Formula One is currently approaching the business end of its annual silly season concerning the driver market.
Unusually, the silly season has centred around 2019 rather than the immediate matter of 2018.
So is next year looking straight forward as far as the driver market is concerned for each team?
Mercedes are retaining Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas for 2018.
Hamilton has yet to put pen to paper on his new contract but Bottas’ deal is just for one year.
With the 2019 driver market looking wide open, this looks to be the correct decision because if Max Verstappen or someone else become available then they can bring him into the team.
Mercedes’ young driver and 2017 GP3 champion, George Russell is another candidate for 2019 so better to keep options open.
Another thing to consider is that we don’t know how long Hamilton’s new contract will be for.
That complicates things if its a one year deal because it could be one pair out and another in come 2019.
The ‘Prancing Horse’ has kept Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen for 2018.
Vettel was a obvious keeper but I am unsure whether Kimi is the right man given that he tends to be fighting the Red Bulls more as of late.
Ferrari have two young talented drivers in Antonio Giovinazzi and Charles Leclerc waiting in the wings. At least one of them perhaps deserve to be in Kimi’s car next season but Scuderia knows that Vettel probably wouldn’t of signed a new deal if that happened.
Personally, I would of put Leclerc in one of the Ferrari seats because he seems ready for a top seat at just 19 years old and could push Vettel that bit harder.
In the end, we have to make do with another season of Vettel and Raikkonen but hopefully 2019 will see change.
For Red Bull, next year might be their last with Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo in their cars.
With both drivers’ contracts up at end of next season, the key has to be getting the car right from Australia onwards. Of course, there will be the odd wobble here and there but they cannot afford the slow development as saw this season.
A repeat of that and 2019 will definitely be interesting because Verstappen and Ricciardo want titles, NOT to sit around driving a slowly developed car for most of season.
In summary, 2018 is make or break for Red Bull and their driver lineup.
For a team that has been consistent all season, next year could see further improvement.
Esteban Ocon is entering the second of a two year loan whilst Sergio Perez has recently signed a new one year deal.
In my opinion, this is great because both drivers work well together (race collisions aside).
When I spoke to Perez in August, he said; ‘I think we are moving in the right direction to be there more constantly.’
Hopefully his new deal will enable Force India to make further strides forwards to challenge the top team.
With both drivers available after next season, it will be interesting to see what the team does because can see Russell ending up on loan here for 2019.
Lance Stroll is confirmed for 2018 but his partner is currently up in the air.
Paul di Resta and Robert Kubica are the front runners whilst current driver, Felipe Massa is also in contention as the outsider.
Personally as a Brit, I would like to see Di Resta get the seat because a British driver in a British team is a huge positive for sponsors.
Kubica however will be deserving of the seat given that he has had to overcome adversary to get himself into contention, after breaking his right arm in a rallying crash at start of 2011.
Massa has done a solid job this season after Bottas jumped ship around Xmas 16, leaving him as the only realistic option available.
Having initially planned to be retired now, it would be nice if the driver lineup was confirmed before Brazil so the Brazilian gets a proper home farewell that doesn’t end in a race retirement, if he isn’t resigned for 2018.
Either way, watch this space!!
With Carlos Sainz off to Renault on loan, Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly look to be the leading contenders for a race seat.
None of the other Red Bull academy drivers have enough points to claim a FIA Super licence to race in F1.
With Honda coming in as their new engine supplier, Nobuharu Matsushita was a rumoured driver. He too doesn’t have enough points for a FIA Super licence.
Either way, its looking likely to be Kvyat and Gasly in the Toro Rosso next season, marring any surprise announcements.
Haas are keeping this season’s pairing of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen for 2018.
This is the correct decision because both drivers are capable of producing decent results, should the car work well.
Renault have a strong pairing in Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz next year.
If get the car right, both drivers will deliver a solid job and probably can target fifth place in the constructors’ battle.
The only sticking point is that Sainz is on loan from Red Bull’s academy and if one of Red Bull’s pair leaves for 2019, the Spaniard will be called in there.
That would leave a spare seat for 2019 alongside Hulkenberg but I think F2 star, Oliver Rowland will be in line for the seat.
Jack Aitken can’t be counted out as a contender, if he does something exceptional next season in either GP3 or F2.
Stoffel Vandoorne is currently confirmed but Fernando Alonso is yet to sign, despite Honda being dropped in favour of Renault.
Should he not sign, it will be interesting to see what McLaren do because none of their youth drivers can get a FIA Super licence.
They should however get an exception for Lando Norris given that he is set to be the new FIA F3 European champion. He is however set for F2 next season with Prema Racing.
With Renault being their new engine supplier, Rowland could be a decent bet if need to get someone in on loan.
All that depends on if Alonso doesn’t sign a new contract.
Nobody is confirmed as of yet for Sauber.
Ferrari could however send Giovinazzi and Leclerc on loan to the Swiss outfit.
The former has already driven for Sauber this season, having been drafted in as a replacement for the injured Pascal Wehrlein in Australia and China.
Leclerc however is one of Ferrari’s brightest prospects so would they want him at a back of grid team?
Either way, anyone could end up at Sauber for 2018 so expect one or two surprises in the coming weeks and months.