The driver market in 2017

I know it’s only the start of May, but the rumours about who will drive where next year have already begun, probably because there are going to be some big seats up for grabs – at least in theory. The rumblings concern Ferrari, Williams and McLaren, with a change also likely at Red Bull Racing.

Despite the best efforts of Bernie Ecclestone, F1 is becoming more corporate and so advanced planning is much more the order of the day, so some decisions may already have been made and are being kept secret, to keep the current drivers motivated. Certainly this has happened in the past but we shall see.

The strongest rumour is that Max Verstappen will be replacing Daniil Kvyat at Red Bull, having proved his worth, as the Russian previously did, at Scuderia Toro Rosso. Kvyat has done a very decent job, but Red Bull recognises that Max Verstappen is a bit special and have him under contract for one more year. It does not look like there will be a seat at Mercedes just yet, and Ferrari seems to be looking for status quo, so Verstappen’s only sensible choice is to move to Red Bull to continue his apprenticeship, hoping no doubt that the team gets a more competitive power unit.

Ferrari’s choices are interesting. The team wants a stable situation with drivers and so keeping Kimi Raikkonen has some logic. It really depends on whether the team thinks that Sebastian Vettel is susceptible to pressure. It is usually best in a top team not to have drivers being too comfortable because they then tend not to deliver their very best. One can argue the Ferrari could use a young charger to energise the place, because Kimi these days rarely looks like a man who will win races, while Vettel generally looks better. Ferrari has some interesting options available: notably (in no particular order) Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo and Romain Grosjean. Ricciardo is a race winner and so would probably be seen as the best bet, but Vettel and Ricciardo were team-mates at Red Bull in 2014 and you may recall Sebastian had a bad year and finished fifth in the World Championship, while Ricciardo finished third. Some might think that this was because Seb was demotivated with the engine situation at the time, and there are even some who claim that he deliberately under performed because he wanted to get out of his contract, which was possible only if he failed to finish above a certain position (fourth) in the Drivers’ Championship. They say that Ricciardo is contracted to Red Bull for next year, but I suspect that his contract is similar to that of Vettel and uses lock-in clauses that keep him there only if he achieves certain things. So maybe Kvyat needs just to watch and wait and see what happens with Ricciardo.

Much speculation will surround Williams because both drivers are out of contract at the end of the year. There is speculation that Williams might go for Jenson Button, which is a nice idea, but not the decision of a winning team. Williams would normally replace its drivers from within, but that will probably depend on how Alex Lynn does in GP2 and in the Williams simulator. Paul di Resta is there too, but he’s 30 and has been and gone from F1. Still, experience is valuable. The other man to watch for, I think, is Pascal Wehrlein, a Mercedes man who needs front-running experience if he is to one day step into the shoes of Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg.

All of this assumes that one or both Williams drivers will depart and that is by no means certain. Felipe Massa is 35 but still doing well enough to be ahead of Bottas in the championship. Bottas is still only 26 and is ready to start winning if he has the right car. The question is: how is he going to get one? The most likely answer is that he came close to a Ferrari deal last year and might still have some chances there.

McLaren would be mad not to take Stoffel Vandoorne and if it comes to choosing whether to drop Jenson Button or Fernando Alonso, the choice would seem to be pretty clear. Most of the other drives in F1 these days are money-related, but one can imagine Renault being keen to get a big name, or to build up Kevin Magnussen’s career. Renault’s decision to use Sergey Sirotkin as a test driver (along with various others) indicates that the team is not as flush with cash as the factory status suggests. I should think that Romain Grosjean is still a good possibility there as he is popular with Total. Having said that Romain may still want to snuggle up with Ferrari and Fiat. I think there’s a strong possibility that Haas and Alfa Romeo might get together at some point and so a little patience might be useful if Ferrari doesn’t want him right now.

Scuderia Toro Rosso would presumably take on Pierre Gasly to replace Verstappen.

73 thoughts on “The driver market in 2017

  1. If and when Kyvat does leave Red Bull, do you think he’d manage to be the first Red Bull driver in recent years to resurface at another team? Presumably Renault would quite like his Russian links and I’d argue he a bit more talent and experience than a JEV or Buemi.

      1. Maybe SMP Racing will buy Force India and place Sergey Sirotkin? Personally I would like to see JEV in an Alfa Romeo..

        1. What Alfa Romeo?? Oh, yup, a Sauber when they go under,
          renamed as an Alfa Romeo and fitted with a Ferrari power unit! Yeah, so F1, image, bling and smoke with mirrors attached!

