The rumbling that will become the F1 Silly Season have been going on for a while, as everyone in F1 assesses the current crop of cars and then decides what to do to get a better result next year. The driver market always works like a string of dominoes, with one move causing other moves further down the line, so don’t expect too many moves in the smaller teams before the big ones are done. Here is an assessment of where things seem to be at the moment:
Infiniti Red Bull Racing
It has not been an easy year for the dominant team of recent years. The problem is one of engines and the team is hoping that Renault will do a better job in 2015. Sebastian Vettel has not got on with the RB10 and much to the surprise of a lot of people Daniel Ricciardo has done rather better than Vettel. This is not comfortable for him. After Silverstone Ricciardo’s total of points was 98 points and Vettel had only 70 and the difference would be even large if Ricciardo had not been disqualified in the first race of the year. Vettel is contracted to stay with Red Bull until the end of 2015 and even if he wanted to move, it would be tough. This year has meant that there are some question marks about him, while he would question the wisdom of moving to Ferrari or McLaren.
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team
There is no great logic is the team changing drivers next year. Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton get on OK and the relationship, while edgy, is fine. The only real issue is one of money as Rosberg earns a fraction of the money enjoyed by Hamilton. A new contract for Nico (some believe it has already happened) will sort that out. If the two collide and things get ugly perhaps there will be some movement but rule number one for an F1 driver is: “never give up a winning car”.
There has been no real contest this year between Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. The latter does not like the car and so has generally been slower. Neither one is very impressed with the machinery and after five years at Ferrari Fernando Alonso is tipped to be looking for a job elsewhere. It is an important decision because he’s old enough now to not be in a position to make more mistakes in his career path if he wants to add to his two titles form 2005 and 2006. Logically he should win more but you have to have the right car. Staying at Ferrari is as risky as moving to McLaren, but sometimes a change is a good idea. If Ferrari is looking for a replacement Nico Hulkenberg is the obvious choice although Ferrari has its teeth into Jules Bianchi, so he might be in the running.
Lotus F1 Team
Pastor Maldonado can stay at Lotus as long as his money keeps coming from Venezuela. If it stops, then so does his F1 career. Romain Grosjean has done well enough this year and some think that Eric Boullier might take him to McLaren but that seems unlikely. If the team gets Mercedes engines next year and the engineers have the money to build a good car, the team could surprise in 2015.
There is a lot happening at McLaren at the moment with some serious pushing and shoving going on in the technical departments. The team wants an inspired driver to follow and the best choice out there is Fernando Alonso. Whether the two parties can find a way to get together again remains to be seen but this seems to be the path chosen. Jenson Button needs to put Kevin Magnussen in the shade more than he has been doing, at the moment it is 55 versus 35 points, so the next few races will be interesting. Honda, which knows Jenson well, is waiting in the wings.
Sahara Force India F1 Team
Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg have been doing a decent job this year with the Force India, which runs with the complete Mercedes drivetrain. The problem for the team is that it cannot much progress without major investment and time. Hulkenberg is waiting for his chance with a big team and has scored a total of 63 points while Sergio Perez as 28. Hulkenberg has been particularly impressive, scoring points in every single race of the season, although Perez gave the team its only podium thus far. Much will depend on money.
Sauber F1 Team
The identity of the team’s drivers in 2015 will depend largely on money unless the team lands a big sponsor and is given free rein to choose its drivers.
Scuderia Toro Rosso
There is a big effort going on to make Scuderia Toro Rosso more competitive, which is a little odd when the team is only meant to be a training ground for youngsters. Some think that this means it will soon be sold. If it remains as a school for Red Bull drivers then Jean-Eric Vergne needs to watch out as Red Bull tends to jettison drivers if they are not lucky. Daniil Kvyat is the current coming man, while the Red Bullies are excited about Carlos Sainz Jr. It seems odd to spend a pile of money on training up Vergne and then dumping him but Red Bull has long had odd ideas about drivers.
Williams F1 Team
Valtteri Bottas has confirmed his potential this year at Williams, while Felipe Massa has had more than his share of bad luck. The team needs to continue on its upward path and that will require more money. If sponsorship can be found then it will be fine.
Marussia F1 Team
Some think that Jules Bianchi is the next big thing but others feel that he has not crushed Max Chilton with sufficient vigour to be a top liner. Bianchi is quick and he did score points for the team in Monaco but he did so with an axe rather than a scalpel, nerfing Kamui Kobayashi out of the way and damaging the Caterham. Is that enough for a Ferrari drive? I doubt it.
Caterham F1 Team
Money will obviously play an important role in the choice of drivers at Caterham but the team knows that success is driven not by money but by results and so will probably gamble on the best available talent and hope that the money will arrive. One can imagine the team taking on Sainz to allow Red Bull to train up another star before he gets into a Red Bull seat of one kind or the other.