran Honda Powered engines ). The result is a disaster. Honda struggled to find their feet and the alliance was terminated at the end of 2017. Fernando Alonso has not been on the podium for 4 years. The biggest difference between the 2 decisions is that Mercedes was a full works team ( chassis + powertrain ) while McLaren are only chassis designers. A good chassis working in tandem with a reliable and quick powertrain can win you races, titles. Hence in the case of Lewis, it was a masterstroke and in the case of Alonso, a debacle.

Renault build both and are expanding their personnel and R&D facilities with every passing week. They are not there yet but have taken giant steps in that direction. Their results in comparison to last year's speak volumes of the progress made. 2019 will see him as a regular on the podium. A win? Probably not...but come 2020, Ricciardo will be in a Championship winning car ( in my opinion ).



Now onto the teams that have a seat each on offer!


Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Sebastian Vettel stays with the Prancing Horse for 2019 and that is no surprise. Its an excellent alliance and they should lift the title this year...a long wait but worth it. Kimi Raikkonen's seat, like every year is the hot topic of discussion. Rumours that Charles Leclerc will replace Kimi Raikkonen in-season gained a lot of traction. Some even claimed that Kimi would return to Sauber and finish his career where he started it. This really is the most retarded theory out there. Another publication claimed that Kimi would return to McLaren to replace the outgoing Alonso ( Another fictitious theory ).  Then the Iceman upped his game and silenced all critics. He finished on the podium 5 times in a row, the only one to do so in both the Triple and the Double Header. Suddenly news that he was being offered another contract extension started doing the rounds. Nothing is official yet and the 2nd seat at Ferrari is still up for grabs.

Its no secret that Charles Leclerc, Scuderia Ferrari Academy Driver is destined to occupy this seat. When rather than whether is the question. He has been a revelation in Sauber, comprehensively beating his more experienced team-mate Marcus Ericsson. Is he ready to step into the big league? I don't think so. He has the talent but rushing him into a top seat with only a one year experience in F1 might turn out to be a disaster. It would be better for Leclerc to go to the stronger customer team Haas F1 for 2019 and then join the A Team in 2020. Kimi is having his strongest year in Ferrari since his return to Maranello in 2014 and is the perfect team-mate to Vettel. They share a no-nonsense, friendly and transparent relationship; both push each other to their limits and when needed, Kimi is a true team player. His experience in the sport cannot be matched. He definitely has another year of racing in him and as most experts agree, his recent performances and his current position ( 3rd ) in the Drivers' Championship has earned him the right to be a Red for another year. 

Ferrari, like Mercedes must lock down their driver lineups soon to eliminate unnecessary media attention and the drama that comes with it. They are in the Driver's seat so their focus should be on winning the title rather than addressing issues for 2019.

I expect Scuderia Ferrari to announce a contract extension for Kimi Raikkonen in Belgium. GO ICEMAN!!



Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Red Bull will lose a star in Daniel Ricciardo for 2019. Christian Horner, Red Bull Team Principal, thought Ricciardo was joking when the latter expressed his desire to leave the team at the end of the season. Well a seat is vacant and Red Bull are spoilt for choice for 2019. Pierre Gasly, Carlos Sainz Jr, Fernando Alonso are all vying for this seat. ( Brendan Hartley, former WEC Champion won't make the cut ( below par debut in F1 ) and hence not in the reckoning ) 

Carlos Sainz Jr. was loaned to Renault for 2018 and considering the fact that he started his F1 career with Max Verstappen, he would be the logical choice to jump into the seat next year. Astonishingly Red Bull are not in a hurry and will bide their time to make their choice. It leaves Sainz in a very unfortunate position. If he were to not be the chosen one, he could find himself out of the sport. McLaren seem one destination but that would mean going backwards on the grid. No disrespect to McLaren but they are a shadow of their former self. Sainz is a talented driver and deserves to be on the sharp end of the grid. Sainz has a sponsor in Estrella Galacia and that can be a trump card.

Pierre Gasly another Red Bull Protegee is having a strong year in F1. He is already working with Honda at Toro Rosso so that is a bonus. His relative inexperience is a negative and having 2 young drivers can be a recipe for disaster.

Fernando Alonso, the opportunist, a man who can move mountains in order to have a winning car under him. He is believer to be one of the contenders for the seat but will he team up with Honda again? Considering his rants in races in years that Honda raced with McLaren, it doesn't seem that Alonso and Honda have an amicable relationship. Red Bull is a team that practices parity between team-mates but should Alonso join, will this practice continue? Politics come into play too and the atmosphere within the team might not stay healthy. In my opinion, Alonso will stay put to head to WEC next year. 