      2. Unless he starts to bring some cash, I can’t see him finding another drive in F1 on pure talent.

        Haas could be a long shot though, should Grosjean leave, as I’d imagine the Russian market may represent something of an opportunity for the wider Haas group. It would also leave the way clear for him to follow the well trodden route of those ‘fairly talented but disposable’ drivers, into the Maranello simulator.

        Even without a seat at Haas, a Russian, as a test / demo driver, could be quite appealing for Ferrari all round?

  2. 19 ( ! ) Names dropped by you ; If we are not spoiled with action on track then at least the whos goes where this year will keep us for sure entertained.
    As usually ; Essential reading ; with in-depth / well thought through arguments .

  3. Intrigue & a game of ‘musical driver seats’.
    It’s the Williams situation that seems to be more up in the air. Will they dump both drivers & pick a new batch. Jenson Button is dragging & squeezing the final beads of racing from his F1 career.
    It maybe a sideways move for Williams to get Jenson. Should be designing a car that can compete or Williams will be classed as an ‘also ran’ & looking more like Everton FC rather than Leicester FC (congrats to The Foxes).

  4. So if Renault want to be taken seriously why would Riccardo or Bottas not be on speed dial? If the team has ambition then do it with driver choice too… pay the money to get them on board and develop like crazy. Also why would RBR go elsewhere for engine if Renault are developing. No one will give them a works deal. They may get a bit better with Merc, but they won’t beat them.

  5. And the Alfa Romeo plan, considering FCA and Ferrari have the same boss now, would create an intriguing proposal. Could Haas have Mopar branding with Alfa? Is FCA quietly gaining control over Ferrari with recent moves? If so then watch for the Mopar branding and some major changes coming in Kannapolis.

  6. > the team [Renault] is not as flush with cash as the factory status suggests.

    The way that the deal came together and the public statements made at the time always made that seem quite likely.

    And that was before Maldonado’s departure blew a fair-sized hole in the 2016 budget plan, even if one suspects that the team never intended to renew the contract beyond this year. It’s all very well us fans being glad to have K-Mag in the car instead, but we aren’t having to find the cash…

    1. It’s a bit harsh on Sirotkin given that he had a very competitive debut season in GP2. He finished 3rd in 2015, beating several other drivers who are backed by F1 teams (including Lynn, Gasly (backed by Red Bull) and Marciello (backed by Ferrari at the time, as well as having already raced in GP2 in 2014)).

      That isn’t to say that I think that he is a stunning driver, but it is to say that I do think that he is perhaps a more talented driver than he is being given credit for.

  7. I’m glad you pointed out that Williams taking Button would not be the most inspired choice. If he no longer commands a seat at McLaren, why should Williams feel the need to settle for him? I get a bit fed up when others get sentimental and try to make every situation a feel-good one.

  8. Vandoorne is a clear future star. I’d say Gasly and Lynn are “work in progress” and haven’t shone yet.

    Lynn has clearly done well having Alex Wurz on side and helping him into Williams. I’m surprised Red Bull have kept on with Gasly with his less than stellar last 2 seasons.

  9. Given STR’s propensity for ditching drivers after 2-3 seasons if they aren’t promoted to RBR, is Sainz’s seat secure?

  10. The thing that struck me strangely was the fact that Kyvat is still only 22, and we’re already talking about his replacement. Red Bull are so brutal. JEV in particular in my opinion was a great loss to the grid. I do hope some of these Red Bull youngsters find a way back.

    As much as I like the guy, I do think it’s game over for Button. He’s had a great career to be proud of and is a fantastic driver. I understand the wanting to leave on a high, but I agree Williams would be crazy to go Button with a strong pool of youngsters around – unless of course they lose both Massa and Bottas. A Button/Wehrlein combination would be strong.

    I’d like to see Grosjean at Ferrari – I think he’d give Seb a run for his money. As much as he is liked, he just doesn’t warrant his place on the grid any more, particularly in a front running car.

    1. “As much as he is liked, he just doesn’t warrant his place on the grid any more, particularly in a front running car.”

      Who, Seb? Or Grosjean? Either way, you must be joking.

    2. Contrary to many believe the red bullies has ruined more drivers careers than they have made.

  11. Gasly has done nothing of note in GP2 and Bottas has to be one of the dullest drivers of recent times….

  12. Wow. F1 is certainly a tough environment. People are talking about Daniil Kvyat (or Kyvat as Paul di Resta calls him) being dropped from a top (ish) team at age 22. His career might be on the way down already.

