Who will end up where in this high-stakes game of musical chairs?
As we hit the summer break of 2014, 'Silly Season' is well underway as driver market speculation circulates faster than a tornado, and transfers start to be announced.
At the time of writing this article, 11 drivers have already been contracted to race seats for 2015. Having said that, nothing is guaranteed until the very first Grand Prix of the season, as buyout clauses are discussed and the occasional fallout with the sponsors may occur, as Luiz Razia found out just before the start of the 2013 season.
Here I will be taking a team-by-team look at all driver possibilities, and making my predictions for the driver line up of 2015.
In the words of Caterham F1 Founder Tony Fernandes, the team has "a tradition of bringing someone new and young into the field", and I don't see any reason why they would change that. But the real question surrounds the fates of already-established drivers Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson. Kobayashi has been surprisingly unspectacular this season, perhaps due to the fact that the Caterham is the slowest car in the field, and Ericsson's crash bills may soon outweigh his sponsorship package. I believe Kobayashi could be a contender for a McLaren seat based on their Honda deal for next season onwards, and I think Ericsson will only stay with Caterham based on the money he brings to the team. One driver who I believe deserves to be in Formula 1 out of anyone is Robin Frijns, the current reserve driver for the Leafield-based team. I am certain that he will be racing next year, and his team mate will most likely be anyone who can bring a substantial amount of cash with them.
Ferrari is a difficult one to predict with any degree of certainty. Both drivers are contracted for next year, but that by no means guarantees their seats for 2015. It is well-documented that Alonso is becoming increasingly fed up with a lack of success at Ferrari, and Raikkonen appears to be losing motivation after a highly disappointing first half of 2014. Despite their woes, I don't see the Scuderia's driver line up changing. McLaren have made it public that they want Alonso next season, but I believe his desire to win a title in red is too strong to move just yet. As for Raikkonen, I previously thought he might leave F1 for good after 2014, but having given it more thought I reckon he might for for at least one more season in a bid to end his career on a high.
Like Ferrari, Force India already have both their drivers contracted for next year, and all things considered I think both Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg will honour their contracts. Hulkenberg has been in line for a top seat for a number of years now, but for one reason or another it just isn't happening for the German. As for Perez, he has wiped clean the disappointment of 2013 and is now showing again why he could be one for the future, especially after his impressive podium in Bahrain and his chance of winning in Canada. Both drivers are linked with Ferrari for future seasons, and I believe it's only a matter of time before one or the other makes the move to the Scuderia.
As far as Lotus are concerned, there are two things we know with certainty. Pastor Maldonado will continue with the Enstone-based team, and Romain Grosjean will be out. Maldonado has already been announced for next season, while Grosjean has made his intentions to leave very clear. I don't blame the Frenchman either, he went from challenging for victories in 2013 to barely beating the Marussias in 2014. In my opinion the only person who will be considered to take Grosjean's seat is fellow Frenchman Charles Pic, who currently serves as the reserve driver. Pic definitely has talent, as shown from his GP2 days and his stint at Marussia, and after impressing during his testing for Lotus, I believe he will get the promotion he deserves.
Marussia has a very difficult line up to predict. Jules Bianchi took the teams first ever points in Monaco, and with it announced himself as a future superstar. But where does he fit in for 2015? I highly doubt he will want to stay at Marussia for another season, and he may still be too inexperienced to go straight to Ferrari. For these reason I believe his only destination is Sauber. The Swiss team are engine customers to the Scuderia, so seems like a logical step for the youngster. As for Max Chilton, I don't think he has done enough in his time with Marussia to catch the attention of the other teams, and unless he stays with Marussia for another season, he will be out of F1. As for the second seat, given Marussia's connection with Ferrari I believe Rafaelle Marciello, a member of the Scuderia's Driver Academy, will be given his debut.
