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Insight: Top F1 drivers begin to talk about where they will drive in 2018

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Insight: Top F1 drivers begin to talk about where they will drive in 2018
May 11, 2017, 3:37 PM

F1 has seen a significant refresh this year on the look of the cars as well as on the top management of the sport and it's philosophy.

F1 has seen a significant refresh this year on the look of the cars as well as on the top management of the sport and it's philosophy.

Now it looks like it's set for a refresh on where the star drivers race next season and some of the top drivers have been talking about that here in Barcelona ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix.

The driver market in F1 has been quite static at the top end for the last few years, with stability from year to year at Mercedes, until Nico Rosberg suddenly quit in December; Red Bull retained the same drivers for 2017 and has both Verstappen and Ricciardo under contract for next year; Ferrari replaced Fernando Alonso with Sebastian Vettel at the end of 2014 but has been stable since.

Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel

The F1 driver market tends to move in two phases; the top drives, if there are contracts coming to an end, tend to be discussed in June around the time of Montreal, whereas the drivers further down the food chain tend to get into discussions after the summer break, once things have been resolved at the sharp end.

The picture for 2018 is quite interesting as some of the sport's biggest names need to do new deals. Vettel is in the third year at Ferrari and there is some stirring going on in the German and Italian media around him having some kind of 'pre-contract' with Mercedes, where Valtteri Bottas has a one year deal while Lewis Hamilton has a contract for 2018.

While pre-agreements are something Vettel has done in the past, they aren't binding and my sources in Italy suggest that he has decided to stay at Ferrari; it's just a question of whether they wait until Monza to announce, or do something sooner.

Time will tell; Vettel had a tough moment with the Ferrari team management in October last year, but is winning races now. He brushed away the suggestions that he has an pre-agreement with Mercedes, saying that he has far more important things on his mind like trying to win the world championship. He also said that he would not be afraid of Alonso coming back to Ferrari to partner him, but added that the team was working well as it is.

The path would not be as difficult as some might imagine for Alonso to go back to Ferrari; the management has changed since he departed in 2014 and he is still highly esteemed by engineers at Ferrari, who know what their car would be doing this year with him driving it.

Fernando Alonso

He's certainly been driving well and shown no signs of losing his edge at 35 years of age.

But it's well established in F1 that to have two drivers like Vettel and Alonso in the same team would be fought with risks.

Alonso, whose McLaren contract expires in December, was in the first half of the FIA press conference in Barcelona today and said that he was happy with the McLaren team, but he also added that his failure to start the race in Sochi was 'unacceptable" and warned McLaren that if he could not see signs after the summer break that the team was likely to be able to win in 2018, then he would assess whether,

"..it's time to find other challenges outside Formula 1, or if Formula 1 there will be an opportunity to win the championship, which is my main goal – I'm very open to anything," he said.

"This year the cars are good to drive. Formula 1 is back in a way. I like this Formula 1.

"My intention and my first priority is to race here [in Formula 1] next year, but not just to race, also to win. I'm happy with the team [McLaren], but we are not winning.

"If from here to September or October I see an opportunity to win in 2018 I'll be more than happy to stay, if it's not the case I will be more than happy to talk to anyone."

McLaren 2017

F1's new owners are still finding their feet, but as promoters their best interests are in having their top names in the best cars, fighting at the front and therefore there is a need to solve the Alonso problem.

Honda is working flat out - with assistance from Mercedes - to get its engine reliable and more powerful, but it's a long way from where the McLaren Honda team is today to a winning proposition by March 2018.

Alonso may also assess the option of re-joining Renault, with whom he won his two world titles. They are rebuilding back to championship level after taking on the Lotus team at the end of 2015, but how long will it be before they are able to produce a winning car?

What do you think? Give us the driver line-ups you would like to see at the top three teams next season in the comments section below
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