  13. “…Kimi these days rarely looks like a man who will win races…”

    Looking at this from the ‘other side of the garage,’ the above assessment could also apply to Seb (given what has transpired so far this season). As such, I think it is more fair to say that both Kimi and Seb are performing at levels that can best be expected of these two top drivers given what they are up against. This may also explain why Ferrari is content with the status quo.

  14. On Mclaren “the choice would seem to be pretty clear” – I’m assuming you are thinking it would be better to keep Alonso over Button? I think Alonso is the better driver (no disrespect to Button as I still think Alonso is the best in the business) but I’m not sure he is really motivated there and worth the big spend if they aren’t at the front. The two drivers offer similar benefits such as experience, star name, able to help develop the car, which is useful when the car needs work but I don’t think it’s worth having two drivers like that, Vandoorne would make sense as he will be cheap and fast and would go well alongside another more experienced driver.

    Alonso wants another championship and his options are running out fast, I think Button would be happy with a send off drive with Williams and perhaps one or two more wins which I’d like to see.

  15. Dear Joe, overall I agree that this is what the driver line-up is going to look like iin 2017. With one caveat, Ferrari. The fact that Sergio Marchionne confessed his soul was torn by the suffering which ferrari was undergoing, tells me some radical changes will be made if as expected Ferrari lose again. Why not bid a substantial sum or even engines in exchange for the honeybadger?

  16. I kind of like Valteri Bottas but I can never get why he would qualify for a “top drive” if he’s struggling to dominate against Massa? A driver who left Ferrari in a down turn.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. We were all expecting Bottas to walk all over Massa, but he simply hasn’t. I suppose it depends whether or not Massa is back in 2008 form as to how good Bottas is…

      I like him too, btw.

  17. “McLaren would be mad not to take Stoffel Vandoorne and if it comes to choosing whether to drop Jenson Button or Fernando Alonso, the choice would seem to be pretty clear”.

    So, Joe, you mean Button, do you?

      1. I am glad some other people have made the same comment as i was going to come forward with. Let me say I have always been a big supporter of Button but then I think Alonso is one of the best as well. I don’t see that the choice is pretty clear when we compare them today. I think Alonso was once definitely the more accomplished of the two but I think that difference has slowly dissipated over the years to the extent that today, I think there is little to choose between them. They are only a year different in age as well. Not that I think this means McLaren are likely to keep Button on. This might only happen if Alonso gets a decent offer and decides he has had enough.
        I would like to see Button in a Williams but I can see that they might view this as a backward step in view of his age. I’m sure he would get offers if released but I am far from sure he would take them up and become just one of those taking part to make up the numbers.

      2. In one respect the choice is clear might simply be because Alonso is under contract at McLaren for 2017 whereas Button is not.

        As far as other factors are concerned I would not be surprised to see Jenson deliver a knockout performance at Monaco. The fuel thirst of the Honda engine is irrelevant there and the chassis might be quite handy. A show of speed/competitiveness could quickly change the discussion and raise his stock.

    1. Joe – what of Alonso’s close links with Pat Symonds at Williams? They are the leading Mercedes customer team and that ensures Alonso has the best engine available, noting that others are still catching up and may never overtake Mercedes power levels.

    2. Pretty clear. Hmm. So obviously Alonso would be the “expected favorite” as he is the self-proclaimed “most complete driver”.

      But isn’t he also incredibly expensive? Who is paid more? Button, or Alonso? Is McLaren fighting for wins yet? No?

      Drop the one that is paid the most and hire Vandoorne instead. Regardless of which driver you keep (Button or Alonso), they will have good experience (Button with MORE experience than Alonso at McLaren), and you will get a fresh driver with enthusiasm and confirmed speed, AND you will save money.

      So:

      Alonso, 40 Mil/year
      Jenson, 11.6mil/year

      Done. Fire Alonso, hire Vandoorne for cheap, retain Button for his experience and feedback, and have a solid driver lineup that costs less money and still features a World Champion.

  18. Williams is interesting- the longer he is there, the more I respect Massa as a driver and team member. I say keep him for two more years if possible. As much as I also like Bottas, it seems that he might need a change of scenery soon or his stock as a top talent might fall because he needs to be beating Massa but simply isn’t, and it doesn’t seem that their relative parity is a fluke; both seem to be in “excellent but not Alonso rarefied air” territory, which is still really,really good. Ideally, as a selfish Williams fan, I hope both re-sign for two years. These guys are hella drivers.

