Insight: The chat on F1 driver market as summer break approaches
The final couple of days before F1's mid season summer break have featured quite a bit of discussion about the movements in the driver market for n...
The final couple of days before F1's mid season summer break have featured quite a bit of discussion about the movements in the driver market for next season. The decisions and deals will get done over the next eight to ten weeks.
Although Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari have already confirmed their line ups, there could be a reasonable amount of movement a tier below, with a couple of works seats at Renault, Williams also in the marketplace and McLaren likely to make a change.
Here's our take on what's being talked about this weekend.
It looks like Felipe Massa will not continue with the team and there are several permutations here. Jenson Button has been a target for a couple of years and his potential swansong at the team where he began his career in 2000 depends on sponsors like Martini increasing their commitment in order to have a world champion in the car.
Sergio Perez is in discussions with the team and also with Renault. Although Force India owner Vijay Mallya said in Silverstone that both Perez and Hulkenberg were confirmed for 2017, Perez distanced himself from this in Hungary. He has a budget of aroubd €15m in sponsor backing, and given his very positive development as a driver in the last couple of years, he is a very attractive package. He is now quite highly rated in F1 circles.
It looks increasingly likely that Lance Stroll will make the move up to a race seat next season at Williams. The 18 year old Canadian is dominating the FIA F3 series, which Max Verstappen used as a springboard to F1. Although he could do with more development time, the problem is what to do next season if he wins the F3 title this season, as seems very likely.
A year in GP2 could go wrong, as it has for a number of drivers and the momentum would be lost. His father, Lawrence is not one to mess around and he is very much driving the programme.
Engineering sources suggest the youngster looks like a decent prospect, if not perhaps a Verstappen level driver. He has very substantial backing, over double what Perez brings.
He has a testing agreement, where he is paying Williams for 20 days in a 2014 F1 car this season, so he will have a good mileage under his belt by the end of the year.
Williams needs some extra budget, so it's quite fluid at present, but one could imagine a Perez/Stroll or a Button/Stroll or even a Bottas/Stroll line up next season.
There are quite a few question marks over this team at the moment, not least what level of budget they will commit to F1 and what their short and medium term ambitions may be. There is also talk of changes in engineering line up.
It's unlikely that they will retain either of the current drivers next season. Esteban Ocon is the development driver there, despite being a Mercedes protege. He is an option to race one of the cars this year and there are suggestions this weekend that he may be prepared for that by moving into Rio Haryanto's seat at Manor for the second half of the season.
Another possibility is that he could stay there next season to continue his development, but if there is a seat at Renault that would be a more likely route.
Perez is the target; Force India is believed to have a buy-out clause on his contract and it would be for his sponsors to settle that. Is a move from Force India to Williams or Renault now a good move for Perez? Force India has a great team of people who always get results and race around P5 in the championship and Perez could wait a year..?
Valtteri Bottas is another option, if he moves on from Williams. He might feel that Williams has stalled and not made the progress he had hoped for since he competed regularly for podiums in 2014.
His career is overseen by Toto Wolff and Wolff is close to Fred Vasseur the Renault boss, so the discussion will always be in te background.
Sergei Sirotkin the GP2 driver, who has strong backing is also talking to Renault, as are a number of other drivers.
It is looking like an Alonso/Vandoorne partnership next season and few people in the F1 paddock are talking about anything else.
Vandoorne did an excellent job standing in for Fernando Alonso in Bahrain, after the Spaniard was injured in Melbourne. He beat Button and scored McLaren's first point.
At 24 years of age he is no spring chicken in F1 debutant terms and is more than ready to race in F1. He is six years older than Verstappen and Stroll and also Charles Leclerc, who is in GP3 this year and is the next hot prospect from Nicolas Todt's stable.
Vandoorne is very highly rated in F1, like Verstappen he is considered a potential champion, and if McLaren were foolish enough to not race him next season, a number of teams would leap at the chance.
There have been rumours linking him with a few races at Manor this season to prepare him, but he showed in Bahrain he's ready to go and as he is racing regularly in Japan at a high level, on balance the smart move is probably to leave his 2016 programme as it is.
Carlos Sainz will get a third year, but his team mate for next season is likely to be 20 year old Pierre Gasly. He had a stuttering start to his GP2 season but has started winnning races and is also getting plenty of chances to test in F1 with Red Bull. He ran at Silverstone after the Grand Prix (below) and he's believed to be slated for some of the Pirelli 2017 development work, after Sebastien Buemi kicks it off with the test in Paul Ricard next week.
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