I really wish that Sainz Jr. gets the Red Bull drive in 2019 but Gasly seems the favourite according to experts. It might turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Sainz Jr. if he opts to go Renault Powered McLaren and it ends up beating a Honda Powered Red Bull!

Time will tell...



Now onto those who have both seats up for grabs!


Sahara Force India F1 :

Force India F1 isn't Force India anymore but will have a new name after a consortium headed by Mr. Lawrence Stroll got them out of administration today. Both seats are available for 2019 but after Lawrence Stroll, Lance Stroll's father acquired the team, the Canadian will ply his trade there. ( Official announcement pending ). Esteban Ocon, Mercedes backed and part of their informal program should stay. Any speculation linking him with Renault is now over and Mercedes will ensure he stays at their strongest customer team. This means Sergio Perez will be without a drive. Perez too has a sizeable sponsor in Telmex backing him and as per his recent admission, his future in F1 lies elsewhere. McLaren is the best option, Haas an alternate. Williams also might not be a bad choice if they are able to improve their performances.  

Force India will retain Ocon and Lance Stroll will be his team-mate for 2019 according to me.


Haas F1 Team :

Haas F1, like Red Bull is spoilt for choice for 2019. Magnussen is having a great year and Grosjean the complete opposite. The general consensus is that Grosjean is set to lose his drive. Charles Leclerc is the ideal replacement. Ferrari would want him there to assess him in a faster car and if he can better his performances, Haas F1 will cherish this decision. Magnussen, also without a contract should end up renewing with Haas since the team will want an existing driver to help with the development for next year. Perez has an outside chance but its a very slim one. 

Haas will field Magnussen and Leclerc in 2019.


McLaren F1 Team :

McLaren's status in F1 is now reduced to a mid-field runner. Its embarrassing to see a team with such a decorated past to be struggling with mercurial performances week in week out. The patience of their Spanish Matador Fernando Alonso is also running low. He is exploring the possibility of joining WEC next year ( someone close to the team confirmed the same ). Many predict a career in Indy but Honda might be the roadblock in that endeavour. It would be a major setback for the team if he were to leave F1. Stoffel Vandoorne has been a disappointment this year and his lacklustre performances leave his drive in jeopardy. He might be retained if Alonso leaves. The options available are many for 2019 and the team must bide their time before zeroing in on their lineup. Landon Norris, a part of their driver program is performing well in Formula 2 but it might be an year too early to rope him in into F1. The team must do everything in its capacity to hold onto Fernando Alonso. Carlos Sainz Jr is one of the frontrunners for a race seat, a move that will be effected if he is left high and dry by Red Bull, albeit a second time. Sainz Jr will be delighted to partner his hero in 2019. He also brings a sizeable sponsorship in Estrella Galacia as mentioned earlier. However if Sainz does go to Red Bull, then Sergio Perez is a good option. Financially, he has an equally strong backing. He drove for the team in 2013 but was ousted in a not-so-amicable way ( much like Fernando at the end of 2007 ). 

Factoring in the current situation, its safe to say that McLaren will end up having an all Spanish lineup with Alonso and Sainz Jr in 2019.


Alfa-Romeo Sauber F1 Team :

Sauber F1 are extremely pleased with the performances of Leclerc this year. Marcus Ericsson like his previous year is nowhere in terms of performances. Astonishingly he retained his seat in 2018 and he might in 2019 as well! Leclerc is bound for Haas according to me and Antonio Giovinazzi Ferrari's Reserve Driver ) is a regular feature in tests and practice sessions for the team this year. I believe he will make a return to the grid in 2019. I don't see Sauber going outside the Scuderia Ferari Academy umbrella to hire a F1 Pilot. Antonio Fuoco ( from Charouz Racing Team in F2 ) will have to wait another year, maybe he will be roped in as a reserve driver this year.

Marcus Ericsson and Antonio Giovinazzi is the lineup for Sauber according to me.


Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :

Toro Rosso is in a serious dilemma. Gasly ( according to many ) is set for the Red Bull Racing seat in 2019. Brendan Hartley was slated to be replaced but the Red Bull Driver Program has no one ready for the big jump into F1. The man closest to the seat is Dan Ticktum who is plying his trade in Formula 3. The biggest hurdle will be that he will not gather enough superlicense points ( even if he wins the F3 championship ) to warrant a drive next year. However the FIA reviews its points criteria every year and maybe they might have modifications made that will enable him to enter F1. Hartley, if Gasly was to leave might just be retained for another year ( I am being a bit biased towards him here ). He is a great guy and a genuinely quick driver but for some reason is not able to find his feet in F1. If Ticktum can't make the cut, Toro Rosso will be compelled to see someone outside their program and Perez, Vandoorne will be options. Perez should win this bout with the experience and the money he brings. 

Toro Rosso will have Perez and Hartley ( if Ticktum can't make the cut ) in 2019. ( Bold prediction ).


Williams Martini Racing F1 Team :

Williams is last in the Championship and with the latest news of Lawrence Stroll buying out Force India, they have lost a sizeable amount of finances for 2019. Sergei Sirotkin, the debutant this year will retain his drive in all probability ( taking into account the money he brings into the team ). George Russell, the F2 Championship leader and Mercedes Protege  should get a drive with Williams. He is set to win the F2 Championship this year and Williams will be a suitable fit to assess his abilities in the big league. 

Sirotkin and Russell look certain for Williams next year.


So to sum it all up :

Mercedes : Hamilton & Bottas ( Confirmed )

Renault F1 : Ricciardo & Hulkenberg ( Confirmed )


Scuderia Ferrari F1 : Vettel ( Confirmed ) & Raikkonen ( Predicted )

Red Bull Racing : Verstappen ( Confirmed ) & Gasly ( Predicted )


Force India : Stroll & Ocon ( Predicted )

Haas F1 : Magnussen & Leclerc ( Predicted )

McLaren : Alonso & Sainz Jr ( Predicted ).   If Alonso leaves, Vandoorne will be retained.

Sauber F1 : Ericsson & Giovinazzi ( Predicted )

Toro Rosso F1 : Hartley & Perez ( Predicted )   

Frankly, its a bold prediction and I might be well off the mark so apologies in advance! 

Williams F1 : Sirotkin & Russell ( Predicted )


So Grosjean and Vandoorne ( if Alonso stays and that is a BIG IF ) might not feature in 2019. I would be gutted if Vandoorne doesn't make the cut. He still has time to turn it around and I am hoping that I am proven wrong in my prediction!


These are my predictions ( my views based on my assessment ) taking into consideration the information collected in the last few weeks. I might be completely wrong when the lineups are confirmed officially by the teams. This year it really is as unpredictable as it can get.

The Driver Merry-Go-Round...Continuity Is Key

The European leg of the 2017 F1 Season has come to an end and the "Fly-Aways" remain.

The new owners of F1 have ensured that the sport is in the news for all the right reasons. Its also that time of the year when teams are locking down driver contracts or are in the final stages of talks with prospective pilots for next year.


Driver Markets is one topic that the media can never get enough of. Many claims turn out to be true, many don't.


Lets take a quick look into who is confirmed for 2018 and who isn't.



Scuderia Ferrari :

Scuderia Ferrari confirmed their lineup on the Belgian GP weekend with Sebastian Vettel signing a 3 year deal up until 2020 and Kimi Raikkonen till the end of 2018. Raikkonen's extension had a mixed reception but as a fan of Raikkonen its great news! I believe its the right decision by Ferrari to persist with the duo ( totally unbiased analysis here ). Raikkonen complements Vettel very well and the atmosphere within the team is extremely healthy. Kimi with his experience provides invaluable feedback to the team and Ferrari still have some catching up to do with Mercedes. Sebastian Vettel knows Ferrari is his best chance to get his 5th world title. Vettel is loved in Maranello and its great to see him continue in the red.

Experience over youth is the way forward for 2018 for Ferrari


Mercedes AMG F1 Team :

Lewis Hamilton continues his contract until the end of 2018. Staying put is a no-brainer for him. Valtteri Bottas joined the team for 1 year and the team made its intentions clear to continue the partnership into 2018. Bottas is doing an exceptional job in his first year. The team-mate relationship is as good as that in Ferrari. Bottas and Lewis are doing a fine job of keeping Ferrari at bay and the team have one hand on the Constructors' Trophy! Bottas is no slouch either and will be a more potent force in 2018. Its imperative that he must stay inspite of having protegees waiting to move up into the A-Team.


Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

The Honey Badger Daniel Ricciardo & The Flying Dutchman Max Verstappen continue their partnership for 2018. The chances of a seat opening in the other 2 front runners seemed a difficult prospect so it is best for the duo to stay put.