  19. Sorry Joe, slightly off topic but for those who may have missed it, Renault offers free access to an F1 filming day at Silverstone this coming Friday 6th May 9am – 5pm. Both Palmer and Magnussen will drive the RS16, plus other cars from the Renault Sport Range will be on track.

    A trilemma for me on the 6th:

    1) Mrs B wants an outing to Old Amersham.
    2) The Queen is visiting my old school.
    3) Not a true trilemma, i’m off to Silverstone.

    Cheers,
    Brian.

  20. Interesting about Button, he’s closer to Alonso than Massa or Kimi ever managed, and Bottas can’t handle Massa. Seems to me it’d be an upgrade for Williams

  21. Guys who should retire: Button (love the dude but its just time…the TV career beckons), Massa (had his shot…is old, and well because “insert teammate name here” is faster him), and Kimi (did what he needed to do…helluva driver, just too enigmatic without a dominating car).

    Vandoorne is the real deal….he needs to be in the McLaren-Honda seat as soon as possible. Max needs to be on the Varsity RB team. And I will say something controversial…..Hamilton needs to don Ferrari red with Seb. That would be a publicity coup for Ferrari and indirectly, F1.

    1. Yeah, I’m with Mike. Would like to see Button stay on with McLaren in a promotional and ‘coaching’ role of the kind which never seems to happen in F1. TV too. Bow out gracefully.

    2. You don’t seem to have watched much over the last couple of years based on those comments. Calling for three drivers to retire purely because of their age shows your ignorance of their ability to perform, develop a car and galvanize a team.

        1. Regga I’ve watched plenty…..the difference is I have a long memory and you do not. All three drivers are past their primes, are slower than they once were, and not nearly as ballsy as they once were, especially compared to the younger crop of drivers.

          Drivers do not develop cars anymore. Aero and computer engineers do. With banning of in season testing once a car is made that’s pretty much it except for wings and ancillary parts…and all of that is data driven and sim driven. But you should know that, you watch a lot of F1, or at least claim to.

  22. Great analysis, thanks. I would assume Renault waits with attracting big names until they expect they will have a competitive year. I still think the situation at McLaren is a bit strange. Better spent the money on getting competitive first. Not sure how long that will take, next year, or the year after, but they must have some targets.

    There are rumours about Kvyat being replace mid season (which would instantly terminate his career). Do you think that is wishful think of Verstappen fans, or is there some foundation in that rumour?

    1. At the moment would a red bull be a step up or down? Next year yes but mid season not so sure.

  23. Sad to see the negativity around Button (of the two current McLaren drivers, he isn’t the one who keeps crashing…). I think Vandoorne should be in F1, but it seems harsh to kick JB out just when the car is getting good. He deserves one more season. Vandoorne should have a season or two with the likes of Manor or Sauber first. If Button is shown the door, I think he’s doing a better job than Kimi, for example, and should stick around a little longer, especially as the cars are no longer physically taxing to drive. Maybe replace Gutierrez at Haas, who has done nothing at any team he has driven for?

    1. Jenson has had 17 seasons of F1… Next year he will overtake Barrichello as the most experienced F1 driver ever.

  24. As usual, all the “big” deals will be done at Monaco and then everyone will have to wait and see who can survive and in what team is then available. Its very easy to write about which driver people would like to see in what car, but as they don’t have to write the cheque……

  25. Have you seen Schumacher’s 1993 contract with Benetton engine’s supplier Ford? It was just leaked on line

  26. HaHa Joe you discuss drivers when there are far bigger things – like VJ and Sauber finances.
    Anyway, my pontifications …….. Drivers ……. Ferrari like their drivers on long term basis therefore everybody just knows they are already targeting young Max so its just a case of whenever they can get him – probably it’s 2018 therefore the Scuderia need a stand in for a year – so Kimi for another year is a probable even though he’s uninspiring. Max to go to RBR for 2017 with added lucre and contracts but young Max has Dad looking over his shoulder and Dad has already probably been down to Maranello for a coffee and a chat about 2018 and considering Jos has been at 8 different F1 teams, he’ll probably write the contract for them.

    Jenson or Fernando – Jenson at $8mill is still bubbly and excellent with Japanese contacts and publicity work, delivers the same times as Fernando, it’s just the PU and car has problems, Fernando seems grumpy, seems to have lost his mojo, has had a few health scares and at $40mill is a touch expensive. Bye Fernando, Hello Stoffel.

