Summertime, and the living is easy...

Oh, but if it were that simple.

Formula 1 may be on its much-needed summer break, yet the rumour mill is only going to keep on churning.

After all, we need something to talk about, right?

The driver market for 2018 looked like it could be pretty volatile at one stage, and while the waters are beginning to calm and offer us a clearer picture of how next year’s grid may shape up, there may be a number of changes on the cards that are worth tracking.


Yes. Well, it should do.

Valtteri Bottas has exceeded all expectations that could have been put upon his shoulders heading into his debut season with Mercedes. Not only has the Finn taken two race wins and proven to be a thorn in the side of the title challengers, but he has gelled seamlessly with the entire team at Brackley - the perfect antidote to the toxicity lingering in the wake of the Hamilton/Rosberg partnership.

The delay from Mercedes’ end on deciding Bottas’ future has largely been because of planning for 2019 and beyond. The driver market looks set to remain quite fluid in the years to come, and Mercedes does not want to back itself into a corner should any prize property become available. Most notably, Sebastian Vettel could be an option in the future, while Esteban Ocon’s rise as an outstanding junior may make a case too strong for Mercedes to ignore.

The likely solution will be to give Bottas a one-year extension on his current contract, meaning both he and teammate Lewis Hamilton will be free agents for 2019. Mercedes will have bartering power with not one but two seats.

Bottas has done absolutely everything in his power to try and earn a new extension. Even Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff acknowledged the Finn has done enough to get the deal. It just needs to be signed.

And signed it will most probably be in the coming weeks. Wolff wants everything sewn up before F1 embarks on its final flyaways, starting with Singapore on September 17. Expect something to be sorted by then.


Every year it plays out the same way for Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari: Kimi starts the year slowly underperforming against his team-mate; Ferrari give him a nudge; the paddock questions his motivation; Kimi produces some fairly decent results; Ferrari realises there aren’t any better options; Raikkonen gets another 12-month deal.

Things are likely to play out the same way once again heading towards 2018. This time around, Ferrari also needs to ensure it is keeping Vettel happy, given he is also out of contract at the end of the year. Vettel has long been Raikkonen’s biggest fan in F1, offering the kind of stress-free support any self-interested title hunter craves. It’s a partnership that has been one of the least volatile on the grid.

Neither Perez nor Grosjean fits the bill as a long-term fit for Ferrari. Neither offers anything that Raikkonen does not.

Raikkonen’s retention naturally depends Vettel sticking around at Ferrari. Suggestions of a pre-contract agreement with Mercedes over a possible 2018 deal will only gain credence so long as the German delays inking a new deal with Ferrari, but an extension at Maranello next year seems likely. His bid to emulate Michael Schumacher could be properly realised this year if he can capture a fifth world title, taking Ferrari back to the very top after a number of years away. It’s the kind of history that would surely keep Vettel interested as he builds the team around himself.

The other big consideration for Ferrari is alternative options, particularly when it comes to playing the long game. The top midfielders such as Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean have been linked with a move up to Ferrari for some time, but in reality, neither truly fits the bill as a long-term fit for Ferrari. Neither offers anything that Raikkonen does not.

Ferrari will instead be looking to its two bright juniors: Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi. Leclerc is banging on the F1 door right now as he lights up Formula 2, taking some stunning victories through this season, and may have even leapfrogged Giovinazzi in the junior pecking order at Maranello. Ferrari’s rekindled and expanded partnership with Sauber for 2018 means at least one seat may be available there. If Marcus Ericsson does not make a good enough case with his backers and Ferrari can talk the team around, there may be room for both its youngsters in 2018.

Leclerc and Giovinazzi will then find themselves in a straight fight to be Raikkonen’s successor at Ferrari - that is if it cannot lure Daniel Ricciardo away from Red Bull.

</p><p>Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB13. <br />12.05.2017.</p>


Ricciardo was a definite option for Ferrari at one stage earlier this year. While his Red Bull contract is a long one, a get-out clause for not having a race-winning car may have paved the way for the Australian to switch across the Maranello. While Red Bull may not have delivered entirely, technically, it did: Ricciardo won in Baku, ergo, it’s a race-winning car.

That does not mean that a future move to Ferrari is not out of the question. The comparisons between Ricciardo and Max Verstappen and the Mark Webber/Vettel partnership are hard to ignore. If it becomes Verstappen’s team, Ricciardo won’t be looking to stick around, one would not imagine. As such, a move to Ferrari, even alongside Vettel, would definitely be attractive. One to bear in mind for the future.

