Analysis: F1 driver market hangs on Raikkonen

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Kimi Raikkonen has emerged as the key to the 2016 Formula 1 driver market, as the campaign enters a summer period where big decisions are going to be have to be made.

The Finn's difficult start to the campaign has left his Ferrari future in doubt, but the fact that nothing is set in stone for what - with Mercedes locked out - is the best available seat, means the rest of the grid is in a holding pattern.

Ferrari has an option on Raikkonen, which means that if it decides that he is the right man to partner Sebastian Vettel again, then it can simply activate the clause.

The team has been coy on when the deadline is for it to act, but it will most likely be around the end of August, which means Raikkonen only has a few more races to win over his bosses.

If Raikkonen does impress, then it will likely lead to a static driver market, with very few changes for 2016.

However, should Ferrari decide it needs someone else, then there could be some fascinating developments.

Raikkonen replacements

Although Ferrari says it is open-minded about Raikkonen's future, Motorsport.com understands that it has already privately begun scouting around for potential replacements.

Top of its list of preferred candidates are understood to be Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas, although both come with added complications.

Ricciardo's speed and marketing value would be perfect for Ferrari, but there is the significant complication that he is under contract to Red Bull until at least 2018.

Sources with good knowledge of the situation are adamant that there are no early exit clauses that would make him available yet, so Ferrari's only option would be to try to engineer a deal with Red Bull if the outfit was even open to losing its star. That would not be cheap.

Money is also an issue with Bottas, as it is understood that Williams – which has an option on the Finn's services for next year – has made clear to Ferrari that it will only release him if the compensation payout is quite high.

What Williams is demanding – which may well simply be a deterrent anyway – may be enough to convince Ferrari that it is not worth pursuing Bottas for 2016 and it should wait another year when it can pick him up for free.

Hulkenberg chance

Should Ferrari decide that neither Ricciardo or Bottas are realistic, then the most logical man to pursue would be Nico Hulkenberg, who has speed and a clause in his current contract that allows him to leave if a team like Ferrari comes knocking.

Hulkenberg's stock is currently very high, and he came close to a Ferrari contract before, only for Raikkonen to beat him at the post.

The German knows that he is in need of a step up if he is to become an F1 winner, and may even accept the kind of one-year deal that Ferrari could prefer to give it the option of Bottas for 2017.

The only downside about Hulkenberg is his nationality because it would mean Ferrari – a team that is more marketing orientated than it has been for year – would have two German drivers.

Should the Ferrari chance not come up, then Hulkenberg may well think that new team Haas, which has close ties with the Italian manufacturer, is a good option for getting him closer the front.

On the Button

The implications of what Ferrari does with Raikkonen extends quite a way down the grid, for if it drops the Finn and replaces him with Bottas then it leave open an attractive vacancy at Williams.

Bottas' teammate Felipe Massa may not currently have a firm contract for next year, but does have an option and is most likely to stay judging by his current strong form.

If Bottas does go, then any payment Ferrari makes will boost the team's coffers and ensure it can go chasing the top-line driver it will want to replace him.

One obvious option for it is Jenson Button, whose future at McLaren is not guaranteed on the back of the team's failure to deliver on expectations so far.

Button is not yet ready to quit F1, and his race-winning ability and marketing value would be perfect for Williams, and deliver a brilliant story of ending his career at the outfit he began it.

A move from McLaren would then open the door for the team to slot in one of its promising youngsters – Kevin Magnussen or Stoffel Vandoorne – alongside Fernando Alonso.

Holding pattern

But until Ferrari makes its decision over Raikkonen, then the pieces of the driver jigsaw cannot start getting slotted in to place.

All eyes are on the Finn then as F1 resumes in Hungary next weekend, and it's clear it is not only his career that rests on how he performs.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jenson Button , Kimi Raikkonen , Nico Hulkenberg , Daniel Ricciardo , Valtteri Bottas
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Red Bull Racing , Williams
Article type Analysis