Opinion: F1 set for messy silly season ahead of 2020 
(Photo by Dan Istitene,Getty Images)

Opinion: F1 set for messy silly season ahead of 2020 

As Formula 1 prepares for it's final grand prix before the summer break, we take a look at which seats are available and predict next season's driver line-up.

charlie-fox
Charlie Fox

With the 2019 season reaching its halfway point after this weekend’s German Grand Prix, it means that silly season is just around the corner.

Last years' driver changes included a rookie being thrusted into a Ferrari seat, three more rookies got big breaks and two drivers came back to the grid after a sabbatical from the big time.

This year could be easily as messy, with a fair few drivers are still to sign a contract and have a lot of thinking to do over the next few weeks.

Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton – Contract Signed

Valtteri Bottas  - TBC

Potential Options

Esteban Ocon (Mercedes test driver)

George Russell ( Williams)

The real question in terms of the Mercedes team would be, are they going to stick to what they know with the reliable, if underwhelming at times, Valtteri Bottas or do they twist and go for a new approach? Bottas had a promising start to the season, winning in both Austrialia and Azerbaijan, but it seems the Fin has returned to his job as wingman. In terms of alternatives for the drive there are two immediate options. Option one would be Esteban Ocon . The Frenchman has been out of a drive this year after what looked to be a promising season with Force India. It came as a shock to many when a seat wasn’t secured for the year, but he managed to secure the Mercedes test driver job, as well as being linked with a plethora of other drives.

Another option could be Williams’  George Russell. Russell has spent the first season since his promotion from ART  in Formula 2 driving a below par car around the different tracks on the calendar. We could see a Charles Leclerc situation from this, potentially finding himself in a top drive by the start of next year given that he is part of the Mercedes development programme, and has been for a while now.

Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel – Contract Signed

Charles Leclerc – Contract Signed

It all seems set at Ferrari, despite a very rough start to the season which has seen no wins thus far. Charles Leclerc has put in some good shows in his first half a season in the Scuderia , with it being only a matter of time until he gets first win. Whereas his veteran German counterpart is still showing his quality. If they are given a good car that can properly rival the Silver Arrows, they have the quality of driver to be able to match the car. All in all, not much should be happening here. There aren’t many drivers better than what they have, so why would they bother swapping?

Red Bull Racing Honda 

Max Verstappen – Contract Signed

Pierre Gasly  - TBC

Potential Options

Danil Kyvat (Toro Rosso)

Alexander Albon (Toro Rosso)

Nico Hulkenberg (Renault)

Red Bull clearly want to keep Max Verstappen around for as long as is possible. It is remarkable to think that he is still only 21-years-old, yet he has managed to put in consistent and mature performances. The real question is what is going to happen to his French counterpart Pierre Gasly? Its no secret that he hasn’t had the best season at Red Bull, with a best finish of 4th and having had a couple of shoddy races as Hockenheim and Spielberg. There is no surprise that this has accumulated into his seat potentially becoming vulnerable. Speaking to Motorsport.com after the race Helmut Marko insisted, “This year we wont change – we will end the season as we currently are”, but there is no doubt that there is added pressure to maintain his drive.

The obvious candidates for the drive would be either of the Toro Rosso drivers. Both of them have a substantial claim to the seat. Daniil Kvyat has been there before and done a decent job, until the series of unfortunate events unfolded that resulted in Verstappen getting his seat. Alexander Albon has potential for the drive and after his battle with Gasly in Germany he has shown he has the fight for it too. An outsider for the role could be Nico Hulkenberg. He is yet to sign a contract with Renault  and has been consistent for a number of years. Give him the right car and he could shine.

McLaren Renault 

Carlos Sainz – Contract Signed

Lando Norris – Contract signed

If something isn’t wrong, there is no need to fix it and this is the case over at McLaren. Both drivers have been doing a great job on really getting the most out of the car and with a current position of fourth in the standings overall, there isn't too much to complain about.

