It’s getting to this point in the season where drivers are looking at their contracts and thinking ‘How much money can I get’, ‘Do I want to stay’, ‘Can I move on to pastures new’ or even ‘Can I stay in the sport….anyone…please?’
In the middle of the summer break, I make my predictions of how the grid will shape up on April 4.
Mercedes – Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg
Is there any reason to change the drivers that have helped dominate over the past 2 years? Both have signed new contracts and look happy to stay for the next few years, even though Rosberg has his critics.
Ferrari – Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas
With fellow Finn Kimi Räikkönen’s contract running out and looking beaten and disenchanted, Bottas could make the step up to the Maranello team for next year. There’s no doubting his ability and there were rumours that Ferrari were keen to pay the £8million release clause to Williams. If the tragic events of Japan 2014 hadn’t happened, it would have most likely been the late Ferrari Driver Academy graduate Jules Bianchi, confirmed by former Ferrari president Luca di Montozemolo shortly after the 25 year old’s untimely passing in July. With Vettel, it’s a certainty. He’s there until 2017, and judging on this season and his drives in Malaysia and Hungary, he doesn’t want to be anywhere else.
Williams – Felipe Massa and Jenson Button
Massa is a changed figure from his later Ferrari days, where he looked a second fiddle driver, and had no say in the matter. He looks and drives like a rejuvenated driver, eager to impress and fight against his younger team-mate, proving he’s on his way back to form after his horrendous life-threatening accident 6 years ago. Whereas Jenson Button looks like he’s rapidly losing patience and interest in McLaren Honda’s ‘project’. With Nasr confirmed for Sauber next year, the Somerset boy could return to the team that gave him his début all the way at the turn of the millennium.
Red-Bull – Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat
I see no real reason for the energy drinks company to change their line-up for next year. They have one of the most consistent and promising drivers in Ricciardo, not to mention one of the best characters. Kvyat is steadily improving over the year, seemingly gone are the nerves that marred his early season performances. He’s settled into the big team nicely and his drive in Hungary was quiet and solid, picking up his first podium. At the tender age of 21, he’s capable of doing that for years to come.
Force India – Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Pérez
While Pérez is contracted for next year, there’s an air of doubt over Hülkenberg’s future in the sport. He’s been rumoured with Ferrari and even Mercedes over the past few years, but it seems that those ships have sailed. If he doesn’t stay with Vijay Mallya’s team, there is a good chance that he’ll turn his attention permanently to the WEC with Porsche.
Lotus – Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado
An unchanged line-up for the troubled Enstone outfit, with both drivers contracted for next year and Jolyon Palmer still waiting in the wings. The only doubt is the erratic form of Maldonado, but not only does that look like stopping (albeit briefly), he brings crucial money from Venezuelan oil company PDVSA.
Toro Rosso – Carlos Sainz Jr and Max Verstappen
The youngest line-up of 2015 looks to be the youngest line-up of 2016. Sainz at 20 and Verstappen at just 17 look like they have years of experience and a lot of flair whilst bringing results to the Red-Bull sister team. Franz Tost wil be keen to keep hold of them for 1 more year before potentially promoting one of them up to the main team. The question will be for 2017: which one?
Sauber – Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson
This was confirmed before Hungary last month. Both Nasr and Ericsson bring money to the table through sponsorship and there looks to be no repeat of the saga with Giedo van der Garde at the start of this year over being promised a drive. 4 into 2 don’t go….
McLaren – Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne
Alonso is at the Woking team until 2017 and Vandoorne is running away with the GP2 title, looking to break Jolyon Palmer’s record points total, set just last year. If he doesn’t get the nod, Kevin Magnussen certainly will. But do either of them WANT to drive that car?
Manor – Fabio Leimer and Will Stevens
Then again, it could be anyone. Will they be on the grid next year if the first question. Many a driver in the junior formulae has been rumoured with them and with both Mehri and Stevens out of contract, it could be a totally different line-up.
Haas – Jean-Eric Vergne and Esteban Gutierrez
A bold prediction. Could they go with an American driver? Vergne is desperate to get back into the sport and it could provide a way back in also for Ferrari reserve driver Gutierrez. The seats are well and truly up for grabs.