A race seat with McLaren will be one of the most sought after seats in 2015, as they break away from Mercedes to revive their dominating partnership with Honda. However, with a number of drivers in contention for a seat with the team from Woking, nothing is certain. Some of the big names of Formula 1, such as Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton, have all been linked with a seat, as well as rising stars such as Grosjean and Bottas. Given his age and recent lack of results, I reckon Jenson Button will be forced into retirement at the end of 2014. As for Kevin Magnussen, the faith Ron Dennis has in the young Dane all but guarantees his place in the team, so for that reason McLaren will want to bring in someone with experience. I highly doubt any of the top names will leave their respective teams for the time being, so I believe Romain Grosjean will get the drive. The Frenchman has publicly announced his intention to leave Lotus, and has connections to McLaren through his manager, Eric Boullier, so he may be given the drive.
Mercedes, for me, as the easiest team to predict for 2015. Both drivers are heading the driver's championship and the team are comfortably leading the constructor's championship. Both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are happy with the car they have and are both keen to stay for the foreseeable future. Hamilton has recently been linked with Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren, but a lack of results from all three teams will only increase the Englishman's desire to stay with the Silver Arrows. As far as Rosberg is concerned, despite some recent interest from Ferrari he will also see no reason to move away from the team which has given him his best chance of winning the championship since he entered Formula 1.
Given the supreme season Daniel Ricciardo is having so far, notching up two victories as well as numerous podiums, I see no reason for the young Australian to leave the team from Milton Keynes. As for Sebastian Vettel, one would think he would want to stay with the team which has gifted him four championship titles. While this may be the case, I believe a move to another team would be very beneficial for his career. Not to undermine his talent, but his championships came at a time when the Red Bull car was very clearly the best, and for this reason doesn't quite get the respect he deserves. If he were to move to a different team, say Ferrari, and win championships there it would do nothing but cement his place among the greats of the sport. While a move to Ferrari may be on the cards for 2016, for 2015 he will be staying put.
In my opinion Sauber is the hardest team to predict for the 2015 season. As well as Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez, Giedo van der Garde, Simona de Silvestro, Jules Bianchi and Sergey Sirotkin are all contenders for the two race seats. I can't see the Swiss team retaining either of their current drivers, and any of the other four drivers have a claim to make for the seats. I reckon Sirotkin is the least likely to get a seat due to his inexperience and somewhat unspectacular record in the lower formulae. That leaves van der Garde, de Silvestro and Bianchi. I believe the decision will be made based on Bianchi. There is a possibility that Ferrari will put the Frenchman into Sauber to help him get further up the field, but with Marussia currently ahead of Sauber in the constructors this may even be a step backwards. As for de Silvestro, she was signed for Sauber with the intention of her racing in 2015, and I believe the team has the decency to honour this, so the former IndyCar driver may well indeed be given the nod. In that case, Dutchman van der Garde may miss out on the seat for 2015.
Simona De Silvestro
Toro Rosso is always a high topic of conversation as far as the driver market is concerned, as the Italian team provides the breeding ground for the Red Bull Driver Academy. Both of the current Red Bull drivers came through Toro Rosso, and all eyes are focussed to see who the next star will be. However, Toro Rosso seem to be throwing a few spanners in the works. Last year, they surprised everyone by putting Daniil Kvyat straight from GP3 into F1, instead of the much-fancied Antonio Felix da Costa. This year, Carlos Sainz Jr is expected to step up, but recent speculation has stated that Helmut Marko has offered 16-year-old Max Verstappen, son of former Benetton driver Jos, a drive at Toro Rosso for 2015. Personally I highly doubt this is the case. Firstly, he is only 16, and secondly it would be a jump straight from Formula 3. Nothing against Verstappen, but it would be much too early in his career to promote him to F1. With regards to the other drivers, Jean-Eric Vergne is nearing the end of the traditional 'three years and you're out' rule that Toro Rosso seems to have, which will rid the Frenchman of a race seat for 2015. The impressive Kvyat will definitely stay, while I believe this year the team will stick to their hierachy.
Carlos Sainz Jr.
Both of Williams' current drivers are contracted to the team for 2015, but there could be changes at the Grove team yet. I am certain that Felipe Massa will stay on for 2015, while I only believe it's likely that Valtteri Bottas will stay. Recent media speculation has linked the Finn to McLaren, but given the comparative form of the two teams, Bottas will most likely stay put. In the scenario that either driver were to move on, I have no doubt that an easy choice of replacement would be GP2 driver Felipe Nasr, given his current role as the team's reserve driver, but only if either of the current race drivers move on.