Renault

Daniel Ricciardo – Contract signed

Nico Hulkenberg – TBC

Potential Options

Guanyu Zhou (Uni – Virtuosi Racing – F2)

Anthoine Hubert (BWT Arden – F2)

Jack Aitken (Campos Racing – F2)

Renault managed to secure Daniel Ricciardo on a multi-year deal so he secured his seat for at least another year. The real area for contention will be in the second seat, currently occupied by Nico Hulkenberg. The German has stayed at Renault for a few years now, but with no contract signed just yet, there is uncertainty over his future. If he does opt to jump ship they do have enough drivers to pick from in the Renault Sport Academy. The two drivers that they currently have in Formula two, Guanyu Zhou and Anthoine Hubert, current sixth  and seventh in the standings and are showing plenty of promise. Another potential option could be Jack Aitken, who has been acting as test driver for the French team for the first part of this year. There are plenty of options for them if the worst case scenario does arise, however the German has said that he expects to stay at Renault for the 2020 season in an FIA Press Conference last week.

Haas Ferrari

Romain Grosjean – TBC

Kevin Magnussen – TBC

Potential Drivers

Mick Schumacher (Prema Racing – F2)

Callum Ilott (Sauber Junior Team by Charouz – F2)

Giuliano Alesi (Trident F2)

Pietro Fitipaldi (Audi Sport Team WRT - DTM)

Pascal Wehrlein (Ferrari test driver)

Sergio Perez (Racing Point)

Louis Deletraz (Sim Driver)

Well. Haas are in a difficult situation, from drivers to sponsors. Speaking to Dutch publication Formule 1, Haas boss Gunther Stiener said, “Something has to change”, following yet another instance of their drivers making contact with each other. This coming shortly after one of Haas’ most humiliating weekends at Silverstone, as the drivers came together at Turn 5 and retired shortly after. A positive of having the Ferrari power unit is that they have access to the Ferrari Driver Academy. Currently they have three drivers in F2, Mick Schumacher, Callum Ilott and Giuliano Alesi, however all three only have half a season experience in the F2 car. A more experienced F2 option would be their current sim driver, Louis Deletraz, with the 22-year-old looking to break into F1 after four seasons in F2.

Their test driver at the moment is Pietro Fittipaldi who is currently racing in this years DTM series and he also provides an off-paddock option. In terms of on-paddock options they rest in Ferrari test driver Pascal Wehrlein as well as, potentially Sergio Perez. Wehrlein already has F1 experience with Sauber and Manor, as well as taking part in this years Formula E series with Mahindra Racing, allowing him to be able to mature in his driving style and gain further experience. Perez is still yet to be confirmed in his Racing Point seat next year and potentially could bring some funding to the team to help them withstand the current mess that they face with title sponsor Rich Energy.

Racing Point BWT Mercedes 

Sergio Perez – TBC

Lance Stroll – TBC

Potential Drivers

Nick Yelloy (Racing Point test driver)

Nicholas Latifi (DAMS – F2)

Luca Ghiotto (Uni – Virtuosi Racing – F2)

Neither of the Racing Point drivers have been signed to a contract next year. You have to assume that as long as his Dad is able to put funding into the team, Lance Stroll is going to have a seat at the team so that should be one of the drives secured for the team. The point of contention will be with Sergio Perez. With Mercedes' backing of the team, it opens them up to have a driver from the AMG Driver Programme. There isn’t much choice, given that two of the five are in karting and one of them is in Formula 4. The other two are Esteban Ocon and George Russell who are mainly being linked with other drives. Current test driver Nick Yelloy is very much an outside candidate, being primarily a GT and Endurance racer.

A viable backup option comes in the form of Nicholas Latifi, the 24 year old Canadian is a current test driver for Williams and has tested for Force India in the past. He is very much one of the veterans on the F2 scene and is currently sat in second place in the Drivers Championship making him a worthwhile candidate for them to pursue. Fellow F2 driver Luca Ghiotto , who has previously been testing for Williams could also be up for consideration if Perez doesn’t sign for the Pink Panthers.

Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda

Danil Kyvat - TBC

Alexander Albon – TBC

Potential Drivers

Tadasuke Makino (TCS Nakajima Racing Super Formula)

Nirei Fukuzumi (DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing Super Formula)

Patricio O’ Ward (Carlin/MP Motorsport/Team Mugen – IndyCar, F2, Super Formula)

Sean Galael (Prema Racing – F2)

Toro Rosso are in a sticky spot. Unfortunately, they are waiting on the Gasly situation which could result in one of their drivers moving to Red Bull. If they do lose a driver it is hard to predict who it could be. Alex Albon arguably has more years ahead of him and would be more of a long-term option, however he is still in his infancy in the sport and has a lot of learning to do.

Kyvat would be considered a safer option given the experience he has, however other than his stupendous third place last time out, he is still unpredictable in his results. If one does manage to secure the seat, they do have options. Engine suppliers Honda have the likes of Tadasuke Makino and Nirei Fukuzumi. Fukuzumi currently races in Super Formula with DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing and Makino currently races for TCS Nakajima Racing but have both been part of the Honda Young Driver Programme in the past.

Toro Rosso also have their own development programme and have a potential driver there too, but experience will be the real question. Patricio O’Ward is one of the newest drivers in the programme and has only just been introduced to F2 in Spielberg this year. He is primarily an entrant in IndyCar but has also began to make appearances in Super Formula in Japan too. In the past Sean Galael has tested for the Austrian outfit so he too could be in contention.

Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari 

Kimi Raikkonen – Contract Signed

Antonio Giovinazzi – TBC

Potential Options

Callum Ilott (Team Charouz – F2)

Juan Manuel Correa (Team Charouz – F2)

Romain Grosjean (Haas)

Kevin Magnussen (Haas)

Kimi Raikkonen has already secured his seat for next year and after some of the performances that he has put in this year, they might be thankful that he has. Antonio Giovinazzi has certainly come a long way from crashing twice at China two years ago, but there is a possibility that he could be let go in favour of taking a chance on someone else. The first port of call for a change would be Team Charouz, which is the junior team of Sauber. Much like Haas, they would have to take a chance on the likes of Callum Ilott and fellow, inexperienced racer Juan Manuel Correa. In this case I think they should stick with Giovinazzi. There aren’t too many other options, unless they want to take a chance on someone who could potentially be out of a drive next year, for example Romain Grosjean or Kevin Magnussen.

Williams Mercedes

Robert Kubica – TBC

George Russell – TBC

Potential Drivers

Stoffel VanDoorne (Mercedes Test Driver / HWA Racelab – F1/Formula E)

Esteban Gutierrez (Mercedes Test Driver )

Nicholas Latifi (DAMS – F2)

Potentially we could see a double swap over at Williams. Unfortunately, the car hasn’t been quite up to scratch, despite new parts going to Germany and gaining a point from there too. However, the current Mercedes scenario could see Russell go to his parent team for next year. With Robert Kubica being one of the older drivers on the grid there is potential for him to call it a day at the end of the year. However, if no other drivers can be found for that one seat I can still see Kubica making up one of the seats. With Esteban Ocon also being linked to the seat at Mercedes, I think Williams could potentially go with one of the other two test drivers that Mercedes have.

Stoffel Van Doorne and Esteban Gutierrez both have F1 experience with McLaren and Haas respectively giving them enough experience to be warranted for the role. Vandoorne has been racing in Formula E this year too with Mercedes affiliated HWA Racelab. He didn’t exactly have a stunning season, however it was his first year in the car. Of course current test driver Nicholas Latifi shouldn’t be ruled out either, as mentioned before he has showed promise in F2 this year and deserves a chance in F1.

 

 

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