Welcome to Silly Season
It’s everyone’s favorite time of year. That time when we journalists wildly speculate who will be sitting in a Formula One car come February of next year. To some extent it’s a worthless exercise as, to my knowledge, no journalist has ever swayed the opinion of a team. That said, we all do it and, as such, I feel obligated to jump on board the train as well. So here it goes. Silly Season 2018 here we come!
The front-running teams have already locked down their drivers for next season. Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull, and Force India will be keeping the same lineup as 2017. No real surprises there.
Yes, the retention of Kimi Raikkonen by Ferrari is a bit of a shocker considering the Finn’s lack of pace for the past two seasons, but in signing Kimi to yet another one-year contract, Ferrari is playing the long game. In 2019 the two biggest young stars of F1 will have expired contracts and while Red Bull would love to keep both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen in their stable, it may prove hard to keep either or both of the young guns onboard if Mercedes and Ferrari come knocking.
That said, Red Bull’s return to pace over the past two Grand Prix may be enough to keep both Ricciardo and Verstappen in their car for years to come.
But enough about 2019.
In the immediate present, Renault has made the best decision they’ve made since returning to the sport by sacking the moving chicane known as Joylon Palmer mid-season and bringing in Spanish sensation Carlos Sainz to replace him. While Sainz has had lapses in judgment, see this year’s races in Bahrain and Canada, his form has been impressive overall and his addition to the French squad will no doubt be a boon to them as they seek to return to their winning ways of the mid-2000s.
Moving further down the grid, Stoffel Vandoorne is confirmed for a 2018 seat for McLaren. They have yet to announce if Fernando Alonso will be his teammate or not but according to sources within the paddock, it is only a matter of time before the Spaniard resigns with the Woking squad, with an announcement coming as early as this weekend’s US Grand Prix.
Haas F1 will also be keeping the same lineup as this year.
Now, here we come to the question marks. Toro Rosso, Sauber, and Williams have yet to confirm any of their drivers for the 2019 campaign.
Let’s start the speculation with Toro Rosso. It would appear, based on the faith placed on him by the Italian squad this year, that Piere Gasly is a shoe-in for a 2018 seat. Having proved himself an adequate driver, but by no means astonishing, Gasly has proven in his two outings that he can handle himself over the course of a Grand Prix weekend and should feel comfortable calling himself an F1 driver in 2018. Likewise, Kiwi Brendon Hartley has been given the chance to drive for Toro Rosso, subbing in for Gasly as he competes for the championship in Super Formula Championship. My guess is that these two drivers will be the ones who get the seats as there’s no way in hell Toro Rosso decides to stick with Kvyat and will want to promote from their young driver’s program.
Moving on to Sauber, we enter a land where is anyone’s guess a to who will take the 2018 seats. The massive checkbook that Marcus Ericson brings with him is certainly reason enough for the Swiss outfit to keep him around, but Ericson has a complete and total lack of pace that tends to disqualify him as anything more that a rich wannabe with about as much chance to win a grand prix as a camel athlete’s foot. So, let’s assume for the moment that he will be out of a seat next year. His seat will most likely go to Ferrari youngster Charles Leclerc, fresh off of his F2 championship.
If Ericson’s teammate, Pascal Wehrlein, is also let go, which let’s be honest, he deserves to be having put in very few drives of note, the most likely replacement for him would be Antonio Giovinazzi, who subbed for the German when he was out with back issues earlier this year. Now, Giovinazzi had a less than stellar debut in F1, namely crashing out on the main straight of the Chinese Grand Prix. However, as a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, he likely will bring with him a discount on Ferrari engines Sauber fit in the back of their car, so hiring him may prove to be cost-effective for you Swiss team.. It should also be noted that Leclerc also belongs to the Driver Academy, but is by no means a pay driver, having proved to the world in Formula 2 that he can drive the wheels off of a car.
If the Swiss team is to do this right, they will hire a semi pay driver, Giovinazzi, and a champion in the making, Leclerc. They can use all the discounted money they received from Ferrari to pour into upgrades of Leclerc’s car in hopes of boosting him up the grid. Simply put, use Gio to pay for Leclerc and watch the latter soar.
This finally brings us to the biggest question mark on the grid, that of Williams. Lance Stroll has all but been confirmed for a ride in 2018. He has earned the begrudging respect of most all commentators and drivers after he showed his worth in Canada and Baku. He may not be a world champion, but the young Canadian is, by all means, a competent driver and deserves a seat.
As for the other seat, it would seem Williams is split between Paul di Resta and Robert Kubica, both of whom conducted private tests for the Williams team over the weekend.
While many questions remain of Kubica’s physical abilities following his nearly fatal rally incident several years ago, there is no doubt his return to the grid would be the feel-good story of the season. He is a proven race winner and despite his time away from the car, he still appears to be quick and desperately wants to drive.
Di Resta, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag. He was a competent driver during his tenure at Force India, but like Stroll rarely showed outright brilliance. Like Kubica, he also has been away from the sport for several years, but he has, instead, spent his time in the commentary booth. That said, he was able to sub in for the ill Felipe Massa this year and did a perfectly adequate job.
But therein lies the problem with Di Resta. Adequate. He is adequate. He is not brilliant. Kubica is brilliant and would have been a world champion had he not nearly destroyed his hand.
So who do they pick? Kubica. There may be questions surrounding him, but no one ever got far in Formula One by taking the level-headed and measured approach. You have to take risks to win. It may be a risk to bring Kubica on in 2018, but the rewards are far greater than those that could be gained by bringing in Di Resta. Kubica can win. Di Resta can merely finish.