It’s all kicked off in Formula 1 rather early this year, hasn’t it? The F1 2017 Silly Season has not had any movers yet, but some massively talented drivers and some huge outfits will be making serious considerations regarding what next year will look like. As it stands, the only team with its line-up set is Red Bull. That leaves factory seats open at Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes, as well potentially at McLaren (with whatever power unit they are running). Just what questions are we asking as we near the halfway point of this exciting F1 season?
Where will Fernando Alonso be?
Two-time world champion Alonso has had a dismal three years at McLaren-Honda to date. A return to Ferrari while Sebastian Vettel (another driver who is yet to be confirmed) is there seems inconceivable. Renault has admitted that it is not ready to win races in 2018, so that appears unlikely. Mercedes also seems highly unlikely. That either leaves staying at McLaren, or heading to the IndyCar series full-time. Perhaps the latter could be a sabbatical. Alonso says himself that he is convinced that he “will win in F1” next year, however.
Will Carlos Sainz do an unprecedented fourth year at Toro Rosso?
He’s young, fairly experienced and massively quick. Yet Sainz is in a situation he has described as “weird”. No driver has ever done four seasons at Toro Rosso, and should Sainz continue to wait for an opportunity at Red Bull then he would be the first. There’s little left for him to learn in the middle of the pack, so it is surely time that he moved on. He is contracted to the Red Bull family, who will not let him leave on the cheap. This makes Ferrari an unlikely option, as well as Mercedes. Teams which are not going to be immediate threats such as McLaren and Renault may be more viable, but Sainz will want to move to a top team and quickly either way. Obviously, should either Sainz or Daniil Kvyat leave Toro Rosso, that will open up a seat for current GP2 champion Pierre Gasly.
Robert Kubica – will a comeback happen?
One of the stories away from the ‘circus’ this year has been Robert Kubica’s return to a F1 car. He has tested for Renault and his times were competitive. He lacks a FIA Super Licence, but may be given special dispensation to get one, although that is for the World Motorsport Council to decide. Would he go back to Renault? Would Ferrari be an option? Or would he have to look elsewhere? Or after, at 32 and after seven years away from the sport, would he be considered too old? Has he been away from F1 for too long? It appears feasible, but other drivers are waiting in the wings.
Will Ferrari play safe with Kimi Raikkonen or take a wild gamble?
It would be amazing to consider the idea that Ferrari could take on a rookie for 2018 but the idea cannot be ruled out. Raikkonen has performed well as Vettel’s wingman in this championship so far, and it would not be at all surprising to see him retained. But two names have also been thrown into contention. Third driver Antonio Giovinazzi impressed in his two races for Sauber earlier in the year and would be the first Italian since 2009 to drive for the Scuderia if he was to do so. Junior driver Charles Leclerc is on target to do something no driver has ever done before and win the GP3 series and the Formula 2 championship (or GP2 series) in successive years. The Monegasque driver is also under consideration to partner Vettel.
Is Valtteri Bottas secure at Mercedes?
The rush to sort out world champion Nico Rosberg’s replacement at Mercedes resulted in Bottas only having a one-year deal with the Brackley-based team. There is no doubt that Bottas has impressed with his victory at Russia and a charging drive to second at Azerbaijan. The dynamic with team-mate Lewis Hamilton also seems good. Therefore it would be strange to not see the Finn be retained for at least another season.
What about Pascal Wehrlein?
Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein has impressed so far in 2017, despite missing the first two races due to injury. He has scored all five of the team’s points so far this season and has firmly asserted himself as the dominant driver over the much more experienced Marcus Ericsson. Sponsorship issues would rule him out of a seat at Williams alongside Lance Stroll, and the Mercedes reserve driver would be unlikely to go to one of their rivals. He could well end up at Force India alongside former team-mate Esteban Ocon.
Sergio Perez – top driver available?
And what about Perez? Force India has almost certainly peaked given the resources it has, and Perez has been instrumental in that success. He has shown that he is a top driver and deserves another crack at a top seat despite his time at McLaren in 2013. There might be an option to go to Renault alongside former team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, and Ferrari is also a possibility. But the most likely option for Perez appears to be at Williams. Such a move might only be a side-step at best given the current nature of F1.