    Things generally work out how you think, Marchionne looking for a team, for Alfa. (It’s only quiet because it’s the wrong time) Force India looking to get rid of their boss and become secure – So with a bit of leverage from Merc to stop supplying engines to Force India (they won’t want to be associated with a well known International Crook) also Sauber with the Ferrari engine are on their knees – so Mr Marchionne may pick up Sauber or Force India (and slot a Ferrari engine into it) – Alfa then becomes reality – Only a matter of time, but I would like to think Sauber sold in a nice easy deal so Peter Sauber (now 73) can retire properly, on a superb career. Handing over to Alfa seems befitting of Sauber’s history and with any luck it would be nice to think the deal was done over a pasta dinner. (but I get the impression Marchionne is more a ruthless barrister than sorting deals across a pasta dinner.) Haas/Ferrari proved that a 2nd team is easily worked – therefore 2017 Alfa will then get Ferrari IP. 2017 Haas could get only an engine and a rude awakening.

    Pascal to Williams (+ they are far more of a 2nd Merc team) – Fellipe off to be a being an even happier family man.

    I’ll bet Hulk and Sergio have raw knuckles knocking on doors at the moment.

    If Sergey’s testing goes semi ok then it’s Jolyon out.

    Haas – 2016 Everything coming up roses – Car works well, Romain brilliant, engine superb and Ferrari IP working – but still a Marussia + 2 years so consolidation and get some F1 money year on year would be good. Romain stays.

    Well, that was my guessing.

    1. Great, I get accused of concentrating too much on politics and when I do drivers I get accused of not focussing on the important issues…

      1. HaHa – but you know exactly what to focus on, and when to do so and then to not tread on any toes, while using lines like “F1 is becoming far more corporate so we may not be hearing about deals already having been done” …… I can guess about deals whereas I’ll bet yourself Joe has seen the change in demeanor of a driver for the better, so you know something has changed.

  27. I think Max Verstappen needs another year’s experience before rushing into a race-winning team. He’s not mature enough, judging by the mistakes he makes when things aren’t going right for him.

    Joe, are Red Bull worried that they will lose him to another team if they don’t promote him?

    With Ricciardo established, the other Red Bull F1 drivers appear relatively safe from being completely dropped for now. But would they reshuffle the deck instead?

  28. I will not defend Alonso as I am Spanish as well and my view is probably under suspect. The question then is to know why Ferrari before and later McLaren decided to pay those huge amounts of money for a driver, when there are many other drivers, Button included, who can do his job similarly and being more than happy to earn a quarter of Alonso’s salary.

    1. Better agent?!

      Or more likely the insiders know all too well how good Alonso really is, regardless of any ‘personality’ issues, and are willing to put up with that for the performance, feedback and attention having him in the team brings.

      No one can deny that in the right equipment he gets the job done consistently like very few others are capable of.

      To me that’s worth paying a lot more for if you can get him.

  29. If McLaren should retain Jenson,they are certain to lose Vandoorne. At the first Superformula race in Suzuka 2 weeks ago he was already on the podium! He is no driver for Manor or Sauber and deserves a top team. As much as I like Jenson race,it’s unfortunate that Vandoorne is waiting there in the wings & they should be looking to the future.

  30. Button remains a class act in a bum car, Alonso is v v expensive. Jenson I think would be quicker than both Massa and Bottas, The last time JB had a car capable of winning, he won, and his ability has not diminished. Ron will not part with Alonso. If not Wiliams then either a WRX car or maybe Aussie V8’s await! Whatever Jenson has been a fabulous servant of F1, arguably the best World Champion for sponsors and the sport due to his personality.

  31. Alonso is there for 2017 and may be longer. As for Vandoorne … Dennis has warned the other teams to leave him alone saying he’s an integral part of McLaren’s future. That means he’s keeping all his options open, on the other hand ,Stoffel wil not accept being a reservedriver again for 2017 . Regardless what Dennis says,it wil be a raceseat there or another team.Loan him to Manor or Sauber? He has already proven that this would be a waste of time & talent, if McLaren is looking to the future then this guy should be alongside Alonso next year,and I think they realise it . McLaren certainly has a luxury problem ,and they need to decide,sooner or later…As for JB ,a great driver and person,no doubt ,but circumstances are catching up,and fast.

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