Daniel Ricciardo's confirmation at Red Bull
Racing for 2014-15 will hopefully kick-start the F1 'silly season' carousel into action around the Italian Grand Prix, with several key seats still to be confirmed.
With his exit to Milton Keynes blocked by the Australian, all
eyes will now turn to Kimi Raikkonen
and where the Finn will wind up. Perhaps fancifully, the 2007 world champion was being touted as a powerhouse team-mate for Sebastian Vettel
but, having missed out, is now effectively left with a choice between a return to Ferrari
or remaining with Lotus for a third year.
Of course, the former option will depend largely on the Scuderia, and whether it decides to hand Felipe Massa
another stay of execution. As he has in recent seasons, the Brazilian appears to be fighting for his seat, but needs to raise his game over the next few weeks. Team-mate Fernando Alonso
looks set to stay at Maranello, rather than being an outside candidate at Red Bull
– an unfeasible rumour widely believed to have been a bargaining position for the Spaniard and conveniently unsettling for one of RBR's biggest rivals – providing Ferrari
with the option of forming potentially the strongest pairing for 2014.
Lotus, meanwhile, makes increasingly potent claims that it is doing all it can to make Raikkonen want to extend his stay at Enstone. Despite rumours of financial problems that resulted in the Finn not being paid on time, the team insists that all is in order and that it is seeking greater ties with engine partner Renault
in a bid to make itself more attractive.
If Raikkonen goes, his departure will open up a competitive seat for a younger talent but, even if he decides to stay put, there may still be an opening at Enstone, with team-mate Romain Grosjean's position becoming more precarious. Nico Hulkenberg, Pastor Maldonado
and Jules Bianchi
have all been mentioned as possible targets for Lotus, but a lot depends on moves elsewhere, as well as Grosjean's form in the next few weeks.
Should Hulkenberg, Maldonado and Bianchi be picked up by the black-and-gold, it would open doors at Sauber, Williams
and Marussia respectively. The Swiss team is already expected to make one change to its line-up with the inexperienced Sergey Sirotkin looking set to come hand-in-hand with Russian bail-out money, and has been touted as a potential staging post for Massa should he be cut by Ferrari. Hulkenberg, meanwhile, has also been tipped as a possible replacement for the Brazilian at Ferrari, so a straight swap is not out of the question should Sauber seek a seasoned veteran to partner Sirotkin.
Williams will be keen to hold on to Maldonado, as per his contract, because of the backing he brings from Venezuela, while Marussia has made no secret of its desire to retain Bianchi, who has led the team's all-rookie line-up in 2013. Ferrari, which has nurtured the Frenchman in recent years, will be engine partner to Marussia next season, but has also suggested that it would like to see its protégé racing a little higher up the grid in 2014. As well as Lotus, Force India
has been mentioned as a possible destination for Bianchi who, of course, acted as the Silverstone team's reserve in 2012.
With Mercedes and McLaren
looking set to retain their respective pairings, and Williams
keen to keep Valtteri Bottas, the other potential changes will come at the back of the field, with the Caterham line-up of Charles Pic
and Giedo van der Garde uncertain for next year. While the Frenchman is understood to have a deal in place for 2014, the Dutchman's seat could depend on his sponsors, with rumours that he too is a potential target for Williams, Force India
and Sauber depending on how other moves work out.
Bring the speculation full circle, meanwhile, Toro Rosso
now has a seat to fill following Ricciardo's departure. World Series regular Antonio Felix da Costa is the hot tip for promotion due to his position on Red Bull's development scheme, although GP2 frontrunner Felipe Nasr is rumoured to be in contention following his strong season in the F1 feeder series.
Whatever happens, the next few weeks should slowly see the carousel grind into action as teams attempt to get themselves set – and remove another distraction - before the build-up to the new technical challenge of the 2014 campaign.