Red Bull’s main quandary in its 2018 plans comes with its junior team, Toro Rosso. Carlos Sainz Jr. faced a rather public telling off when he suggested a fourth year at Faenza in 2018 was unlikely, such is his desire to move up the grid and secure a big-team drive. The Spaniard was firmly reminded he remains under contract for next year, albeit not before Red Bull’s Christian Horner had confirmed the team would listen to any financial offers rivals may have to break him away.

Regardless of whether Sainz moves on or not, Red Bull has Pierre Gasly ready and waiting to make the step up into a Toro Rosso seat. If Sainz sticks around - perhaps as Red Bull ponders whether Ricciardo will be around long-term - then Daniil Kvyat would be shuffled out, having struggled to match his team-mate throughout their time together.

Another factor to consider in this a suggested engine deal between Toro Rosso and Honda for 2018. Talks between the two parties are reported to have taken place, with a view to a possible future deal between Red Bull and Honda further down the line, all going to plan.


The biggest question in the midfield lies with Renault, particularly when it comes to its plans with Robert Kubica.

Much of the midfield appears relatively straightforward to pinpoint for 2018, particularly when it comes to Force India. Sergio Perez said ahead of the summer break that he wanted to have a contract for next year all sewn up by the time he arrived back at Spa, with a return to Force India being the most likely result. The team is at the very top of the midfield right now, and with no room likely to be made in the top three squads, staying put is his best option. The same is true for Esteban Ocon, who needs another season at least before being able to throw his hat into the ring for a Mercedes seat down the line.

Williams is also likely to run the same line-up as this year, even considering Felipe Massa’s retirement announcement a little under 12 months ago. Massa has been impressive on-track in the 2017-spec cars and seems happy to continue, while Lance Stroll will continue his development in familiar settings.

The biggest question in the midfield lies with Renault, particularly when it comes to its plans with Robert Kubica.

Assuming he’s still in the seat by the time the season ends, expect Jolyon Palmer to be shuffled out at the end of the year. The Briton has underperformed massively in comparison with Nico Hulkenberg, and with so many other alternatives on offer, it seems unthinkable he could get a third season in 2018.

Kubica’s test in Hungary was deeply impressive. While we do not know the ins and outs of the programme the Pole undertook and just how he compared to the full-time drivers, the consistency he displayed made the paddock stand up and take notice. If he’s capable of being in the car next year, there’s no reason Renault won’t field him.

Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean have both been linked with the drive at Renault for 2018, but the latter has already been confirmed to be racing for Haas next year. Grosjean has denied Renault has been in contact with him, but admitted a return to Enstone one day would be “lovely”. He may be under contract at Haas for next year, yet if Renault’ is that eager to bring him back, a seat could yet be freed up for either Leclerc or Gionvinazzi, should Ericsson cling onto his drive at Sauber.

</p><p>16.07.2017 - Race, Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren MCL32</p>


The big unanswered question in all of this. In reality, Alonso’s options are running out. Renault seems to be the only team that could possibly take him on, yet as comebacks go, Kubica’s would surely be a better story for the French marque. Renault’s management may, however, crave a big name driver - arguably the best out there on the grid - to really kick-start its F1 project in year there.

This will be the truest test yet of Zak Brown’s premiership.

McLaren is waiting until September to make a decision on its power unit supplier for next year, the Honda struggles appearing to have finally taken their toll on all at Woking. Like Alonso though, its own options are slim: seemingly down to just Honda or Renault. Honda has been showing some signs of progress in recent races… but will it be too little, too late?

But even if Alonso stays puts and opts to grimace his way through another year of McLaren-Honda struggles before trying to jostle again for a seat further up the field, finding a new deal for him to have another shot at the Indianapolis 500 may prove tricky given Andretti Autosport’s pending switch to Chevrolet power for 2017.

This will be the truest test yet of Zak Brown’s premiership. The American has already performed wonders at McLaren, with the Indy 500 entry being a stunning, stunning story. But trying to keep Alonso interested and to keep the faith for another year? That would be a big ask.

What will it take? A one-year final chance? A future Le Mans drive, should a GTE project be put together? A spot somewhere else on the Indy 500 grid?

Or might Alonso decide to cut his losses and take a break, embracing the meme further by grabbing a deckchair and enjoying some sun on the beach?

You couldn’t blame him for doing so...



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