Sahara Force India F1 Team :

Force India also announced their intention to persist with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon for 2018. It hasn't been smooth sailing with the team-mates coming together and causing the team grief on a few occasions. They are banned form racing each other in 2017. However their talent cannot be belittled. Force India is a force to reckon with and it needs motivated and hungry individuals to pounce on any opportunity they may get from lapses by the front runners. There are few who can do what Perez and Ocon are capable of.


McLaren Honda F1 Team :

The Situation at McLaren is very tense. Their hopes of returning to glory with Honda have fallen flat. Fernando Alonso is very vocal about Honda's failures to deliver a powerful reliable engine, Stoffel Vandoorne feels no different. McLaren, the 2nd most successful team in F1 are now at a crossroads. Fernando Alonso will leave if McLaren choose to continue with Honda in 2018. Losing a two time World Champion to another team will be disastrous for McLaren and there is no driver that can replace a man with Fernando's experience. Renault power units is the only other option for them and the possibility of a switch has gained traction in the past fortnight. McLaren also need to consider the cost of divorce with Honda. Only McLaren can afford the pay demands of Alonso. Will they switch to Renault? I definitely think so. A must to maintain their respect and prestige in F1 besides holding onto the best driver on the grid ( personal opinion ). Stoffel Vandoorne is confirmed for 2018.


Williams Martini Racing F1 Team :

Williams have a talented prospect in Stroll who is finding his feet and beginning to impress people. Felipe Massa came in to fill the void left by Bottas at the end of 2016. Williams made it clear that they are in no hurry to discuss options for 2018 up until the end of the season. Paul di Resta is the reserve driver but his chances of landing a seat seem bleak. Stroll should be able to do enough to warrant a contract extension. Felipe's decision to stay or retire is still a debatable one. Williams hiring Alonso was also doing rounds for some time. Williams need someone experienced enough and fast to aid the development of the 2018 Contender. They must convince Felipe to stay another year before they can actually scout talent or hire a capable replacement for him in 2019. Pascal Wehrlein is out of contract and Mercedes would try to get him a seat at Williams should Sauber not opt to continue with him. Wehrlein is one driver Williams must consider.


Haas F1 Team  :

Haas confirmed Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean quite early in the season and they rightly shifted their focus to developing a stronger and a faster car.


Renault Sport F1 Team :

Nico Hulkenberg is confirmed for 2018 and as per the reports coming in in the past couple of days, Renault have acquired the services of the talented Carlos Sainz Jr. This means that Jolyon Palmer's career in F1 might be coming to a sad end. Hulkenberg is fast and consistent and Renault is improving its car at a brisk rate. They will definitely be moving up the grid in 2018. Carlos Sainz Jr. has been stuck for quite sometime in Toro Rosso, Red Bull's B Team and his chances of moving up to the main team has dwindled drastically. He will definitely benefit from joining a Work's Team. Carlos Sainz's impending move to Renault will be just reward for his performances - but it could also hand a well-earned F1 chance to another deserving racer.

Renault will benefit from having 2 consistent strong drivers. Jolyon Palmer, as for him, its best to seek other pastures.


Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :

Toro Rosso are yet to announce their 2018 line-up. Daniil Kvyat is out of contract but with Carlos Sainz Jr. departure to Renault, he should bag an extension. Pierre Gasly, Red Bull Racing's Reserve Driver is slated to take up the 2nd seat for 2018 and the Frenchman has proven his potential in test sessions earlier. If Kvyat does get a contract extension, its imperative that he outperforms Gasly to ensure a strong case for promotion in 2019, should any of the current Red Bull Drivers opt to switch to another front runner.


Sauber F1 Team :

Sauber has both seats available for 2018. Ferrari are intending to invest in Sauber and re-brand it under the umbrella of Alfa-Romeo. Should the move come to fruition the team could become Ferrari's B Team and that could open up places for Antonio Giovinazzi and the talented Charles Le Clerc in F1. Marcus Ericsson would also have an opportunity of continuing there ( performances in second half matter ). Its improbable that Ferrari would allow a Mercedes Protegee in Wehrlein to continue in the team. Sauber still has the freedom to choose what they think is the way forward for them but for how long?


The championship resumes in Singapore this weekend and there will be a lot more clarity with teams and drivers in the coming weeks.

The general consensus for most has been to continue with the current pairing of drivers. Continuity is key for 2018..